Chesters no more … a sad moment

Rex Clementine and the Island team…. plus Deba Dar at the end of this item

Pic by AFP

“Cricket is life . . . what comes after are mere details.” – Trevor Chesterfield (1935 – 2011)

Trevor Chesterfield, The Island cricket columnist, veteran journalist and author passed away yesterday morning at his Arthur’s Place Residence in Moratuwa. He was 75 years old. Owen Murray Trevor Chesterfield, was fondly known as ‘Chesters’ and always attended cricket matches and press conferences well dressed; blazer, tie, cuff-links and well polished shoes. That was the case even when attending matches at SSC, where the press-box is open exposing us to the scorching heat and wanted others to get dressed like him too.

Chesters was born in Palmestorn North in New Zealand and subsequently worked in England and South Africa. After the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, he married Pauline and lived in Sri Lanka. His knowledge on cricket was immense and encouraged young journalists to use the proper terminology in describing the sport. For Trevor there was no such thing called wicket, he insisted on saying pitch. He also didn’t take it too fondly when journalists used the term ‘extras’. His preference was sundries.

He was obsessed with cricket. He called rugby, ‘thugby’ and all other sports other than cricket as ‘intellectually inferior sports’. If there was too much of coverage on a particular sport other than ‘Chesters’…cricket in The Island sports pages, Trevor used to call us and raise his objections.

His e-mail id described the man; lbwbambrose was the id he used and his mails ended with this line. ‘Cricket is life . . . what comes after are mere details’.

During the drinks break of a day’s play while covering cricket, some journalists used to gather at a corner for a smoke and Trevor used to say, ‘young men are wasting their lives’. His description of a cigarette was funny. He used to say, ‘cigarette is a bundle of tobacco that has fire on one side and a fool on the other’. He also authored a couple of cricket books in South Africa and had begun his work on Sri Lankan cricket, but it wasn’t complete.

There were people who tried to make his stay in Sri Lanka an unpleasant one. Three different cricket administrations tried to make life difficult for him and on occasions he was threatened saying he might not get accredited for cricket matches. On one instance the ICC intervened and told he was too big to be touched.

Despite issues he continued to write fearlessly. His Monday column in The Island ‘The Chesterfield Files’ was a popular hit among the readers, but the administration, naturally, hated it. His last column alone had over 4500 hits in ‘The Island’ on-line edition.

The International Cricket Council was quick to put out a statement on hearing about his demise. “With cricket being his passion, it was fitting for him to have witnessed a splendid World Cup through to the end. Indeed, I met him during the event in Colombo and it is a shock to hear about his passing. I would like to send my condolences and those of the ICC to his family and friends around the world. His well-considered views and vast cricketing experience will be missed. May he rest in peace,” ICC Chief Haroon Lorgat said in a statement.


Ramblings of a distant admirer

Deba Prasad Dhar

I’m seldom inspired to write an obit on a cricketer. Why then, I’m having this strange urge to scribble something on Trevor Chesterfield, the veteran cricket writer, who passed away on Wednesday? Trevor Chacha, as he was fondly called, wasn’t a friend and I will not miss him. I grew up reading his perceptive columns in the Indian Express but that was it.

Yet his death fascinates me and I think I know why. Many years ago, I was told that the legendary actor Utpal Dutt died with a book in his hand. Wish I knew the last lines Mr Dutt read, thoughts that he would carry to his grave. Wow, what a profound way to go.

 I can imagine how Chacha exited life — by writing a cricket copy. For me this is a perfect end. If only Chacha could tell me what his concluding lines were.

Even though I hadn’t spent much time with him, I know he wasn’t meant to do anything else. He loved his copies as much as his drinks. The difference was he would get the form, syntax and thought absolutely right in one take. We knew the source of those rare insights.

 His spirit fed on a rich collection of books. As a friend of his describes his library: “CLR James, Neville Cardus and even Ramachandra Guha, the Wisdens, stacked next to each other, meticulously arranged per year, scorecards, basically an entire treasure.”

