Steve Harper interviews… Cutting the mustard

Ex-Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper speaks to Durham CCC wicket-keeper and batsman Phil Mustard as he begins his benefit year

Sunderland-born Phil Mustard has been awarded a well-earned benefit year for 2016 after a hugely successful 15-year period at Durham CCC.

From being brilliantly caught out by me playing for Hylton against Easington CC (he claims not to remember it), Phil has gone on to represent England in ten ODIs and two T20s and be part of a multi-trophy winning Durham side

How does it feel to be given a benefit year?

It was exciting to be given it and, after 15 years, I couldn’t turn it down. I had a feeling it was coming and had an idea for a committee so the planning is going well and the events are starting to take shape.

Is that what you’re looking forward to most in 2016?

My first priority is to get back into the team; my committee can look after the benefit side of it.

 A benefit year gives you an opportunity to reflect on your career to date. Any particular highlights?

I’ve had lots of highlights being part of the core team at Durham from 2007 onwards. We avoided relegation by half a point in 2006 and from 2007 onwards, we’ve been a prolific team.

The Friends Provident win in 2007 was a big highlight in my career; so was the first Championship win in 2008.

Seeing youngsters like Ben Stokes and Mark Wood playing a part in our success has been special, too.

You haven’t mentioned England…

My England call-up was strange in 2007; even though I’d had a great year with the bat, I wasn’t really expecting it.

Matt Prior got injured at the T20 World Cup and I got a call to say I was flying out the next day. However, England were eliminated and I then flew out to Sri Lanka the following week.

I’d never been to the sub-continent so it was quite an eye-opener and also a really good period for me.

To be honest I thought I did quite well in averaging 24 in the T20s and 30 in the ODIs but it didn’t matter how well I did, Matt Prior was always going to come back in.

What first attracted you to cricket?

Football was my priority, I had trials at Man Utd and Middlesbrough and spent time at Newcastle United. I only went to cricket to watch my dad play. I started keeping wicket aged 15 due to my brother getting injured. I then got fast-tracked into the Durham set-up and within three or four years, I was making my Durham debut.

What sacrifices need to be made to be a successful cricketer?

I had to distance myself a little from a few friendships to focus on my cricket early on but generally I’ve not given up too much. I’ve always been pretty fit and have worked hard at my game. But it’s important to enjoy yourself when you can, too.

What do you hope to achieve in the rest of your career?

I have another year at Durham, having turned down the chance to move on. It’s my benefit year and I hope to get back into the four-day side and earn another contract. I’ve got a lot of cricket left in me yet.

Do you think this new style of ‘counter-attacking’ middle-order batsman could extend your career?

That’s a very good point. I enjoy opening in the one-day format with the power plays, etc. and I’d be lost in the middle order, in that respect. I tend to hit it flatter through the field rather than long and over it, so that suits me.

Do you have any plans for after cricket?

Umpiring really interests me. Michael Gough (from Hartlepool and ex-Durham CCC) is now rated as one of the world’s best and he gets to travel the world. You’re also paid well nowadays to help prevent any corruption which has – sadly – made the headlines in the last few years.

What would you say as an umpire to a wicket-keeper like yourself claiming a dubious edge?

‘Calm down, son’ – I’ve heard that a few times!

Finally, any advice to budding young cricketers?

If you’re going to do it then enjoy it but also commit to it. I used to get the bus every day to go and play cricket.

It’s a great way of making friends, too; I’ve made some great friends over the years.