As we fix a noon appointment with Ewen Chatfield,the former New Zealand Test player and Sir Richard Hadlees long-time pace partner sneaks in a puzzling line: I could be a bit late or a bit early depending on where Im driving in the city. Then,sensing the confusion,he adds: I am a taxi driver,so I am not sure where my work will take me.
Covering cricket overseas,you frequently encounter cricket-crazy cabbies wanting to discuss the last game. But not someone who has himself played 43 Tests,114 one-dayers and taken 263 international wickets,123 of those in Tests. (Thats more than Manoj Prabhakar,Venkatesh Prasad,Dilip Doshi or Karsan Ghavri.)
Naturally,you expect to meet a bitter man with loads of post-retirement grouses. But Chatfield surprises again. I have no regrets, he says with a hearty laugh. He doesnt grudge todays players the money they make,only just like with people like you and me,payments for cricketers should be based on performance.
Chatfield walks in for the interview in his work clothes,black suit,tie and a golden-colour badge that says Ewen. The trademark moustache that an Indian fan might remember him by has gone. The big mop of hair has thinned Chatfield is 58 now. But there still isnt an ounce of fat on the tall,lean frame.
He hands out a card with a green,cricket-field background and says: This isnt the card of my taxi company. I got it made when I used to mow lawns. He then proceeds to give you a list of all he has done apart from bowling tight,right-arm medium.
Ive been courier guy. As a salesman with a company making chips,I drove a delivery truck to stores around the city. Later,I moved to lawn-mowing. But as I grew older it became tiring the lawns would be too wet to cut in the winter and I would go broke. I always liked driving,so being a taxi driver is good for me.
Chatfield works for Corporate Cabs,a luxury taxi service whose clients include top executives and politicians. You cant just wave a hand to me and ask me to drop you somewhere, he says smiling.
In his playing days,Chatfield was known for his ability to bowl long,tireless spells. Twenty years after he last appeared for New Zealand in a Test,the man continues to take a killer workload easily.
He is up at 5 am,and at the wheel for 14 hours every day,with just a 60-minute lunch break in between. Once a month,he works over the weekend as well. My plan was to keep doing this till I was 65 and earn enough to retire. But it seems Ill have to keep working even after that, says the father of three. People have told me that if I had been born 20 years later than I was,I wouldnt be driving taxis. But I never think along those lines. Every generation is better off than the previous one, he says.
Chatfield is in touch with cricket,playing in weekend club games,but not with his colleagues from playing days. I play with the amateurs. Its frustrating to see dropped catches and misfields,but I have set a deadline for my final retirement. The day I score a ton I wont play cricket again. He came close last month,scoring 70 49 more than the highest he ever got in a Test.
The only complaint Chatfield has about todays cricket is the ruthlessly competitive atmosphere in dressing-rooms,and the overemphasis on gymming at the expense of outdoor running. But on the whole,he is the quintessential Kiwi,unassuming,at complete peace with himself.
As he prepares to leave after the interview,he allows himself to be photographed with his cab. Go ahead,take my picture, he says. The guys at the office will be happy.