Blackpool highlight in 110-year life of cricket icon Eileen Ash
England’s players took to the pitch wearing black armbands for this week’s first Ashes Test in memory of the world’s oldest international cricketer, Eileen Ash, who died last week aged 110.
Less well known is that the highlight of Eileen’s cricket career came at Blackpool, playing for England against the Australians in 1937.
Having taken a first-innings wicket in the second Test at Stanley Park, Eileen’s three for 35 from 10 overs in the second innings steered England to a historic victory.
Fylde coast cricket historian Ken Shenton, who recently celebrated 50 years of umpiring, kindly sent the following article to The Gazette about Eileen’s amazing life.
Having won seven Test caps either side of the Second World War, Eileen Ash was the oldest international cricketer, male or female, and the last survivor of England’s inaugural women’s Test series played on home soil in the summer of 1937.
Seventy four years after that momentous event, at the venerable age of 101, this most active of centenarians was elected an honorary member of MCC. Five years later she rang the pavilion bell at Lord’s to signal the start of play in the Women’s World Cup Final.
Born Eileen May Whelan on October 30 1911 in North London, she spent her formative years in Ilford.
On leaving convent school, she began a distinguished career in the Civil Service, spending 11 years on counter-surveillance work when seconded to MI6.
A fine all-round sportswoman, who played cricket for the Civil Service, Middlesex and the South, Eileen also represented Essex at hockey.
As a right-arm opening bowler of medium pace, her high action meant she could generate genuine pace off the pitch. She was also a more than useful-lower order batter and a fine fielder.
Eileen’s England debut came in the first Test against Australia at Northampton in June 1937. She found greater success in the next encounter at Stanley Park, Blackpool, where her three wickets ripped the heart out of the Australian second innings. Molly Hide mopped up the tail and England won by 25 runs.
In the drawn third Test at The Oval, Eielen took a wicket in each innings.
Having been selected to tour Australia in 1939, it would not be until October 1948 that the squad of 16 finally sailed from Tilbury on the month-long journey to Freemantle. They all paid £200 for the privilege.
While enjoying little success in her three Tests in Australia or the succeeding one in New Zealand, Eileen’s finest performance came in a state game at Ballarat, where she took five wickets for 10 runs and smashed an unbeaten century. Ash bowed out of top-level cricket on her return.
In 2017, she became an unlikely reality TV star. Having driven throughout her life without ever passing a test, Eileen appeared on ITV’s 100 Year Old Driving School. She took all the tests in her stride and was told she was safe to carry on driving.
She marked her 106th birthday by taking a flight in a Tiger Moth over the Norfolk coast, then 12 months later opened the Eileen Ash Sports Hall close to her Norwich home.
Eileen unveiled a portrait painting of herself at Lord’s during the 2018 Ashes Test. It is hoped this will remain permanently on display at the game’s headquarters.
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