‘I bamboozled Viv Richards and Australia – but I get remembered for I’m a Celeb’

He famously ruled Australia in the sixth test of the 1997 Ashes series – but Phil Tufnell may better be remembered as the King of the Jungle.

During his playing days, Tufnell, 57, was one of the biggest stars in the England cricket team. Unlike most of his team-mates, his slow, left-arm orthodox spin style bamboozled opposing players and left them trudging off the field. Former Australian star Mark Waugh thought he had figured out the Londoner's style when he said: "If you attack him, it puts him off his game" – yet Tufnell bowled out Waugh more times than any other player.

However, as the England call-ups began to dry up, Tufnell received a call from the producers of 'I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here' – and not only did he appear in the second series, he went on to win the show. But when questions about fish guts, awkward campmates and bushtucker trials come flying at him from all angles like his swinging deliveries, Tufnell admits he finds himself reminding people about the career which made him a celebrity in the first place.

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“Well, obviously, now you've retired, I do occasionally have to remind people that I bowled Viv Richards out and managed to bowl Australia out at the Oval,” Tuffnell laughed, in an exclusive interview with Daily Star Sport, while he was launching Tombola's critter themed game 'Bug Match'.

“As time goes on your cricket career slightly phases out. I'm very lucky that I still obviously work in the game doing the commentary with TMS and the TV highlights and stuff.

“But yeah, no, for sure. People always come up to me and sort of ask me about the jungle and, you know, 'what was it like in there', 'what did you have to eat,' and 'who did you get on with and who didn't you get on with?'"

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Considering the frequent controversy that follows the show, it's fitting Tufnell's initial inclusion in the second series of the program rattled plenty of cages. At the time, he was still playing for Middlesex when the offer came to go on the show, which was still in its infancy at the time.

Middlesex were reluctant to let one of their most experienced bowlers and best spinners jet off to Australia for the show. Such was his desire to begin a new chapter in television, Tufnell stunned his team-mates by announcing his retirement so he could fly to Australia.

"We're upset and disappointed because he's still a bloody great spinner, the best in the country," said Vinny Codrington, the then secretary for the club. "But there's nothing we can do except wish him the best."

At the time, Tufnell was the last English spinner to take 100 test wickets. While England did not win the 1997 Ashes series, his extraordinary individual display which saw him pick up figures against the Aussies of 11-93 at the Oval was still fresh in the minds of fans.

“The England stuff had sort of gone and so it was the decision to sort of have another couple of years playing for Middlesex [or start a new career in television]," he said, when asked about what was going through his mind at the time. “You know, you can't chase a little ball about all your life. I was sort of finishing my career anyway.

“I think I was about 37 or 38, so I was mulling it over in my mind whether the time had come. It's funny, you talk to professional sportsmen and women and it's a very awkward time, really, with hiring because you don't quite know what's around the corner. But I had talked to people and they said: 'You'll know the moment to retire. It will come on to you'. I was sort of oohing and aahing about what to do and then got the call from 'I'm a Celebrity'.

“That was the moment. I just thought 'right, well, hold on a minute. This is the time when I think I know that my time is up'. You know, I wasn't getting any younger. The England stuff had gone, so I decided to to jump at that and see what was around the corner. No regrets at all. No regrets whatsoever. Loved every minute of it."

Instead of wickets, Tufnell was all about taking stars for his camp. Trophies were cast aside, meals and camp treats were the priority. You could tell there were times when the spinner thought he was spinning into insanity. Viewers loved the moments when he took himself into the Bush Telegraph Room and moaned about how much he missed his cigarettes.

But he proved to be a hit with viewers. He won 17 stars over the course of three different trials. A camp member who ensures their fellow campmates' bellies are full is a valuable ally – particularly if they had to win those stars by doing the dreaded eating contests.

"The eating trials are horrific," Tufnell exclaimed. "What you don't get on the telly is the disgusting smell and the textures. They buried me alive in a pit of snakes, you know, which is pretty daunting thinking back on it.

“Let me tell you something. You get picked for that trial and no one wants to go and do it. Believe me, you know you don't want to go and put your head in a bowl full of spiders. It's as simple as that. So you do have to sort of steel yourself a little bit, but then you do get the reward afterwards. You do sit there think "bloody hell, I've shown myself I could do it'. You know, I'm quite determined and quite tough.

“So there is that reward of feeling good about yourself. But let me tell you, none of those trials are something that you'd want to do."

‘Phil Tufnell/ was speaking from tombola’s critter challenge event, play Bug Match now at https://www.tombola.co.uk

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