One and done

One Test, two caps

Opener Ken Eastwood got to play only one Test for Australia - under unusual circumstances - but he continues his association with the game even as he nears 80

Brydon Coverdale  |  

Ken Eastwood made his Test debut at 35, played club cricket till 54, and continues umpiring at the age of 79

Ken Eastwood made his Test debut at 35, played club cricket till 54, and continues umpiring at the age of 79 © Brydon Coverdale

"The ABC won't come and take one back, will they?" Ken Eastwood jokes as he unpacks his two baggy green caps from their protective plastic wrap.

He should be pretty safe. The Australian Board of Control for International Cricket has been through a couple of name changes since Eastwood played his only Test in 1971. If the ABC didn't, and then the ACB didn't, then Cricket Australia won't worry too much about the oversight.

"They gave me two caps to try on for size, and nobody asked for the other one back, so it stayed in my bag," Eastwood says. "I finished up with two caps for one Test. No sweat marks on them, they're in pristine condition."

Frankly, so is Eastwood himself. This is a man who turns 80 later this year, but still takes an active part in club cricket every weekend. He played for Footscray until he was 54, got bored during a season of retirement, and took up umpiring in the Victorian Turf Cricket Association, which he still does more than 20 years later.

"I can see, I can get to position quick enough for run-outs," Eastwood says. "I pull up all right. Sunday mornings I'm not too stiff, just the legs are a little bit tired. I think back and I'm 79, I started playing cricket on a Saturday when I was 11... I've been getting up on a Saturday morning to go to cricket for nearly all that time."

One morning sticks in his memory more than most, though it was a Friday, not a Saturday. It was the morning of Eastwood's Test debut, February 12, 1971. The circumstances of his call-up were unusual enough - more on that shortly - but he must surely be the only cricketer who had to hitchhike to his Test debut.

Staying at a motel not too far from the SCG, Eastwood and his team-mates were waiting for the taxis that captain Ian Chappell had ordered for 8.30am. By 8.45 the taxis hadn't arrived. Another ten minutes - still no taxis. They had been sent to the wrong motel.

"Imagine how toey I was getting," Eastwood says. "Terry Jenner says, 'Come with me, we'll get our own taxi.' He gets out there and sticks the thumb out. A bloke pulls up and we get a lift with him and get him into the members' car park."

It was far from the only unusual thing about Eastwood's debut. For one, it was the seventh Test in an Ashes series, the third having been washed out without a ball bowled.

For another, Eastwood was 35 years old and had not even been in the Victoria team at the start of the summer.

For yet another, Eastwood replaced the captain, Bill Lawry, who was averaging 40.50 in the series and found out about his axing via a radio report. Eastwood learnt the news of his call-up from journalist Rod Nicholson, who phoned him at work for a comment. You could say he made Eastwood's day.

"I said, 'Are you fair dinkum?' because I was basically battling to cement my place in the Victorian side," Eastwood says. "It was a pleasant surprise, let me tell you, especially at 35."

"It's surprising what one Test does for you. I always get an invite to at least one function during the Melbourne Test, and I'll never knock back a free lunch. You catch up with the blokes you played with and against"

Only a series of fortunate events led to him becoming the 256th man in the baggy green. Having played every game for Victoria the previous summer and topped their run tally, Eastwood was left out of the first match in the summer of his debut. For the first time in his life, he felt bitterness towards the selectors.

Then came a stroke of good luck: he was dismissed cheaply ten minutes before stumps in a club game for Footscray one Saturday afternoon. Why was that lucky? Because Victoria suddenly needed a 12th man for a match the following weekend, after Jim Higgs withdrew late due to a university exam. The selectors didn't want to pick anyone who had to bat or bowl on the second Saturday of the club round, so Eastwood was called up.

And as the incumbent 12th man, he kept the job for the next game, a home fixture against South Australia. Then came the next fortuitous event: Lawry retired hurt in that match with a thigh strain. After the game, Lawry and selector Sam Loxton were in the rooms discussing the situation. The injury was not bad, but there was an Ashes series coming up, and Lawry was captain. Was it worth him playing the next Shield game against New South Wales?

"Bill says he'll be okay, Sam says if you do more damage you could miss the Test," Eastwood recalls. "I'm sitting there listening. I want to put my two bobs' worth in and say, 'Phantom, I think you should save yourself for the Test.' But I kept quiet. Anyway, he sees the logic of it and sits out. They couldn't pick anyone but me to replace him because I'm already in the dressing room."

So Eastwood played his first state match of the season the following weekend. And he scored 201. Naturally, he kept his place, and two games later made 177.

