Tony Dell only played one Ashes match, but it was certainly a memorable one. It was the 1970-71 series in Australia. Dell played in the seventh and final game of the series and was present at the crease when Australia lost the game and England won the Ashes. The game was memorable for all sorts of reasons. It was Ian Chappell’s first game as Australia Captain. It was the game England captain Ray Illingworth led his team off the ground, without permission from the umpires, following crowd trouble. And it was the only time England have completed a test series in Australia undefeated.
So what was an ex-Howardian pupil doing playing for Australia? Well, it’s an interesting and traumatic story that has only recently been told in full in a book about Tony’s life; And Bring the Darkness Home written with the journalist Greg Milam.
Tony Dell was born Anthony H Ross Dell on 6 Aug 1945 in New Milton, Hampshire to Alfred H R Dell and Barbara Dell née Panrucker. He was born on the same day as the bombing of Hiroshima. As such, Wikipedia states his parents gave him the middle name “Hiroshima”, with the initial “H” listed on his birth certificate. Tony’s father joined the Royal Navy in 1934 and after leaving the navy took up a job with Hoover, initially as a travelling salesman. After Hampshire the Dell family lived in Hemel Hempstead before moving to Cardiff. Tony’s father was still working for Hoover and involved with the production factory at Merthyr Tydfil.
They lived here in the 1950s at 52 Llanedeyrn Road. Details of Tony’s time in Cardiff was made aware to me by Graham Barrett who interviewed Tony as part of his Once Upon A Time In The Ashes podcast series. Tony tells how on moving to Wales he attended Howardian High School in Pen-y-lan and started playing rugby. He was in the Scouts and during the 1958 Empire Games ran errands on his bike delivering reports from the swimming and boxing back to the Games headquarters. His father was a keen rugby supporter and member of Cardiff Rugby Club and a friend of Cliff Morgan who visited their house on a number of occasions. I don’t know if Tony ever played in any of the Howardian rugby of cricket teams.
In 1959 Tony and the family moved to Australia where his father had been given the responsibility of opening a Hoover factory. In his interview Tony says he was 12 at the time but was probably 15. This oversight probably stems from Tony having gone through most of his life understating his age by a couple years, an error that has only recently been corrected in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
In Australia he lived in Brisbane and started playing cricket for his school and later commenced a club cricket career. However, he found himself called up to serve in Vietnam in 1967. He served a ten month duty principally as a radio operator in the field.
On returning from Vietnam he took up cricket again. As a fast-medium left-arm bowler he played for Queensland and after just a handful of games was quickly selected to play for Australia. He, like many of the Vietnam vets, didn’t talk about his war experiences. Most people had no idea he’d even served in Vietnam. He played just twice for Australia, once in the famous 1971 Ashes game where he took five wickets in a new-ball partnership with Dennis Lillee and then in 1973 against New Zealand before he walked away from cricket. He is the only Australian Vietnam Vet to have played cricket for Australia.
He married and had three children. After returning from Vietnam, as well as playing cricket, he threw himself into his job in advertising and became a workaholic. His life would however be forever tarred by the Vietnam War. He suffered bad dreams, night sweats and his behaviour at times was belligerent. He was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but it went undiagnosed for some 40 years. His life fell apart. He became separated from his family and at one time was living in his mother’s garage.
A chance meeting with another Vietnam Vet saved him. He was invited along to some meetings, diagnosed with PTSD and got the pension he was entitled to. In 2010 he started his charity StandTall4PTS which aims to help other Vietnam Veterans who had no idea why their lives had turned sour after they came home.
I can’t recall Tony’s test appearance in the Ashes ever being mentioned at Howardian. I wonder if anyone made the connection at the time or if any pictures of Tony playing in Howardian junior teams survive?
I am indebted Graham Barrett for making me aware of this Cardiff connection.