David Steele was welcomed into England’s XI during the 1975 Ashes with mirth by many. By the end of the series, his extraordinary guts and concentration impressed one and all.
In the aftermath of an innings defeat at Edgbaston in the first Ashes Test of 1975, the selection of 33-year-old David Steele for the second match smacked of desperation. Picking a player who had taken seven seasons to muster a batting average of more than thirty, and the scorer of just sixteen centuries in more than 12 seasons with Northants, told a jaded public more than enough about the ailing state of the national side.
Unsurprisingly, the Aussies welcomed his selection to the Test side with a combination of disbelief and mirth. And it didn’t help that, in appearance at least, the grey-haired and bespectacled Steele was more suited to Dickensian caricature than to repelling the twin terrors of Lillee and Thomson.
But in hour upon hour of dead bat defiance that summer, this ‘obdurate, ageing mollusc’, as he was once described, proved himself a modern-day Hercules, raising not only his own stock, but the morale of his battered team-mates. Despite getting lost on his way out to bat on his debut at Lord’s, the man later dubbed ‘the bank clerk who went to war’ showed extraordinary guts and concentration to make scores of 50 and 45 and lead a rejuvenated team to a creditable draw.
And skepticism soon turned to admiration as Steele racked up a further three half-centuries in the remaining two Tests. The series ended 1-0 to the visitors, but his efforts had prevented a much heavier defeat, and an appreciative public heaped praise and affection on a man who in a losing cause had refused to be cowed. A classically English hero had emerged, and Steele was duly crowned the BBC’s 1975 Sports Personality of the Year.
He would play just five more times for England, making his only Test century against the West Indians in 1976.
First published in 2007.