May 16, 2013

England v New Zealand: a 150-year history

It may not be a rivalry as storied as the Ashes, but it has lasted just as long

The New Zealand team in England in 1931. Dempster is seated at extreme right © Getty Images

Australia and England are well known as the first two Test cricket-playing nations, with the first officially recognised match occurring in March 1877. It was 12 years later, in March 1889, that South Africa joined the fold when they played their first Test against England. It was then nearly 40 years before West Indies become the fourth Test team, in June 1928.

Apart from its novelty as West Indies' first outing at international level, this match is perhaps now remembered not so much for the thumping victory by England, to the tune of an innings and 58 runs, but more for the debuts of two English players. The first, Harry Smith, was the wicketkeeper, and he joined the select band of one-Test wonders, as this was to be his only game for England. It was the second English debutant, though, one Douglas Robert Jardine, who was to eventually have a far more lasting impact on cricket history.

After nearly four decades of no new teams, it was less than two years before the fifth Test-playing nation arrived. It is often to many people's surprise that the next entrant to the international stage was New Zealand rather than India, who in turn did not play their first Test until a few years later. Yet again it was England who acted as the inductee for a new nation, having previously featured in the inaugural Tests of Australia, South Africa and West Indies. It was somewhat appropriate, as England and New Zealand shared a long cricketing history that went back to the mid-1800s.

In 1864, a team of professionals lead by George Parr became the first cricket side from England to make the long sea voyage to New Zealand via Australia. This tour followed Parr's 1859 visit to the United States, which was the first overseas tour by any cricket side. Parr's 1864 side played a series of five games against teams including Otago and Canterbury, but none of the matches were awarded first-class status as they were "against the odds". Even though Otago and Canterbury took the field with 22 players against the 11 of Parr, they were still soundly outclassed.

After this initial tour in 1864, five teams from England toured New Zealand prior to the outbreak of World War I. One of the more significant tours occurred in the 1902-03 season, when Lord Hawke's team played a total of 16 matches against provincial teams such as Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago between November 1902 and March 1903. More importantly, however, they also played two matches against a nominal New Zealand representative side. While these games were not awarded Test status, they were a sign that cricket in New Zealand was starting to be taken more seriously, and a move towards official international status was possible.

Unfortunately, Lord Hawke's team won the two "internationals" comprehensively, by margins of seven wickets and an innings and 22 runs. This was problematic for New Zealand, as Lord Hawke's team was not particularly strong and certainly not of full Test strength. This was underlined by the fact that after leaving New Zealand they played three first-class games in Australia, of which they lost against Victoria and South Australia and drew against New South Wales.

Following the lead of Lord Hawke's English team, a near full-strength Australian team toured New Zealand in February and March of 1905 with a very similar itinerary. They played matches versus Auckland, Canterbury, Wellington and Otago, and two first-class matches against the New Zealand national team. The first international game was a draw, but New Zealand were lucky to survive as they were seven wickets down in their second innings while still trailing Australia's first innings by well over 200 runs. New Zealand were not saved in the second match, however, losing by an innings and 358 runs. Australia totaled 593, while New Zealand could only tally 94 and 141. The considerable victory margin between the teams meant that while it was only a relatively short distance between the two countries, Australia did not deem it worth touring New Zealand again for another five years, and any hopes of Test match status were well and truly dashed for the time being.

The Marylebone Cricket Club toured New Zealand for three months between December 1906 and March 1907. The first international went the way of most previous ones, with the MCC winning by nine wickets. However, New Zealand celebrated their first-ever significant cricket victory in the second match, securing the win by 56 runs in a low-scoring affair. However, once again it was not a particularly strong team that toured New Zealand - Johnny Douglas was the only member of the side who would ever play Test cricket. Nonetheless, it was a win over an international team and a sign that New Zealand cricket was starting to move forward again.

However, England then did not tour New Zealand again until well after the conclusion of the First World War. South Africa did not tour New Zealand for the first time until 1932, so Australia remained New Zealand's best chance of proving themselves worthy of Test status. A weak Australian team toured in 1910, but they still easily won both matches against the New Zealand side.

It was another four years before Australia again ventured over the ditch, in 1914. This time, the Australian team was a combination of both Test players and promising youngsters. They again won both matches easily, by seven wickets and an innings and 113 runs. Interestingly, one of the Australian players had played Test cricket, but not for Australia. Jack Crawford played 12 Tests for England between 1905 and 1908 before deciding to live in Australia and then being included in this touring party. The Australian team in the second match against New Zealand had arguably one of the longest batting line-ups in history, with ten of the 11 players boasting first class centuries. No. 10 (Colin McKenzie) and No. 11 (Arthur Sims) had highest first-class scores of 211 and 184 not out respectively. The highest first-class scores for each member of the entire line-up make impressive reading, with only legspinner Arthur Mailey failing to record a century: 140, 203, 140, 284, 300 not out, 303 not out, 232, 107, 46, 211 and 184 not out. Prior to World War I on uncovered pitches, it was quite an astonishing sequence*.

