Ewen Chatfield literally came back from the dead after his heart stopped beating for a few seconds on a cricket field. Now he drives taxi for a living.
In the late 70s and 80s, Chatfield formed a probing new ball combination with the legendary Richard Hadlee.
Hadlee would attack with swing and seam at one end. Chatfield, with telling precision, would hold the other end up.
The Hindu caught up with the 63-year-old Chatfield during the third day’s play at the Basin Reserve here on Sunday.
He remembered the moment. It was the England-New Zealand Test of 1975 in Auckland.
England was scenting a win on the final day. “I was the No. 11 and was batting with Geoff Howarth. There was a threat of rain and England was getting increasingly frustrated. Then Peter Lever delivered a short-pitched ball.”
Those were days when batsmen did not wear helmets. “The ball went off the top of the bat handle and thudded into my temple. And I swallowed my tongue. I saw Howarth at the other end as I came crashing down. Then I went blank,” Chatfield said.
His heart had stopped beating. “I was told later that England physio Bernard Thomas rushed in, pulled my tongue out and let the air flow in again.” Taken in an ambulance, Chatfield only regained consciousness at the hospital.
“For me, it was rebirth,” said Chatfield.
The lanky seamer came back successfully for New Zealand when many thought he would never play the game again.
He was frugal with the ball, creating pressure. In 43 Tests, Chatfield took 123 wickets at an economy rate of only 2.29. And in 140 ODIs, he scalped 140 batsmen at just 3.57 (economy rate).
During times when an uncapped India cricketer rakes in millions, it is incomprehensible someone as accomplished as Chatfield should be driving his taxi around in Wellington.
But then Chatfield, a simple man, is content. “I make a decent living out of it. To make more money you have to drive long hours and that can be hard,” he said.
Does he get recognised by cricket fans when they get into his taxi? Chatfield answered, “Some do. Some others kind of guess who I am but are reluctant to ask.”
Chatfield holds no grudges against present-day cricketers who make big money in a small period. “Cricket has become more professional now. But I enjoyed the 70s and 80s era, particularly travelling to different countries with the team.”
He is unhappy though that contemporary pacemen, with a few exceptions, do not bowl with the control he operated with.
“One gets the impression they are trying to pick a wicket with every ball. They are not trying to work a batsman out. That is the difference,” he said.
And he doesn’t even want to hear about corruption in the game. Greed has never played a part in this honest cricketer’s life.