Former England and Northants all-rounder David Capel dies aged 57

Nick Hoult
·3-min read
DAVID CAPEL Northamptonshire County Cricketer  - UPPA/Photoshot
DAVID CAPEL Northamptonshire County Cricketer - UPPA/Photoshot

David Capel, who has died aged 57, spent 32 unbroken years as a player and coach with Northamptonshire and to understand just what the county meant to him you only had to look at his hand.

One of his fingers was permanently crooked, the result of an accident playing cricket, and he decided instead of missing matches to recover from an operation, he would carry on playing and live with the permanently bent digit.

Capel was a tenacious and whole-hearted all-rounder who played 15 Tests and 23 ODIs for England but like so many others of that era was never going to be able to live up to his billing as the next Ian Botham. 

At county level it was different. He was a matchwinner for his beloved Northants and was a key player in one of their strongest eras in the late 1980s and 1990s when the club regularly punched above its weight, reaching Lord’s finals and challenging for the championship. 

In the modern era he would probably have moved counties to increase his England chances, but Capel stayed with his home club becoming the first Northampton-born player to play Test cricket for 77 years when he was picked to play against Pakistan at Headingley in 1987.  

He walked out to bat against Pakistan at Headingley with England 30 for five against Imran Khan and a young Wasim Akram. Capel battled his way to a half century. His 97 in the Benson & Hedges Cup final that year earned him a winter tour to Pakistan where he was unwittingly caught up in one of the most controversial moments of 1980s in English cricket. Capel was on the field as a sub in the second Test in Faisalabad and was the player moved by Mike Gatting to spark his row with umpire Shakoor Rana that strained relations between the teams for years. He made his highest Test score, 98, in the next match in Karachi.

Capel played in the Bicentenary Test match in Sydney that winter and played three Tests in the chaotic summers of 1988 and 1989 when West Indies and Australia thrashed England and captains were sacked almost on a weekly basis. He stood out in the England team of the time for his unselfishness and dedication to the team cause. In an era of fickle selectors when so many played for themselves, Capel was the ultimate team man who was unfortunate enough to play almost half of his Test matches against the great West Indies side.

His England career ended after the tour to West Indies in 1990 when England were unlucky to lose the series. Capel was out in the middle when West Indies' shocking time-wasting tactics in the Port of Spain Test denied England a 2-0 lead in the series. 

After that he spent the rest of his career at Northants, retiring in 1998 to join the coaching staff before leaving the club when he was sacked as head coach in 2012. Afterwards, he had spells coaching the England and Bangladesh women’s teams.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2018 and as a sign of his popularity, almost every former team-mate visited him at home including Winston Davis, the Northants and West Indies fast bowler who was left paralysed from the neck down in 1998 when he fell out of a tree. Capel had helped raise funds for Davis’s care and held an annual lunch in his honour.

“Very sad to hear my former team mate passed from a long suffering illness,” said Allan Lamb. “David Capel was an all round person and a true gentleman both on and off the field. We are going to miss you buddy.”