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Martin Williamson on the first Test between neighbours Australia and New Zealand ... it was to be almost 28 years before they met again
June 16, 2007
Given the relative isolation of the two countries in the era before air travel, it might have been expected that they would have met regularly. But both sides were amateur, and the Australian Cricket Board thought, probably rightly, that the gulf between teams was too great to make games worthwhile. That was certainly borne out by results when state sides visited New Zealand and, while some fairly strong national sides had also toured, they stopped short of playing full internationals.
The one occasion the teams did meet was in 1945-46, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two. Australia had not played Test cricket since their humiliating defeat at The Oval in August 1938, and New Zealand's last outing had been almost a year earlier at the same venue. Little meaningful cricket had been played during the war and both sides were keen to dust off the cobwebs - Australia all the more so as they were scheduled to defend the Ashes in 1946-47.
Although the Australian squad was missing a few big names - Don Bradman the most glaring absentee, sidelined by fibrositis which had kept him from playing since 1941 - it was nevertheless immensely powerful, a blend of older players keen to show they were still worth picking and youngsters out to make a name for themselves. Among the senior players was the captain, Bill Brown, who had enjoyed a good domestic season, and Sid Barnes, the leading runscorer in 1945-46 who had made his debut in the Oval Test of 1938.
The bowling was led by the 40-year-old Tiger O'Reilly, who had taken 33 wickets at 14.36 in the season just finished but whose ageing knees were causing him trouble. Two of the three bowlers who had taken more than that - Ernie Toshack and Colin McCool - were also included, and the fast bowling was spearheaded by the young Ray Lindwall. The team did not wear official blazers, but a bizarre outfit with the legend on the pocket ABC (Australian Board of Control). One local schoolboy reckoned it stood for "Australia's best cricketers".
The difference in class was apparent from the start of the tour in Auckland. Agreeing to play six-ball overs opposed to the eight-ball variety they were more used to, the Australians scored 366 for 3 on the opening day, ploughing on to an innings win with Toshack and O'Reilly taking 16 wickets between them. It was much the same at Canterbury - the Australians raced to 415 for 8 on the first day and then swept to another innings victory.
Brown followed his hundred then with another against Otago who, while losing, at least made the Australians bat again, mainly thanks to Walter Hadlee's brilliantly defiant six-and-a-quarter-hour 198. The final warm-up against Wellington resulted in another innings victory.
There was little cause to think that the Test would be any different, and so it turned out. Even if the match been played on a true pitch, New Zealand would have struggled. "It had been so wet in Wellington for a week before the scheduled start on March 29 that it was not feasible to mow the outfield," Hadlee explained. "The pitch was saturated and a new one was cut out alongside the prepared one."
The captains discussed delaying the start, but the stands were packed so they decided to get on with it. Hadlee won the toss - "possibly the only correct thing I did" - and was then faced with a problem. What to do?
"I had hoped to lose the toss so the Australian captain would have had to decide whether to bat or field. I reckoned that with so much moisture in the pitch, Lindwall and Miller would not be able to generate any pace."
Hadlee was right - Miller didn't even bowl - but Toshack, bowling inswing over the wicket to the right-hander with a cordon of close leg-side fieldsmen, ripped through the top order. Verdun Scott dropped anchor - Miller described him as "snore-inducing" and O'Reilly fumed that he was impossible to bowl at as he never played a shot. An over later, a leg-before appeal against Scott turned down, an angry O'Reilly turned to the umpire. "I always thought you knew bugger-all about this game," he growled. "Now I'm certain."
In the over before lunch, O'Reilly got his man and the resistance was over. New Zealand went into the break on 37 for 4, but after the interval it was slaughter as the sun came out.
In Men in White, a history of New Zealand cricket, the rest of the innings was summed up in one paragraph. "In O'Reilly's second over after lunch Rowe was bowled with the first ball, Butterfield was leg-before-wicket to the fourth, and McRae lofted the last ball into the hands of Lindsay Hassett at deep square leg. Ces Burke was trapped in front by Toshack in the next over then Eric Tindill, who had seen little of the bowling, attempted to turn the offspinner to the on side but was beaten and the ball took his leg stump. Jack Cowie was stumped by Don Tallon off O'Reilly and the debacle was over." New Zealand had been bowled out for 42 in under two hours. Toshack took 4 for 12, O'Reilly 5 for 14. "Naturally we are disappointed," Hadlee reflected. "We failed and that is all there is to be said."
The Australians started batting in mid-afternoon, and Cowie briefly cheered the 20,000 crowd when he demolished Ken Meuleman's stumps in the first over, but Brown, dropped on 13, and Barnes got them to 118 for 1 as the clouds reappeared and the life went out of the pitch. Burke removed them both in the last session, but Australia closed on 149 for 3 and in a strong position.
But the next morning the pitch was again damp, although 28 runs came off the first five overs. Then Cowie ripped through the middle order with four wickets in 11 overs, finishing with 6 for 40. With only the tail remaining, Brown declared to give his bowlers use of the helpful conditions.
The New Zealand second innings is again neatly summed up in Men in White. "Every vantage point around the Basin was occupied when Hadlee and Mac Anderson opened New Zealand 's second innings. Less than two hours later the last wicket had fallen and the home team had suffered its second humiliation in as many days. Most New Zealand batsmen lacked the technique and experience to defend on a wicket that bounced erratically. Only Merv Wallace and Tindill reached double figures, and extras provided the fourth-highest contribution to the total of 54. The combined batting time for both teams was 518 minutes.
"However such was the public's interest in cricket after the lean war years that the Cricket Council collected record gate-takings of £3000." The game was over by tea on the second day. Delighted New Zealand officials offered to top-up the meagre £1 a day expenses paid to the Australians by their board. The ACB refused and, as Miller noted, many returned home out of pocket.
As for the match itself, Hadlee was philosophical. "The result would have been the same had we fielded first, but the margin may have been smaller."
For O'Reilly, it was the end. He had been troubled by problems with his right knee and he knew it would not stand up to another season. He sat in the dressing-room, took off his boots and lobbed them out of the window.
Australia, again under Brown, returned in 1950 and regularly thereafter, but they were not regarded as a national side and matches were not deemed Tests. Bobby Simpson, who made three such tours, recalled that the players were again not given baggy greens but caps bearing the initials ABC - the Australian Board of Control - "or, as we disgustingly nicknamed them, the 'Australian Bottle Company'".
It was not until 1973-74 that the ACB again fielded a full Australian side against New Zealand. After Australia won a three-match series at home 2-0, the sides travelled to New Zealand. After a draw at Wellington, New Zealand gave their neighbours a bloody nose by winning at Christchurch. Although Australia levelled the three-match series at Auckland, New Zealand had done more than enough to ensure they would not be treated as second-class citizens again.
Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.
Keith Miller Roland Perry (Aurum, 2005)
Men In White Don Neeley and Richard King (Moa Publications, 1986)
The Innings of a Lifetime Walter Hadlee (David Bateman, 1993)
Tiger: Sixty Years of Cricket Bill O'Reilly (Fontana/Collins, 1985)
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