Third Man Cricket » Interview – Ken McEwan : An Expat Cricket Website
Interview – Ken McEwan

Some 6 months ago, I did a piece on one of my boyhood heroes, Ken McEwan. To my great honour and good fortune, a friend of his came across my piece in South Africa and wrote a thank you for it and advised that Ken was all well and enjoying retirement in a delightful town on the South coast of South Africa, Plettenberg Bay.  To my even greater honour, after a couple of e-mails, Ken agreed to do an interview for me and it is my privilege to be able to share it with Third Man Cricket readers.

One particular item hit a lovely personal note with me, in that Ken not only remembers well his wonderful innings at Hastings in 1980, but he indeed remembers that straight six that I refer to and now I know the real truth as to why that bus stopped for that length of time.  If my dad was still alive, I would be giving him the most glorious of “I told you so’s”.

Ken seems to have had a wonderful career and life and I again thank him for the time he took to answer my questions.  Pictured above is him with his family taken recently, with him on the left, then his daughter Lucy (25), his wife Diana and his son Grant (27).  I hope you enjoy the interview…

 

Let’s start with how you first got into cricket.  What gave you the desire..? My father, who was a farmer, played for the local side in the league which comprised all the local farming communities in a radius of 200km’s. We as families spent most Saturdays watching or playing on the side of the field, and this is where I became enthusiastic about cricket, although I only played my first cricket match when I was 12 years old.

How did you first get linked with Essex and what was the attraction for you to come to England?  What was South Africa like at the time? At age 12, I went to a boarding school named Queen’s College in the town of Queenstown where I played my first cricket match. In those days, a lot of schools in South Africa employed County pro’s during the English winters and Queen’s use to have players mainly from Sussex. During my first year at the school, the captain of the first eleven was the late Tony Greig, who through the Sussex pro’s, joined them when he left school. Later, in my last two years at school, Tony spent the winters coaching us and arranged for me to go to Sussex. I spent two seasons playing in the second eleven, because Sussex had their quota of overseas players, but during a Test match Tony mentioned to Keith Fletcher that I was keen to join another County and the rest is history. I left school in 1970, the year that SA was banned from International cricket, so a lot of South Africans played County cricket during those years during the off season – it was an opportunity to play with and against the top players in the world.

What were your Essex years like and how were the other players and who were your best mates? My years at Essex can only be described as fantastic, some of the best years of my life! We were fortunate that during that time, the side was very settled – the majority of the players I played with, played throughout the 12 seasons that I was at Essex and we all got along very well. That was one of the main reasons Essex was so successful during that time – players, supporters, sponsors all had fun, it was amazing.

You batted so often with Mr. Gooch, did you enjoy that and was he a close friend?  Do you ever catch up with him, considering he is something of a busy man these days? We both began our careers at the same time with Essex and yes, we became good friends – we do catch up when the opportunity arises, but he is a busy man these days and I live on the other side of the world and England don’t seem to tour here very often. Batting with him was a great pleasure because he used to intimidate bowlers so it made it a lot easier at the other end. He certainly was Essex’s greatest batsman ever.

Was there much sledging in your day?  What is the best sledge you ever got? There was a bit, but a lot of it was quite humorous, there was very little malice in it. Put it this way, as a batsman, you would be silly to sledge and when you were being sledged, you had to become deaf!

Which bowlers did you least enjoy facing up to? Lots, it depended a lot on the state of the pitches. For example, when I first joined Essex, once the game got underway and it rained, the pitches weren’t covered, other than the bowlers run-up. So batting on these wickets became very difficult, especially against great bowlers like Derek Underwood. Facing the great West Indian bowlers was intimidating, especially if the surface wasn’t great, but at the end of the day, to be successful, one had to try to be positive and not show any signs weakness.

You put in some tremendous years of service for them.  What made you call it a day for English cricket?  It was a very difficult decision to give up something that I dreamt of doing from a very young age, especially as I was part of a very successful County like Essex. But, at the end of the day, I decided that I needed to find something other than cricket to make a living from and was very fortunate to be able establish a dairy farm, which served me and my family very well. I recently sold my farm, also a difficult decision, and hopefully have a few more years left in me to enjoy the rest of my life!

How much did you play after you left Essex? I played for another six seasons in South Africa while I was setting up my farm, but eventually decided it was becoming too difficult to be away from the farm, besides, I was nearly 40.

What was your best moment in your career and what was your favourite innings? It is difficult to single out any moments (especially as they happened so long ago!) but 1979 at Essex was very special – winning a competition for the first time in over a hundred years. The B&H final at Lords was an unbelievable moment (Ken scored 72) as well as the Championship later in the season. Later, while I was farming, I was playing for Eastern Province in SA and we won the Currie Cup (the equivalent of the Championship) also for the first time in over a hundred years!  Favourite innings – it is such a long time ago, but one stands out, I was playing for a South African team against a “rebel” team from the West Indies in Port Elizabeth and scored 120.