 I distinctly recall my first conversation with him over telephone in 2008. India were about to tour Sri Lanka, and I had to file a lead piece for Mumbai Mirror. After struggling with ideas for over an hour, something clicked. How about a story on: What’s the right length in Sri Lanka? A frail voice answered my call: “This is Trevor Chesterfield, how may I help you?” What followed was 20 minutes of illumining monologue. “Remember the length Shaun Pollock bowled in Sri Lanka and all is said.”

 I’d already written the piece in my mind. Many thanks, Trevor Sir, I expressed my sincere gratitude. The next morning I casually surfed with whom I was employed not too long ago. With a gaping mouth I read their lead headline: What’s the right length in Sri Lanka? Byline: Trevor Chesterfield. Chacha had unwittingly reminded me – never share a story idea with a journalist.

I was in for another surprise a few hours later when my boss Ehtesham Hasan told me that I would’ve to rush to Sri Lanka for a two-month tour. It would be my first meeting with Chacha who had settled down there for many years. He looked frailer than I’d imagined. His skin resembled a thin blanket, somehow cloaking his skeleton frame. Time had crushed his cheek bones too and what remained of him was a slender mass.

How can a septuagenarian who should be lauded for merely arranging his fingers on a keyboard meet deadlines and produce error-free copies? Yet he retained a staggeringly creative capacity to write. Chacha was blessed with the power of instant recall. He used anecdotes and history which helped him substantiate his observations on the live match.

 He would compare Ted Dexter’s method with that of VVS Laxman with such simplicity of style and economy of words that it was an education in how to write a match report. Mind you, he was writing for a website. Pieces have to be delivered instantly after the last ball.  

During the tour we hit it off well and we would often go out for dinner. The need was entirely mine. He was a fount of information on Sri Lankan cricket and all I had to do was listen. Once I couldn’t resist showing him one of my stories after I was done with my dispatches for the day. I knew I had written a dry piece and I would’ve been disappointed if he had flattered me. Of course, Chacha didn’t.

He showed me how humour was a great tool to invigorate both the writer and the reader. He cited Sandeep Dwivedi’s writing style – now Indian Express’s national sports editor – as an example. Chacha would make minute observations on the way I wrote. Like, he wanted me to learn the right usage of ‘got’ and ‘had’. He would tell me: “Deba, ‘I got a raw deal’ is American English that has seeped into the native language. The right phrase is ‘had a raw deal’.”

One evening he took me to The Cricket Club Café in Colombo. It’s a restaurant based on cricket theme, with an impressive collection of memorabilia and newspaper cuttings dating back to the 1930s.  I felt the mood was just right for my favourite question. “Trevor Chacha,” I asked, “which is the one batsman you would choose to bat for your life?”

I keep asking this to cricket historians not out of curiosity but to sate the Sachin Tendulkar-ego in me. It’s driven purely by the fan in me, the need to hear: Tendulkar is the best. I must admit Chacha let me down. The two names he mentioned were Len Hutton and Rahul Dravid.

Then we discussed authors. Interestingly, he preferred reading Ray Robinson to Neville Cardus. He found Cardus’ technique too predictable at times. It was during our night outs that I realised he was finding it hard to make ends meet. In a certain context, the erudite Ramachandra Guha had said: “I write on history to make a living and I write on cricket to live.” Chacha needed cricket both for a living and to live. Cricketnext, then acquired by Web18, hadn’t cleared his dues for a long time. “I’m doing this tour on a limited budget. I don’t know how long I’m going to carry on like this.”

In fact, hours after his death, I checked the website to find whether they posted a tribute on Chesterfield. Chacha used to write under the slug, carte blanche, meaning — full discretionary power to express. I’m not surprised that they didn’t bother to update his profile, the last line of which reads: “Currently working on a book of his 55 years as a journalist.” I wonder even whether they’re aware that their columnist is no more. Truly, Chacha “had a raw deal.”

But voila! I’ve written nearly a thousand words on a man I wasn’t going to miss. I may have been wrong; somewhere we had forged a bond.

Leave a comment

Filed under cricket and life, unusual people

Leave a Reply