The outbreak of World War I meant that international cricket tours of New Zealand did not resume until 1921. Their move towards international status had been stymied by the war, but it gained significant momentum in the mid-1920s. In 1926, West Indies, New Zealand and India were all formally recognised as members of the Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC), which was the final main stepping stone before playing Test cricket.

New Zealand was then invited to tour the British Isles in 1927, although no Tests were scheduled. The five-month tour took place between May and September, during which time the New Zealand side played 40 games, of which 26 were first-class matches. While they beat some minor opposition such as Berkamsted, it was the victories against first-class sides such as Worcestershire, Glamorgan and Somerset that underpinned New Zealand's push for full international status. The win over Derbyshire by an innings and 240 runs was the tour highlight, with Charles Dacre and Jackie Mills both scoring centuries and William Merritt taking ten wickets. None of the matches was against a full-Test strength side, but the performances on this trip convinced England that a full three-Test tour was warranted, and this was then scheduled by the MCC to occur in early 1930.

The first Test between New Zealand and England commenced on 10 January 1930 in Christchurch. This match is particularly interesting for many reasons, not least of which should be that it was the home nation's inaugural Test. However, it is often better remembered now for the fact that it remains irrevocably linked to another Test match, which commenced on 11 January in Bridgetown, Barbados. This game also featured England, and it remains one of the wonderful quirks that make cricket history such a delight. It seems somewhat incongruous now that the English Test team could be officially playing two matches simultaneously against different nations on opposite sides of the world. It is perhaps a sign of just how poorly both West Indies, who had played only three Tests previous to that point and lost all three comprehensively, and New Zealand were generally regarded by the other established Test nations that such a situation could be allowed to occur. England's tours of New Zealand and West Indies in 1930 remain the only time this concurrency of matches has taken place, and it is difficult to see how it could ever happen again.

The Australian team in the second match against New Zealand had arguably one of the longest batting line-ups in history, with ten of the 11 players boasting first class centuries

Tom Lowry had the honour of being New Zealand's first Test captain. He won the toss and chose to bat first, with Stewie Dempster facing the first ball from England's Stan Nichols. Even allowing for the fact that the England side was naturally at less than full strength, as many potential players were preparing to instead take the field against West Indies, New Zealand still put up a good fight in their first match. They were bowled out for 112 and 131, but England also struggled with the bat and only made 181 in their first innings on the back of a fine 49 by Duleepsinhji. Trying to bowl England out for less than 65 to win was always unlikely, and so it proved, but the final result was still not too disheartening. While England triumphed by eight wickets, there were promising signs for the home team.

The second Test match was in Wellington from 24 to 27 January. Lowry again won the toss and batted, and this decision was vindicated with New Zealand finishing day one at 339 for 3. Dempster again faced the first ball, and was finally out just before stumps for a magnificent 136. Not to be outdone, his new opening partner Jackie Mills scored 117 and became the first New Zealander to score a century on Test debut. Together they piled on 276 before the great Frank Woolley achieved the breakthrough. New Zealand made 440, and then bowled England out for 320 in reply. Ted Badcock led the bowling with 4 for 80 off 36 overs. Time was rapidly running out in this three-day game, and in spite of New Zealand trying to force a result after declaring in their second innings, England were able to easily bat out a draw. Nonetheless, managing a draw in just their second match was a fine effort. In contrast, their fellow newcomer nation, West Indies had been thrashed by an innings in each of their first three matches.

The fourth Test was drawn (as had been the third), but this was largely due to rain that prevented any play on two of the three scheduled days in Auckland. New Zealand could be quietly happy with their performances, even though they lost the series 1-0. However, this would be somewhat of a false dawn, as it would prove to be 44 matches and 26 years before New Zealand finally managed to actually win a Test.

In contrast, West Indies managed to win their sixth match, beating England by 289 runs in the third Test of the concurrent series occurring in 1930. This West Indies victory was largely based on a very impressive batting performance by the great George Headley, who scored a century in each innings.

As both of them were playing against England concurrently, it is therefore perhaps appropriate to consider and compare the batting careers of Dempster and Headley. Headley is widely remembered as one of history's greatest batsmen, and the lynchpin of a weak West Indies line-up. It was said that if he failed with the bat, West Indies' chances failed with him. Dempster could be seen in exactly the same light for New Zealand. It may be surprising to note that Dempster actually has a better Test batting average than Headley, 65.72 versus 60.83. While critics may point to the fact that Dempster only played in ten tests, Headley didn't play many more, with just 22. It is possible to wonder why Dempster doesn't now attract the same levels of reverence that Headley deservedly does. Nonetheless, Dempster is remembered as New Zealand's first great batsman, and his efforts in their first Tests underline the reasons for this.

The most recent series between England and New Zealand, in March 2013, resulted in three drawn Tests, albeit often very exciting ones. Whether the upcoming series in England can produce a similar standard of play is hard to predict, but it is likely that this next chapter in a long history of competition between New Zealand and England will again be compelling viewing for cricket lovers all around the world.

* As a comparison, the highest first-class scores from Australia's batting line-up in their most recent Test are: 225, 211, 198, 203*, 177, 113*, 103*, 123*, 87, 42 and 40*

Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow