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Ewen Chatfield: The man who cheated death to carry on his cricketing career

Ewen Chatfield: The man who cheated death to carry on his cricketing career

Ewen Chatfield.

Ewen Chatfield, born July 3, 1950, was one of New Zealand’s most consistent performers, who was, despite operating in the shadows of Richard Hadlee, an asset to his side. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of the Kiwi medium-pacer.

While playing cricket with his father and one of his brothers in the backyard, Ewen Chatfield seldom dreamt of representing New Zealand. The fact that he lived quite a distance away from one of the main towns did not make regular practice feasible, but that did not prevent him from becoming an able bowling partner to one of the most celebrated players in that country in the years ahead.

Chatfield donned the Test cap 43 times and became one of New Zealand’s most economic bowlers, this despite very little coaching. The only way he got better at his craft was by spending a considerable amount of time in the nets alone.

A debut to forget

While most would want their first outing in national colours to be etched in their memories, Chatfield would want to forget his. After an unsuccessful first innings spell against an English line-up that was determined to make amends post a thrashing at the hands of Australia recently, Chatfield walked out to bat at No.11 and was dismissed for a duck. The Kiwis were bowled out for 326 in response to the visitors’ 593 for six declared, and were hence asked to follow on. The second innings, too, followed a horrendous track and Chatfield, a novice with the bat, dragged his way to the middle with his side an innings and 127 behind.

Nevertheless, alongside Geoff Howarth, he saw off the English bowlers on the fourth day, thereby postponing the inevitable to the fifth. On that eventful morning too, the duo of Howarth and Chatfield offered resistance and irked the English bowlers. This prompted Peter Lever, the medium-fast bowler, to get two fielders close to the batsman and aim at his gloves. He pitched it short, and a flummoxed Chatfield, in an attempt to fend the ball, turned his head away and gloved it straight onto his temple. He collapsed on the floor on impact and it didn’t take long for the fielders to realise that Chatfield had swallowed his tongue and was fighting for breath.

Immediately, the players frantically called for Bernard Thomas, the English physiotherapist, who was the only medical assistance available at the venue. Realising the seriousness of the situation, Thomas provided mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and revived his breathing. Chatfield’s life was saved, England won the match, but nothing could console a distraught Lever, who reprimanded himself for his actions. A lot of debate pertaining to the bouncer rule for lower-order batsmen ensued, but the incident was dealt with amicably the next day. Lever apologised and said that he thought he’d killed Chatfield, but the latter took the blame saying, “If any one thing did worry me going into this game, it was just what did happen. My reflexes are not that quick. It’s not really his [Lever's] fault; I should have been able to get out of the way.”

In Richard Hadlee’s shadows

After the severe blow, Chatfield returned to the big stage in 1976-77. By then, a certain Richard Hadlee’s career had been on the rise, as he became a thorn in the flesh of many a batting line-up around the world with his tearaway pace. New Zealand had been on a desperate look-out for a first-rate fast bowler, and in him, they found the answer. Nonetheless, Chatfield wasn’t far behind. Despite not being as quick as Hadlee, he complemented him ably and the duo was a force when they bowled in tandem.

On an individual note, however, he failed to create the aura Hadlee so nonchalantly did.  With the latter’s superstar image standing out, Chatfield’s contributions sometimes went unnoticed. “All the time we played he [Hadlee] never acknowledged if he would have got more wickets, if he had a quicker guy at the other end or not. I don’t know. At the time we were playing, he never acknowledged if I did a good job for him. We just didn’t have anybody else in New Zealand. In the late eighties we tried a heap of bowlers, but all the young bloody fast bowlers didn’t make it in the end,” recalled Chatfield in an interview to ESPN Cricinfo.

Nonetheless, Chatfield did draw the admiration of some of the best batsmen of his era; one of them being Javed Miandad. This is how Miandad, the Pakistani maestro, described Chatfield in his autobiography Cutting Edge —My Autobiography: “Chatfield came as close to a bowling machine as any human I know. He would pick a spot and keep pitching on it, delivery after delivery. He was tireless and remained seemingly unmoved by the proceedings of the game itself. He would just come in to bowl, then go back up to the top of his run-up and come in again the repeat the identical delivery, all very machine-like. He was a good natured fellow and I used to joke with him about this. ‘Come back with me to Pakistan, I need a bowling machine,’ I would say to Chatfield, and he would laugh.”

The only thing Miandad wouldn’t have liked is Chatfield registering his highest Test score of 21 to steer New Zealand to a last wicket win (Lance Cairns was to bat but was ruled out owing to an injury) over his Pakistani team.

In all, Chatfield played 43 Tests and 114 One-Day Internationals (ODI) for New Zealand, finishing with 123 and 140 wickets respectively, and for his exemplary services to the sport was awarded an MBE.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)

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