John Reid August 28, 2009

'Cricketers enjoy their game more than other sportsmen'

The last New Zealand captain before Vettori to also have been a selector talks about his life and times in the game
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My grandfather was a good swimmer, and he was a club cricketer. We had a paddock on an angle next door, and he used to bowl to me. I had to hit the ball uphill so that it rolled back to his feet. If I hit it straight back, it would come back down. I was about eight then.

I was a better rugby player than a cricketer. I was a good swimmer, I was a good runner - short-distance runner. But I got rheumatic fever early on and that gave me heart disease. So I had to give up rugby. Everybody thought it was the end of my cricket career, but it didn't affect me at all until five years ago, when I was the president of New Zealand Cricket. I had a failure of a heart valve, so I had to have an operation.

I learned a technique from Eric Rowan in 1951, which most top batsmen use these days. It's back and across. Getting back and across with your weight forward, so you can go forward when you need to, but are equally capable of playing back.

Bert Sutcliffe and I didn't have too many partnerships together, although we were in the same teams lots of times.

I took up wicketkeeping at 18 because I couldn't bowl. I had dislocated my right shoulder tackling someone and he took my shoulder with him.

I had a few confrontations with Subhash Gupte. He didn't like being picked. I used to pick him. And he used to bowl wide to me. I wouldn't even lift my bat up. He would call me a big cheat.

I was 14 when the war started. I was at secondary school, but it wasn't difficult following sport. There was radio. I watched Bill Brown's team here in 1946. I skipped school to watch it.

I met my wife when I was down with rheumatic fever. She was the admitting nurse when I went in on a stretcher. Took me three years to get a date with her.

I remember Bert as the most elegant batsman I have ever seen. I was a bit of thumper. He played classic left-hander's shots. Bert and Martin Donnelly were both equally good; they both scored 2000 runs on tours of England. But there the comparison ended. Bert was more classical, Martin was a bit of a hammerer.

I was the captain of the world XI [ in 1965], and Garry Sobers was my vice-captain. That was quite a thrill, coming from New Zealand.

Bert and I were the only two international players in the New Zealand team, I suppose. It was hard work, you had a lot of responsibility. You knew jolly well that if you didn't get runs nobody else would.

I got out unnecessarily a few times. Trying to force the pace. Trying to do something I shouldn't have or couldn't have. I remember trying to hit Tony Lock over extra-cover just to try and get to the other end and save the batsman. I sacrificed my own wicket, and I didn't need to do that. I made a decision there and then, in 1958 in England, that I would look after the other players as much as possible but never sacrifice my wicket.

The next tour was 1961, to South Africa, and I had a magnificent tour, better than anybody in South Africa: 1900 runs, seven centuries in eight innings.

[Ramakant] Desai once tried to knock my head off [in Kolkata in 1964-65]. He was a medium-pacer, a little wee fellow. Wrong guy. Four sixes in 10 balls before lunch. I saw him when I was in India, but I didn't remind him about it.

I used to tell some terrible lies - how we are going to win this one and win that one, knowing damn well that we wouldn't. I loved the game. I loved the sportsmanship.

Fast bowlers never worried me, because I was a hooker. Either you hook or you let it go. You might get hit in the shoulder a couple of times, but so what? Without helmets - and helmets were invented 18 years after I retired - if you got hit in the head you were dead. So you had to get out of the way or hook. And if you hooked a fast bowler, he didn't bowl too many more. So you protected yourself with your technique.

Australia wouldn't play us. I played 58 Test matches without playing one against them. They didn't think we were good enough players to bring the crowds in.

Captaining the world XI was a change. Captaining New Zealand teams, you used to get an hour-and-a-half before the start of the game, and you talked to them and you had warm-ups and things like that. Garry Sobers, Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs used to arrive 20 minutes before the start of the game, no warm-up, and you felt frightened in gully. Entirely different. Real professionals.

"I used to tell some terrible lies - how we are going to win this one and win that one, knowing damn well that we wouldn't"

The thrill of hitting a six is that it can be done. I once hit 15 sixes in 296 at the Basin Reserve. Without the 10-metre boundary. You had to hit over the fence. It doesn't give me more of a kick than a perfect cover-drive, though.

We won our first Test against West Indies. Not a Mickey-Mouse side. I was the captain, and I was the captain who won the first three Tests for New Zealand. All records are meant to be broken, but that one you can't break. And I had a hand in winning them. I got some runs in Auckland, I got some runs in Cape Town, and I got some runs in Port Elizabeth, also 45-27-44-4. That's not bad.

I didn't drink. I had seen many examples of people on the booze falling away and just not knowing what the hell was going on, and I wasn't going to be one of those. I was not a wowser, I just didn't drink when I didn't want to, as a sportsman. But when we won our first Test, I had a glass of champagne for the first time. It was special, first win in 27 years.

Newlands was my favourite ground because I used to score a lot of runs there. I think my average there was over 100. I don't know what used to happen there. I just enjoyed it. It was just the atmosphere that I liked. Some places you do, some you don't. I liked Lord's. One or two places in India I didn't like - Guwahati. I loved Mumbai. Delhi is a bit like a building site.

Cricketers enjoy their game much more than other sportsmen. Cricket is over four or five days. You develop camaraderie, you meet with different players. I am finding now, when I go to England there are a lot of friends who are ex-opponents. In Test matches in our time - it doesn't happen today, they get on the bloody bus and piss off - we used to go one another's dressing room with a beer or a soft drink and talk about the cricket. That's how you learnt a hell of a lot of your expertise. Freddie Trueman used to be helpful - not to me but to the bowlers. Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Peter May, all helped me.

I broke someone's nose once. I was a sportsman as such, and someone got me into the ring. My dad was a wrestler, and he was a short, strong guy. I was about the same. This chap was a boxer and he was ducking around, and bang, I broke his nose. I won that round, and that was the only one I had.

I didn't see Bradman. Peter May was the best I saw in my time. Frank Worrell was good. I'll leave it at that.

You can't really explain the 26 all out. In the first innings I got 73, and we got them out for 246. And then we score 26. You know the guys: Bob Appleyard got 4 for 7. I was bowled by [Brian] Statham, who was a quick bowler. I was turning around to leg - the wicketkeeper Evans was outside leg - and it took my off stump.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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  • POSTED BY 69denise on | September 18, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    That was the most enjoyable one of these 'gleanings' so far. Cheers.

  • POSTED BY 69denise on | September 18, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    That was the most enjoyable one of these 'gleanings' so far. Cheers.

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  • POSTED BY 69denise on | September 18, 2009, 11:38 GMT

    That was the most enjoyable one of these 'gleanings' so far. Cheers.