Now a veteran of this series, Bob Borsley sends his thoughts back to the mid-1970s to recall a brief but remarkable Test career:
Cricket throws up some unlikely heroes, but few have been more unlikely than David Steele. In the second Test against Australia in 1975 at the age of 33, and after a lengthy career in county cricket in which he had rarely if ever been seen as a potential Test cricketer, he found himself coming in when England were 10 for 1 to face Lillee and Thomson at their most ferocious. Apparently he took a wrong turn on his way from the dressing room to the pitch and was in danger of being timed out, but he eventually got to the crease, where he saw three more wickets fall in quick succession to leave England 49 for 4. This brought in England captain Tony Greig, and with Steele showing an imperturbable demeanour and a sound technique, the pair took the score to 145 before Steele was out for a valuable 50. Greig went on to score 96, Alan Knott scored 69 and England eventually reached a reasonable 315. Steele scored 45 in the second innings, and the match was drawn.
With grey hair and glasses Steele was often described as looking like a bank clerk. He certainly didn't look like a sporting superstar, but for the rest of the summer he was England's hero with scores of 73, 92, 39, and 66. At the end of the year he was voted BBC sports personality of the year, something that has only happened to three other cricketers: Jim Laker (1956), Ian Botham (1981), and Andrew Flintoff (2005). He scored his only Test century in the first Test against the West Indies in 1976, but after three more Tests his Test career came to an end. His final average was 42.06, which compares favourably with Nasser Hussain on 37.18 and Alec Stewart on 39.54, or to take some earlier figures, Bill Edrich on 40.00, Frank Woolley on 36.07, and C. B. Fry on 32.18.
Steele's achievement must have given many other experienced county cricketers who had never been talked about as potential Test players the hope that they too could make it at Test level. But no one since has managed anything quite like David Steele.
From accounts of Steele's half-century at Lord's written at the time:
A surprise choice by England was David Steele, the bespectacled grey-haired 33-year-old Northamptonshire batsman. He entered when Wood was the first of five men leg-before during the innings. Three times Steele hooked Lillee's short ball and he also cut effectively, but above all he showed the value of playing forward in a calm and calculated manner. - Wisden 1976
To a standing ovation Steele brought up his 50 after 157 minutes at the crease, and he embarrassingly [sic] pulled off his cap to acknowledge the crowd. - John Buchanan, Australia v England: The Ten Test Matches 1975
In his long career with Northamptonshire [Steele] had grafted useful runs for many seasons but without a hint of the class which one looks for in the best players. He proved on this very first morning in his very first Test that batting is about personality and character too. His habit of playing forward to all but the very short ball paid off, though he was quick to half-hook Lillee a couple of times down for boundaries to fine leg... David Steele made 50 before he pulled a short ball from Thomson down on to his stumps. - Tony Lewis, A Summer of Cricket
Steele's fifty brought eulogies; Brian Johnston said that he had always thought that Steele was a good player, but perhaps not a Test cricketer. I am sure that I said that he showed that what England really wanted were batsmen with resolution as if I had discovered something new. - Henry Blofeld in Frindall's Scorebook: England versus Australia 1975
I am well aware that when the name D. Steele was read out on radio and television the Sunday before the Lord's Test in August 1975, there were millions who looked at each other and asked 'Steele? Who's he? Where on earth does he come from?'
The usual chorus followed me - 'All the best Steelo' and the like - and I'm plodding on down the stairs. I think at a moment like that your mind is not on geographical problems but on the game itself. Anyway, I went down two flights of stairs instead of one and finished in the toilets down the bottom there.
[J]ust as I was passing the wicketkeeper, Rodney Marsh, a voice drawled out in that caustic Aussie twang I came to know so well. I think the comment came from Thomson or one of the short-legs but it was 'Who the hell is this? Groucho Marx?' - David Steele, Come in Number 3
[For links to the other posts in this series, see here.]