Ewen beat odds to emerge a hero

Updated: Jan 31, 2019, 06:52 IST | Clayton Murzello

Escaping death on the pitch in 1975 did not stop NZ bowler Chatfield from being part of club cricket until last Saturday at the age of 68

Ewen beat odds to emerge a hero
Ewen Chatfield (second from left) celebrates after dismissing England batsman Derek Randall on the way to victory at Leeds on August 1, 1983. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloThroughout his international career, New Zealand's paceman Ewen Chatfield was known as the player who lived because he was given the kiss of life on a cricket pitch. That happened on February 25, 1975, when English fast bowler Peter Lever, whose team needed just one wicket to win the Auckland Test, bowled a short delivery that knocked Chatfield out. His heart stopped for a few seconds, he swallowed his tongue and there was no doctor at the ground. England's physiotherapist Bernard Thomas came out and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, following which the Test debutant regained consciousness in hospital an hour later.

An inconsolable Lever had every reason to believe that his ball had taken Chatfield's life. Chatfield, who endured a hairline fracture on his skull, lived and returned to the New Zealand side to emerge as one of his country's most valuable performers. In his post-international career, Chatfield came to be known as the former fast bowler who drove a taxi for a living in Wellington. He still does. He was in the news again recently for hanging up his cricket boots at 68.

Last Saturday saw the tall bowler play his final game for Naenae Old Boys, who beat Eastern Suburbs in Wellington. Sixty-eight is no age to be running in to bowl, but it shouldn't surprise those who were aware of what former New Zealand captain and India coach John Wright once said about Chatfield: "Chats (one of his nicknames besides Charlie, Naenae Express and Farmer) loved playing for New Zealand and would have liked to have gone on till he was 50." Chatfield also enjoyed running and Wright felt he would have been a marathon runner if not a cricketer who took pride in wearing the fern-crested New Zealand cap. From 1975 to 1989, Chatfield figured in 43 Tests and 114 one-day internationals for his country.

He toured India for the 1987 World Cup and later for the 1988-89 Test series, in which the visitors stunned India when they won the Bombay Test. In the first Test at Bangalore, Richard Hadlee went past Ian Botham's record mark of 373 wickets to become the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket. However, most members of the team developed a stomach bug and a very ill Hadlee was summoned from his hotel bed to help New Zealand avoid the follow-on. He resumed his innings by joining Chatfield and was out for five, batting in extreme discomfort. Hadlee's partner remained not out on four in a 53-minute stay and was ill too. During the India innings, he asked Wright if he could take a toilet break right in the middle of an over. The captain asked him to complete the over, after which Chatfield ran to the dressing room. While that is a confirmed story because Wright mentioned it in his book, Christmas in Rarotonga, there is another version that emerged from the press box, about Chatfield taking off to the dressing room straight from his follow through with his creams all messed up.

"That proved to be one of the most courageous days in New Zealand cricket. With the side wiped out by illness, we could barely find the numbers to put on the field when India batted again. We had five replacement fieldsmen (including former captain Jeremy Coney, who was meant to be on commentary duty and television reporter Ken Nicholson)," wrote Hadlee in Rhythm and Swing. Chatfield, apart from bowling tidy, accurate spells which fetched him 123 Test scalps, also excelled in occupying the crease as a tail-end batsman. Bouncers and hits to the head courtesy Wasim Akram in the Carisbrook Test of 1985 didn't cause him to throw away his wicket, but he was shaking so much at the tea interval that his tea (a drink he didn't normally consume during a game) was spilt all over the floor. Pakistan tried every trick in the book to win and skipper Javed Miandad was warned about Akram's short-pitched bowling.

Last man Chatfield hung on for 84 balls to score 21, with Coney scoring an unbeaten century, to see New Zealand achieve their 278-run target. That was Chatfield's 10th year in international cricket and he played for four more years. Among his memorable moments are the Bombay Test win over India in 1988 and the 10-wicket haul against West Indies at Trinidad in 1984-85. He should also be very proud of the role he played in New Zealand's first ever Test win in England, bagging a fifer in England's second innings.

Not many sides held the all-conquering West Indies to draws in the 1980s, but New Zealand did and, in 1986-87, they squared the series 1-1 when Hadlee (6-50) and Chatfield (4-30) combined to bowl out Viv Richards's team for 100 in the first innings of the Christchurch Test, which the hosts won by five wickets. Chatfield was a true workhorse and if one needed further evidence of this, it can be found in Javed Miandad's book, Cutting Edge, where he confesses to joking with Chatfield by saying, "Come back with me to Pakistan; I need a bowling machine." Meanwhile, his club Naenae in Wellington will feel the loss of their most enduring, efficient and endearing bowling machine. His 51-year tenure as a player with them may be his most remarkable half-century ever.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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