Ewen Chatfield: 12 interesting facts about the Kiwi who cheated death on Test debut

Ewen Chatfield, born July 3, 1950, is a former New Zealand pace bowler who played for 14 years and partnered the great Richard Hadlee with the new ball. On his 65th birthday, Shiamak Unwalla looks at 12 interesting facts about a man who showed tremendous fortitude after a ghastly debut.

1.  Horrific debut

Few people have ever endured a worse Test debut than Ewen Chatfield. It was the first Test against England at Auckland in 1974-75. Following on, New Zealand were nine wickets down for 140 when Chatfield came in at No. 11. He and Geoff Howarth frustrated the English bowlers for 44 runs before Peter Lever sent down a short ball. Chatfield was unable to get out of the way in time, and was struck on the back of his head.

Within seconds he was on the floor, foaming at the mouth and unable to breathe. It was only because of the England team physiotherapist that he even survived.

2.  Lucky escape

Shockingly, there were no doctors on call at the ground that fateful day at Auckland in 1974-75. None of the England players who gathered around the fallen Chatfield realised he had swallowed his tongue and were unable to breathe. Luckily for Chatfield, the England physiotherapist Bernard Thomas was at the ground, and rushed onto the field to administer Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Thomas later said, “It was the worst case I have seen and I never want to see another. His heart had stopped beating and technically that’s the sign of dying.”

3.  Harder on the bowler than the batsman

Perhaps the person most affected by the incident was not Chatfield himself but the bowler Peter Lever. When he saw the damage his short ball had done he was disconsolate. He openly sobbed, thinking he had killed Chatfield, and later visited the hospital repeatedly to enquire after his health.

Lever later said, “When the ambulance men were working on Ewen, it was the closest I had come to praying for a long time. I honestly thought I had killed him as I saw him lying there in convulsions. I felt sick and ashamed at what I had done and all I could think when I got back to the pavilion was that I wanted to retire.”

4.  Finding humour in a near-tragedy

Never one to make much of a show, Chatfield brushed the near-fatal incident aside later in life. When asked whether he would be particularly wary of the short ball after the incident, Chatfield replied,“I never really had a fear of the short ball in particular; I was just wary of most deliveries.”

5.  Respected by a great

Pakistan great Javed Miandad had immense respect for Chatfield. “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 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,” wrote Miandad in his autobiography Cutting Edge —My Autobiography.

6.  Plucky innings

Though he averaged less than nine with the bat in Tests, he was capable of digging deep and rarely threw his wicket away cheaply. Perhaps his finest hour with the bat came against Pakistan in Dunedin in 1984-85.Pakistan scored 274 in their first innings before bowling New Zealand out for 220. New Zealand fought hard with the ball, bowling Pakistan out for 223, which left them with a 278-run target.Martin Crowe (84) set up the chase, but it was Jeremy Coney (111 not out) who played the most vital knock. However at 228 for nine, it looked like Pakistan would pull off the game, especially since Lance Cairns had retired hurt earlier. In walked Chatfield at No. 11, and proceeded to score an unbeaten 21 off 84 balls, adding the crucial 50 with Coney that New Zealand needed to win the match. It remained Chatfield’s highest Test score.

7.  Productive partnership

Though Chatfield would play only 43 Tests in his 14-year long career, he formed a fruitful bowling partnership with Sir Richard Hadlee. The two would open bowling for New Zealand, and while Hadlee was invariably the star of the show, Chatfield’s steady role to bottle up the other end cannot be understated.

8.Royal recognition

Chatfield was honoured with an MBE for his services to cricket.

9.  ‘Naenae Express’

Chatfield used to be called the ‘Naenae Express’ during his playing days, but was never quite a “fast” bowler.

10.  Post-playing days

For a man who played 43 Tests and opened bowling with Richard Hadlee, Chatfield had to endure a number of financial hardships after his playing days. He now drives a cab in Wellington for Corporate Cabs.

11.  End of the famous moustache

Once renowned for his sideburns and moustache, Chatfield has since gone for a clean-shaven look, especially since becoming a cab driver. He revealed that while coaching a team, a bit of his moustache had been shaved off by his players. As a result he decided to shave entirely, and was told he looked much younger that way.

12.  Dreams of a century

Though he was never much of a batsman, Chatfield started enjoying his batting while playing club cricket after his retirement. He scored a few 90s and a 70-odd. He once dreamed of scoring a century, thinking that he would finally hang up his boots after that. He has since decided that the elusive century probably won’t come.

(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)