“He had never been in the home dressing room at Lord’s. But that is no excuse. Plenty of men have played there, and David Steele remains the only man to end up in the toilet of Lord’s while going out to bat in a Test match”.
Twelve years of county cricket with Northamptonshire. By the end of it, he had greyed way beyond his 33 years. With his slight frame and steel-rimmed glasses looked every bit the bank clerk.
But, with Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson pulverising the Englishmen with their thunderbolts, and the nightmares of the Australian summer of 1974-75 revisiting them at Birmingham with an innings defeat, this nondescript man was summoned by Tony Greig to buckle up and take on the fast stuff dished out by the Australian pair.
Greig, himself elevated into captaincy after Mike Denness had finally succumbed to poor form and repeated losses, punted on Steele. And when his name, D Steele, was read out on the radio on the Sunday before the Test, thousands of Englishmen looked at each other and wondered, “Steele? Who? Which county?”
When Greig indicated with a sweep of his hands that he had won the toss and England were batting at Lord’s, Steele padded up. The sight of others strapping on chest protectors did not do wonders for his confidence. Lillee and Thomson … the reputations had preceded them. Steele feared the worst. He pushed a towel down the leg of his trousers as thigh protection.
12 minutes and 10 runs. After that Lillee had one nip back. Barry Wood was struck on the pad. A loud appeal. The umpire’s finger went up. Steele was on his way out to the middle.
Well, not quite as yet.
He went down the stairs, from the dressing room. And then kept going down instead of turning into the Long Room and walking through it.
He ended up in the toilet of the Lord’s pavilion.
He had never been in the home dressing room at Lord’s. But that is no excuse. Plenty of men have played there, and David Steele remains the only man to end up in the toilet of Lord’s while going out to bat in a Test match.
“Don’t go in there. These are the toilets. You’ve come down too far. You’d better go back up to the Long Room,” said the attendant.
“Right. I’ll just nip back up, then.”
By the time he climbed the stairs, Wood was already going up the stairs.
“Get a move on,” he urged.
After a brief question about the conditions out there, Steele hurried through the Long Room. Through all the ‘All the best’ and ‘See it out till lunch’ he heard, “Bloody hell, he’s very grey, isn’t he?”
As he walked out the close fielders turned to face him. They looked like executioners waiting to bring down the sword.
And as he passed the wicketkeeper, Thomson’s voice reached his ears. “Who the hell is this? Groucho Marx?”
There are others who wondered if it was “F**ing Father Christmas.”
Steele just responded with “Morning.”
These tales get coloured with age. Some say Rod Marsh called out to Lillee, “Dennis, you didn’t tell me your grandpa was playing.”
Steele, tired of the sledges, turned towards Marsh. “Take a good look at this arse of mine, Marshy. Get used to it, because you’re going to see a lot of it this summer.”
Two balls were short in length and Steele got behind the line to defend. The third was shorter, and he moved across and pulled it past the leg-gully to the square leg fence for four.
“You’re doing all right,” said umpire Bill Alley, the Australian who settled in Somerset and became a legend.
He was doing okay. At the other end, John Edrich fell for 9. Dennis Amiss went for a duck. A young Graham Gooch, playing in his second Test, scored his first runs for England but got just 6. Lillee got all of them. But the dogged Steele remained rooted, partnering his captain Greig, the two of them unbeaten at lunch.
And then, as Ian Chappell turned to spin for the first time, he whipped Ashley Mallett off his pads to get to his fifty. The crowd cheered loudly. Their bank clerk who had gone to war would definitely be mentioned in despatches.
And then he played loosely at Thomson, trying to pull him to the Tavern. The inside edge dragged the ball on to the stumps. That was the end of his first Test innings, for 50.
But he did keep his promise to Marsh.
He followed up his 50, with scores of 45, 73, 92, 39 and 66 in the series. He batted exactly 19 hours, faced 860 balls and scored 365 runs at 60.83.
The Australian wicketkeeper did see a lot of his behind that summer.