Features FeaturesRSS FeedFeeds

'If we make it out alive, we'll play for New Zealand'

New Zealand's Murray Parker looks back to the night, 45 years ago, when he and his Otago University team-mates nearly met a watery end

Andrew McGlashan

March 13, 2013

Text size: A | A

Murray Parker of New Zealand, March 2013
Parker survived one of New Zealand's worst maritime disasters and went on to play three Tests Andrew McGlashan / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Enlarge
Related Links
Players/Officials: Murray Parker | Murray Webb
Teams: New Zealand

During the Dunedin Test there was a quite extraordinary reunion. Few of the 11 Otago University cricketers of the class of 1968 are household names, but they all share a remarkable story.

On a wild, wet and windy South Island evening, caused by Cyclone Giselle, which had moved down over North Island, leaving a trail of destruction, the players, having travelled from Dunedin to Christchurch by train, boarded a boat named Wahine for an overnight journey to Wellington. It was rough sailing, but that didn't stop the bar being a popular hangout.

Then, in the early hours, an almighty jolt rocked the ship as it hit Barrett Reef, outside of the harbour. A few hours later it was listing badly and soon the call to abandon ship was made.

One of the players, Murray Webb, remembered saying: "If we make it out alive from this, we'll play for New Zealand." In all, 53 people died in one of New Zealand' worst maritime disasters. However, all 11 cricketers survived. And two of them, Webb (now a well-known caricaturist in New Zealand) and Murray Parker, did go on to represent their country.

The story has been told in a new book The Team That Never Played, pulled together by Ronald Cardwell and Bill Francis, who tracked down the 11 players and brought them back together for the first time in 2013.

Parker, who played three Tests on the 1976 tour of India and Pakistan, spoke to ESPNcricinfo. He was 19 in 1968, enjoying the student life, and his cricket talent had been noted. "Although I certainly wasn't the best - I was mainly a drinks carrier," he says as he starts to relocate the event 45 years later. "A bloody good one," shouts Ray Hutchinson from across the dinner table.

As the Wahine made its way through the rough seas that night, spirits were high among the players. "When we woke in the morning it was rough," Parker says. "I remember getting dressed and hearing a crunch, then thinking we must have hit the wharf. Then Hutch [Hutchinson] ran in and said, 'Get your life jackets on.' I didn't even know where mine was."

The seriousness of the situation was not immediately apparent, but over the next few hours the crisis developed. "There was no panic," remembers Parker, "which was a good job because the corridors were very narrow and if people had been running around screaming, few of us would have been able to get out. Being students we were down on F deck, with the cars, and slowly made our way up to B deck."

For more than six hours the passengers huddled on deck, barely able to see off the side of the boat due to the awful weather, before the decision was made to launch the lifeboats. "We would listen to a transistor radio to hear how we were getting on," Parker says.

The cricketers had been split up and would spend up to a week not knowing if their team-mates had survived. "We had no idea. It was only when he were back at training as people starting turning up," Parker says.

On the lifeboats there were no individual thoughts. "Everyone looked out for each other, pulling in as many as you could," Parker remembers. "The lifeboats were meant to have engines but - sods' law - they didn't work. We had to paddle them by hand. There was a 60- or 70-year-old lady who had a compound fracture of her leg and she was paddling away with the rest of us."

The Wahine's capsize happened only about 400-500 metres from the coastline, but it took the hand-powered lifeboats at least a couple of hours to reach land. "We were rowing against the elements. It was hard work. We landed on Seatoun beach." The cold, tired, soaked survivors were helped by locals, given dry clothes and warm drinks. Still, though, Parker did not know the fate of his friends.

"We gathered at Wellington railway station. A few of the other players wandered in, but by the time we started to disperse, we hadn't seen them all. I had no wallet. I lived in Auckland at the time and was given a free train ride to meet up with my parents."

A week later, after an Easter break, the cricketers returned to training in Dunedin - "with borrowed kit, as we'd lost all ours," Parker says. Eleven team-mates were counted. "We exchanged stories. It must be remembered that while we made it, there were many who did not."

Life returned to normal. Parker played for the university side, Otago, and Canterbury, where his consistent form caught the eye of the selectors. "Canterbury had a terrific team, but I was fortunate to get picked."

A three-month tour of India and Pakistan was his reward, with his brother John as the captain. "There was no nepotism," Parker promises. He made his debut in Karachi, scoring 40 in the second innings as New Zealand earned a draw. Majid Khan, Javed Miandad and Mushtaq Mohammad made hundreds for Pakistan. Warren Lees made his only Test century, 152, in reply, during a seventh-wicket stand of 186 with Richard Hadlee, which stood as a New Zealand record until 2004. Two more Tests followed and a solitary ODI. "It was a wonderful experience. I'd never seen anything like it before. Both India and Pakistan were very good teams."

Webb's Test career was equally brief, despite a first-class bowling average of 23.39, with three matches from 1971 to 1974 - against England, West Indies and Australia - but the numbers certainly don't tell the whole story.

As careers were forged, some in cricket, many outside, livings earned and families started, did it ever seem plausible that the 11 players on the boat that evening would meet up again as a team? "It never crossed my mind," Parker says, "but isn't it amazing?"

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Andrew McGlashan

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Andrew McGlashanClose
Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

    'I didn't have the D/L sheet during the Durban World Cup game'

Shaun Pollock talks to Alison Mitchell about career highs and lows

    From support act to lead role

Numbers Game: Over the last four years, Rangana Herath has become Sri Lanka's strike bowler

    The man who gave Afghanistan their mojo

Afghanistan's former coach may have quit cricket to pursue religion, but he remains with the side in spirit

'Pietersen uses his hands beautifully to get in front'

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Kevin Pietersen's un-English technique

66 for 6 and all that

Samir Chopra: India fans can only cower under furniture in the face of such numerological terror

News | Features Last 7 days

How bad must a defeat be to be unacceptable?

A gutting loss to England, after leading the series 1-0, has thrown up some glaring inadequacies in the Indian team but there is little being said or done in terms of improvement

Time to liberate MS Dhoni

After 8-0, MS Dhoni could look forward to building a team from scratch; now, there is nothing left for him to contribute. Free him from the Test captaincy and he could yet give back in other ways

Dhoni's control test

For all MS Dhoni's many trophies and accomplishments, Test cricket continues to resist his magic and indefinitely postpone his motorbike ride into the sunset

Perfect Herath leads SL dominance

Sri Lanka's marks out of 10 following their 2-0 series win against Pakistan

'You should not be embarrassing your country'

Former players react to India's humiliating 1-3 series defeat in England

News | Features Last 7 days

    How bad must a defeat be to be unacceptable? (142)

    A gutting loss to England, after leading the series 1-0, has thrown up some glaring inadequacies in the Indian team but there is little being said or done in terms of improvement

    Time to liberate MS Dhoni (116)

    After 8-0, MS Dhoni could look forward to building a team from scratch; now, there is nothing left for him to contribute. Free him from the Test captaincy and he could yet give back in other ways

    Dhoni's control test (75)

    For all MS Dhoni's many trophies and accomplishments, Test cricket continues to resist his magic and indefinitely postpone his motorbike ride into the sunset

    The two faces of James Anderson (60)

    Why does the man who is possibly England's greatest fast bowler occasionally turn into Mr Hyde on the field?

    One-day barrier to Indian Test progress (56)

    With too great an emphasis on limited-overs cricket, MS Dhoni's side have a set of skills and a level of concentration that are not commensurate with the necessities of Tests