And also, what was your worst..? My wife to be, Diana, joined me in England for a few weeks, and the day she arrived she drove to Leicester to watch me making a ‘pair” before lunch – we were bowled out for 52 and then followed on and batting at number 3, I was in before lunch and only lasted a couple of balls! Fortunately, my luck changed and in the next 5 innings I scored centuries including a double ton against Sussex!

Finally, and this is probably just for me – do you remember your innings at Hastings that I referred to in my piece?  I do – I recall it was a high scoring game on the lovely little ground at Hastings on a warm summers day.  I recall I made a century, but one thing that sticks out in my mind is that I hit a six that went over the wall, into the road. A bus had pulled up and while some chap was buying his ticket, this ball flew into the bus and hit him on the head!  While waiting for the ball to return, the game was held up for a while, when this rather large gent dressed in a vest with tattoos on both arms entered the ground with ball in hand looking for the “geyser” who had hit this ball.

This section is about the game generally…

Generally, what was life like as a County Cricketer? It was great, but like any job, there were times when things weren’t great. Fortunately, playing in the Essex side of that era, there were a lot of lighter moments, which always lifted ones spirits. I believe that these moments played a major part in making us a successful side.

What were /are your feelings about the English County game?  Too much cricket?  Not enough talent?  Standard of the grounds and pitches that you play on?  I cannot really comment on the present situation, but I reckon that with all the cricket that is on offer and with over 200 players, it is a great platform for young players to launch their careers. My experience as a young batsman was that one had a lot batting opportunities under different conditions against a wide variety bowlers – what better way to learn your trade. The bowlers will disagree!

What do you make of T20?  Any regrets that you never got to play that format? When it began, the reaction was similar to the 40 over format, just a hit and giggle. But the more it is played, the players have adjusted to the skills required to be successful and it is very popular. I am sure that I would have enjoyed playing, especially as you only had to field for 20 overs!

What is your view on match fixing?  I read an article recently from a reporter who went undercover in the game and is convinced that 50% of televised English county games are fixed in some way.  I find that a horrific number if it is true.  What is your take on that, do you look back on games and question them and were you ever approached in any way..? I recently read a book on it – it is rather disturbing, but I don’t know how they are going to stop it. After all that has happened in the cycling world, one begins to question all major sporting events.

And the last section, if I might ask some personal questions….

Were you married and have a family when playing and if so, how did you deal with your personal life and playing cricket and travelling so much.  How did your wife cope..?  Yes, I was and am still married to Di – we did not have children while I was at Essex, we started a family once we returned to South Africa, Grant and Lucy. We enjoyed commuting between SA and England, as well as to Australia, without children it was a lot easier to be free and enjoy what was on offer.

What did you do most Winters during your playing career? Most English winters I returned to SA to play in the local competitions for Eastern Province and Western Provence. I spent three winters in Perth, Western Australia.

Another TMC colleague did an excellent article on depression and suicide within cricket.  Can you understand why that is so rife in the game and have you ever suffered to any degree..?  Was it tough for you to retire? Fortunately, I never suffered from the problem. It was tough to retire from doing something I always dreamt of doing – privileged to be able to do something you enjoy. Fortunately, I was able to have a similar experience with life after cricket, ie my own dairy farm.

What are you doing now?  Do you miss playing cricket?  Do you play at all now, socially or otherwise? I decided to sell my farm and retire to a lovely place called Plettenberg Bay – we are enjoying our freedom playing golf, tennis, cycling, hiking and a bit of travelling – we are very fortunate!

Finally, I guess the question you always get asked, about not having the chance to play for South Africa.  Indeed, I read somewhere that you didn’t think you would have been picked.  Is this true and do have regrets and wonder what your Test career might have been..?  Well, the closest I got to playing for SA was during the years we had “Rebel” tours, but unfortunately my career was from 1972 till 1990, so coincided with the isolation years, 1971 till 1992. Fortunately, our country changed for the better and now participate on the world stage, but along with hundreds of other players of our era, we all missed out. I accepted the situation and got on with what I could do, but one thing is for certain, nobody will ever know what sort of Test career I might have had!  But I have no regrets on what I was able to do (to play cricket for a living for 20 years) and would do it all over again if I could.

 

 

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3 Responses to "Interview – Ken McEwan"
  1. Reply Vaughan October 22, 2013 18:16 pm

    A dream come true? Obviously Ken is a top bloke to grant you this interview. “We are not worthy”

    So, when you going back to SA then?

  2. Reply Neil T May 26, 2014 08:35 am

    What a lovely article. I was a regular spectator at Essex matches during KM’s career and what a classy player. Sounds like a gentleman too.

  3. Reply David motion December 28, 2016 00:33 am

    I was a mad keen Essex supporter in those glory years and went to the b and h final, a great day I will never forget. Ken was such an elegant player, scored a mountain of runs in a great side.

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