The day after Eileen Ash was born on October 30 1911, Robert Falcon Scott and his doomed party set forth from their Antarctic camp bound for the South Pole. Last September Ash celebrated her 110th birthday at her care home, St John’s House in Norwich, continuing her innings as the oldest ever Test cricketer with a glass of red wine she credited along with yoga, “an apple a day” and “smiling a lot” as the key to her longevity.
Ash had been the youngest of 12 British supercentenarians until her death on Friday, ever the persevering seam bowler, cheerfully walking back to her mark for another spell, uphill and into the wind. She was the only woman Test player to reach three figures (in years), seven years older than the age South Africa quick Norman Gordon (1911-2014) attained as the longest-lived of all male Test players.
In spite of her venerable distinction, Ash was the embodiment of the maxim that a good life trumps a long life. She played in every Test of England’s first home series in 1937, making her debut in the first at Northampton and taking 10 wickets with her brisk medium pace in the rain-shortened, drawn series, including three for 35 in Australia’s second innings at Stanley Park, Blackpool. It was the one Test the home side won which ultimately meant they retained the Ashes they had secured three years previously at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Born in Islington, Eileen Whelan, as she was known before marriage, worked for the Post Office and rose to prominence in the game in the great pre-war hothouse of women’s sport, the Civil Service Sports Club. She also played for South Women, Home Counties Women and finally Middlesex in 1949 by which point she was also combining her on-field duties with the role of match secretary of the Women’s Cricket Association.