Ewen Chatfield

'I never bowled a bouncer'

He wasn't quick, he didn't swing it; he was an unsung hero for New Zealand cricket in the age of Hadlee

Interview by Sidharth Monga  |  

"I was just a seamer" © The Cricketer International

I never had a dream that I would play for New Zealand. I mean, I used to listen to the Plunket Shield games at home when I was 11, 12, 13, but I never envisioned that idea. It just developed.

We had a 30-foot front lawn. My father was a very keen cricket player. One of my brothers played. We used to cut out a wicket. He was always the batter and I was the bowler. We used to go a long way - we were way out in the country, long, long way from town - to play inter-district cricket. I was only 11 or 12 then.

I didn't run in and bowl quick. I mean, I did the job that I was picked to do. We were a pretty unlikely duo. Normal opening fast bowlers, Griffith and Hall, Thomson and Lillee, they were both sharp. I just trundled into the wind.

I learnt by just bowling. I had very little coaching. Or no coaching. It was something that developed through bowling a lot. Go along with the practice, and bowl for the whole two hours, or three hours, whatever it was. I never had a bat in the nets, as you could see.

I don't watch old tapes. I haven't even seen the 50-run partnership against Pakistan to win the match.

We nearly had a punch-up in a Hawke Cup game. We were playing the holders, and we actually got the first-innings lead. We would have taken the Hawke Cup, but there was blatant cheating going on. When we came on to bowl, we were doing quite well, until their main batsman nicked to second slip. Not out. A few other things had happened before that. Our captain went to the square-leg umpire, this little skinny guy, shaking like a leaf, and if it hadn't been for me stepping in, I tell you, he would have whacked him. We refused to go to any post-match thing. It was really nasty. That was the way we played those games. They were serious games. Everybody wanted to win. That's the only time, in all the cricket I have played, that we got close to a punch-up.

I knew five people when I came to Wellington. My uncle, my aunt and their kids. I was lucky they knew the secretary of the cricket club. They rang him up and found out where the practice was. I just went along. Just turned up. They didn't know who this guy from Waione was.

I have not kept in touch with Peter Lever. Not because of that incident [where Chatfield was hit by a ball from Lever and nearly died]. I mean, he is on the other side of the world. I don't know where to see him.

We were probably the last era that went to other dressing rooms to have a beer after the day's play. Now guys can't get out of the dressing room fast enough. The other day Kerry O'Keeffe and I were talking about a game when Wellington played Australia in 1973-74. He remembered how at the end of the day we went to their dressing room. We were young guys, playing against Chappell, Chappell, Thomson, Lillee, O'Keeffe, Bright, McCosker. You go there, have a beer with them, ask some questions - that's how you learn.

I might have missed a few by not appealing. I just appealed from where I finished, sort of, or where I was headed. I wouldn't be in line, so I just didn't appeal. I may have missed a few.

We ended Andrew Hilditch's career: we got him out hooking twice. He never played for Australia again.

It's an honour to have played for your country. I get recognised at a lot of places. You can walk down the street, and people recognise you in a small country like New Zealand. That gives you a bit of a buzz. It's been 20 years since I last played. People of that generation still recognise me. It's nice.

"We were probably the last era that went to other dressing rooms to have a beer after the day's play. Now guys can't get out of the dressing room fast enough"

I didn't swing the ball at all. I was just a seamer.

The grooming at the farm helped me. I believe that. We used to walk a lot. We had a horse but we never used it. We had an old jeep they used in the army, but we used to walk to a lot of places. I think that built up strength, and because of that I only went to the gym two or three months in my whole career. I did a lot of training. I liked running. I did a lot of pre-season training. I just used to run and bowl in the nets. I ran around the roads, around the fields. That's the way I did it. Richard Hadlee never did any running. He did short sharp sprints. But he played 12 months in a year. So he was sort of match-fit all the time.

I never bowled a bouncer all my life. I wasn't quick enough for that.

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.

I wasn't interested in farming. We went away to boarding school. I did a science thing there rather than the trade thing. I came to Hutt Valley, and Wellington area, looking for a job that involved science.

It's a bit of a myth. I didn't bowl into the wind that much. I opened into the wind, and then generally got switched around and came on after Richard was done. Bowling into the wind takes practice, being fit. There's nothing much on me. Maybe that's the reason I could scythe through the wind without much trouble.

The problem in New Zealand is that we haven't got a big player base. When somebody does get injured, it's very difficult to replace him. They tend to call him back too early.

Coming back after that hit wasn't difficult. I got a helmet. Just carried on as if nothing had happened. Was hit on the helmet a few times. Whether it affected my batting or not, I don't really know.

Haynes, Greenidge, Richards… I didn't play against Ian, but Greg Chappell, Gower and Botham, on their day they could all be hard to bowl to. But Gower, he was such a gifted thing. Boycott, I didn't bowl much to, but he just blocked. He was lucky he had a good concentration span.

Chatfield drives taxis for a cab company these days

Chatfield drives taxis for a cab company these days © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

New Zealand cricket was a vehicle to be able to play against the best in the world. It wasn't a full-time job. I had to work as well. They enabled me to play. Though I didn't dream of it when I was young. Later on, when I didn't get picked, I was disappointed. It must have meant something to me.

We've only got 66 first-class players. I suppose you can say Australia also have 66, but their base below is huge. Look at this guy [David] Warner, he has come from nowhere. From club cricket. We have never had a club cricketer picked for New Zealand. Never.

I was lucky I had four grades of cricket. Test matches, Wellington, Hutt Valley, club cricket. When I gave up Tests, I played for Wellington a bit longer. When I gave up Wellington, I played for Hutt Valley for the next three or four years. I wasn't actually playing club cricket, but then I started playing again. Working huge hours, so I thought I had to go and do something. Golf didn't appeal to me. So I went back to club cricket. At a very low grade. The hardest thing there was to accept that it was your grade, and that there were misfields off your bowling. They were good, honest cricketers.

My only ambition still left in cricket is to get a hundred. Once I get that 100, I'll be gone. Vanished. Don't think it will ever happen.

Australia, they didn't rate us. I mean, they regarded us as second cousins.

The only disappointment I had at the time was that I never got selected for the 1978 tour to England. They had this fixation with Boycott, and Richard Collinge had retired. He had got Boycott out twice with his left-armers. So they picked the left-armer [not Collinge] who wasn't good enough to go and left me. Then they all broke down, so they called me. I trained through the winter, always keeping myself fit. When the time came, they picked Collinge, who had retired and not done any work.

[Jesse] Ryder has got a problem. I am a bit disappointed that people haven't helped him as much as they should. They should be bending over backwards to help him as much as they can. We don't get that kind of batsman too often. People who have got those problems can't solve them themselves.

I don't watch much cricket on TV. I haven't got Sky. But I check up on Cricinfo to make sure I know what is going on around the world. Generally if they are playing in town, I go to see.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo