The other Ashes
by Steven Lynch
Ted Elsey stepped down as Benenden’s chairman in June earlier this year, but he isn’t thinking of collecting his pipe and slippers just yet. He became involved with the company after retiring from a long career in the civil service, joined the board in 2008, and became chairman in 2010.
“The company was originally set up at the beginning of the 20th century by a group of post office workers – for some reason a lot of them had been getting tuberculosis, so they clubbed together and purchased a former sanatorium in Benenden, in Kent. A few years later they let civil servants in, too. When I joined the civil service in 1962 I was enrolled in the scheme and started paying my shilling a week – and I continued doing that until I retired, by which time it was about two pounds a week. It’s still about the same now.”
It’s not just Benenden which has kept Ted busy. By the start of May, when most club cricketers had managed only a damp outing or two as spring squelched towards summer, Ted had already played five matches, including some for Sussex’s Over-70s team. And when he wasn’t playing cricket, he fitted in a few rounds of golf.
“I started playing cricket in South Wales, where I was born,” he says. “I moved to Sussex in 1979, and have been playing for Three Bridges ever since. I think they’ve just about accepted me now.” Indeed, one website jokingly describes Ted as the county’s longest-serving overseas player.
“Three Bridges run five teams on a Saturday, and not surprisingly I’ve slipped down the sides over the years, from the first team that plays in the Premier League. Last year I told them only to pick me in an emergency – but there were only three weekends when I didn’t end up playing, so there must have been a lot of problems!”
Ted describes himself as an off-spinner who bats a bit – but he’s being rather modest, as he’s done something not many cricketers have managed: he was part of a team which won the Ashes in Australia. That was last winter, when England’s Over-70s toured Down Under; it was a rematch from 2013, when England had beaten Australia at home.
This time England won the series 2–1, with Ted playing in all three of the representative matches, as well as some of the warm-up games against other experienced line-ups. The “Tests” were of 50 overs a side: “I faced one ball – and scored three not out, so I had a strike-rate of 300, the best of anyone,” he jokes. “But it was a great experience. We played on grounds used for their state cricket, in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra. Two days before we played in Sydney, we watched a first-class game there on the TV – and they didn’t bring the boundaries in for us!”
England’s players, the oldest of whom was 78, were a varied group. “Most of them would have been county Premier League standard in their youth, and a few would have played for county second elevens,” Ted explains. “John Stuck, a left-hander from Essex, made a hundred in one of our games, and the whole thing was brilliantly organised by Hugh Milner – one of my Sussex team-mates – who was the manager as well as being a player.”
The tourists came up against the odd famous name on their travels. “We played a Queensland team at Caloundra, north of Brisbane,” says Ted, “and Geoff Dymock opened the bowling.” Dymock, a bustling left-armer, was part of the Australian team for the Ashes tour in England in 1977, and a couple of years later – during a match in India – became one of only six bowlers in history to dismiss all 11 opposing batsmen in the same Test.
“It was great fun,” Ted summed up. “The matches were all played very keenly, on really hard wickets – great for batsmen, not so much fun for bowlers, unless perhaps you were very fast. And we don’t get many of them in over-70s cricket.”
England won the first Test, at the Allan Border ground in Brisbane, where they warmed up alongside Australia’s women’s team. The Aussies squared the series at North Sydney, which set up a decider at the Manuka Oval in Canberra, which is due to stage its first official Test match in a year or two. England amassed 271 for 8 in their allotted overs, and Australia could manage only 156 in reply – so the series was emphatically England’s. “Yes,” chortles Ted, “we brought back our own version of the Ashes!”
He concludes: “I’ve played sport all my life, and when I was working up in London I was only about 15 minutes away from The Oval, so I spent many an afternoon and evening there watching cricket – it’s a great way to unwind. I was a Surrey member for many years.
“And I’ve always taken cricket very seriously – club games at first, then I started playing for Sussex Seniors when I reached the mid-fifties, then the over-60s and now the over-70s. Two of our players now are over 80 – one of them bowled an inexpensive nine-over spell the other day.”
Benenden has another connection with cricket. They support the Cricket Writers Club, a distinguished group started by the famous Daily Telegraph journalist E. W. Swanton and some of his colleagues during the first post-war tour of Australia, in 1946-47. Cricket tours back then were more leisurely affairs: the teams – and the writers – travelled to Australia by ship, and were away from home for around seven months.
The Cricket Writers Club presents several annual awards, the most famous being one to their young cricketer of the year, most of whom have gone on to play for England – Joe Root won it in 2012, and Ben Stokes the following year. “One of our local branch officials had a connection with the Cricket Writers Club,” says Ted, “and invited me to their annual lunch. Things went from there really, and we decided to sponsor them – I hope it will continue for a long time.”
A version of this article first appeared in our Be Healthy magazine.
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