It meant that when the seventh Test came around in early February and the selectors decided it was time for Lawry to go, Eastwood was the man they called upon. Lawry's axing was not so much a matter of form as the culmination of a lingering displeasure that began on the previous summer's tour of South Africa.

Back-to-back tours of India and South Africa had taken their toll on the Australians, but the boards wanted to add a fifth Test to the four-Test series in South Africa. Lawry stood up for his exhausted players and said they would only play for an extra $500 per man. The board refused, the fifth Test was not added to the schedule, and Lawry's cards were marked.

"Obviously it was political, although I didn't find that out until years after," Eastwood says.

For him, it was an opportunity he never expected to receive, and one for which he was not exactly ready. A wet summer meant that in the six weeks before his Test debut, he had barely trained, had played no state cricket and only one shortened club match. He flew in to Sydney for his debut with the series on the line, and it rained until the afternoon before the Test.

A lack of off-field support also irked him. No officials met him at the Sydney airport when he arrived. He had to make his way into a city sports store to find a jumper himself. His Test blazer turned up six months later. And he had to hitchhike to the SCG on the morning of his debut, his first glimpse of the ground that week due to the wet weather. All the same, he had a spring in his step.

Chappell, in his first Test as captain, sent England in on a pitch with a little bit of juice in it. England were bowled out in 76 overs and Eastwood had to bat late on the first day. He scored 5, his only runs in Test cricket, before he was caught behind off Peter Lever.

"I can't remember the runs I scored or how I got them," he says. "I remember getting out - a big inswinger and I was caught down the leg side. This one started on middle stump and started swinging on to my legs. I thought, 'Thank you very much' and tried to help it on its way, and it just kept going."

There had been no team meetings, no plans discussed to handle certain bowlers. Nobody warned Eastwood that Lever was known for bowling big inswingers, which caught him by surprise.

There was more surprise to come later in Australia's first innings, when Terry Jenner was struck by a delivery from John Snow. The umpire Lou Rowan took issue with the delivery, and the upshot was the crowd hurling bottles over the fence in protest and England captain Ray Illingworth leading his players off the field until it was safe to resume.

"I don't blame John Snow for it," Eastwood says. "Terry ducked into it. He was a pretty handy bat but didn't like quicks. It was common knowledge you could bounce him and he wouldn't want to hang around."

Eastwood's own occasional left-arm wristspin was far from intimidatory, but it did bring success when Chappell called on him in the second innings. He took 1 for 21 from five overs, one of only six first-class wickets of his career.

"I had a wrong'un that if it landed, it turned," Eastwood says. "A very high percentage of batsmen in first-class cricket can't pick wrong'uns from the hand, which is surprising. The Poms are very much like that because they don't see many wristspinners. Anyway, the wicket I got was a well-flighted full toss. K Fletcher caught K Stackpole bowled K Eastwood, caught at midwicket."

In their second innings, Australia needed 223 for victory, which would have meant a drawn series, and Australia would have retained the Ashes. As it was, they were bowled out for 160, England won the urn, and Eastwood added a duck to his first-innings five, bowled by a yorker on the pads from Snow in the first over of the chase.

"We had to get about 220 in four sessions on a wicket that was still pretty good for a fourth and fifth-day wicket," he says. "It would have suited Bill right down to the ground. He'd handled those blokes, he'd got runs against them. He couldn't have done any worse than me."

So where did that leave Eastwood? He made 221 in his next Shield game, at Adelaide Oval, and would have considered himself a chance to make Australia's next tour, to South Africa the following summer. But that tour was cancelled, Eastwood had a disappointing 1971-72 for Victoria, and he was resigned to being a one-Test player. One was enough.

"What is there - 200 or 250 living Australian Test cricketers? What's the population of Australia, 23 million? What's that - .001% of the population? It's a pretty elite group!"

"It's surprising what one Test does for you. I always get an invite to at least one function during the Melbourne Test, and I'll never knock back a free lunch. The Australian Cricketers' Association have a function each Test. You catch up with the blokes you played with and against. I enjoy it, it's about the only time I see them these days.

"Ian Chappell amazed me - about 20 years after that Test I ran into him at the MCG coming down the stairs, and he said, 'G'day Ken, how you going?' I felt great that he still recognised me."

Eastwood admits he wasn't a walker as a batsman - "what you lose on the hurdy-gurdy you make on the merry-go-round," he says - and as an umpire gives his decisions quickly, on instinct. He long ago stopped trying to memorise all the exotic rules that never come up in a match.

Do the young club players have any idea the man adjudicating their appeals is a former Test cricketer?

"Word does get around," Eastwood says. "I generally tell them, 'Google me, you'll find everything there!'"

Now they'll find a little more.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale