Runs in the family
I wrote here a few weeks ago about veterans, and how they seem to be getting younger all the time. And then something happened that made me feel a bit of a veteran myself: the son of someone I knew quite well went out and scored a Test century.
We're not talking Comptons here: I'm not quite old enough to have seen Denis play, although I was lucky enough to meet Nick's grandfather a few times. I remember feeling inordinately chuffed when, on bumping into him again a few minutes after our initial introduction, I received a genial "Hello, old boy."
No, the relative in question is Hamish Rutherford, who took England apart on his debut in Dunedin a few weeks ago with a superb 171. He professes to be "as blind as a bat" without his contact lenses, but didn't seem to have too much trouble seeing England's bowlers in his first Test. Some of his left-handed drives were reminiscent of another son of a Test-playing father, Mark Butcher, who just occasionally touched greatness - Headingley 2001, Brisbane 1998-99 - in the quality of his play straight down the ground. It was something his dad, Alan, never quite matched during a long and successful county career (plus one precious England cap).
Hamish Rutherford's father, Ken, was an early winner of a scholarship from the New Zealand board which sent a promising youngster to Lord's each year. I was working on the cricket side there at the time, and welcomed him in on his first day in 1984. A couple of years previously the scholarship winner had been Martin Crowe: the contrast between the two was quite striking. Crowe was intense, dedicated to cricket, and anxious to play at every opportunity. He'd been asked to send written reports of what he'd been doing back to New Zealand; he dutifully trotted round to the pavilion every week or so, and asked me to photocopy them and send them off.
Rutherford was rather less preoccupied. I don't recall any written reports at all, although it's possible the NZ board had stopped asking for them. He was much more laidback, and seemed intent on enjoying life in London. When I later discovered that he liked to bet on the horses, I wasn't entirely surprised.
But both Crowe and Rutherford could play. Crowe remains probably the greatest batsman New Zealand has produced, able to execute the on-drive - possibly the hardest shot of all to get right - as well as anyone I've ever seen, apart perhaps from Greg Chappell (actually much of Crowe's cricket, even his bowling, was Chappell-like). Ken Rutherford was a fine driver too, but more of a square-of-the-wicket player. That's higher-risk stuff, and partially helps explain why his Test average was 27 while Crowe's was 45.
They both had difficult introductions to Test cricket. Although Crowe was obviously a class act, he was still only 19 when he was named for the home series against Australia in 1981-82, less than six months after that Lord's stint finished. The Aussie new-ball pair was Jeff Thomson and Terry Alderman, with a rather handy first-change called Dennis Lillee: Crowe predictably struggled, managing scores of 9, 2 0, and 9. A chapter in his autobiography about his debut series was simply entitled "Way too soon".
Rutherford, though, managed to draw an even shorter straw for his first series: he was called up to tour the Caribbean in 1984-85, when the West Indian "mean machine" was at the height of its powers. Rutherford, also 19, was included in the first Test after a century in a warm-up game, and faced a bowling attack of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Joel Garner. Not the gentlest of introductions - especially when he was asked to open.
"That first Test innings I survived for 20 minutes," he later wrote. "It seemed a lifetime. I was out off a bat-pad from the bowling of Marshall. I didn't score a run."
He didn't score a run in the second innings either - or face a ball. Rutherford's pair was sealed after he was run out without facing when John Wright tried a quick single to Roger Harper, the best fielder in the world at the time.
Rutherford's maiden series didn't improve much: 4 in the second Test, 0 and 2 in the third, and 1 and 5 in the fourth, for a not-so-grand total of 12 runs at an average of 1.71. "The scars from that tour stayed with me for a very long time," he admitted in his autobiography, an entertaining read entitled A Hell of a Way to Make a Living. In the circumstances, that career average of 27 wasn't too bad: his next innings was 65 against Australia, and he eventually scored three Test centuries - and a rollicking 317 in a match in the Scarborough Festival at the end of New Zealand's 1986 tour of England, an innings that included 199 between lunch and tea.
Ken Rutherford, like Martin Crowe, went on to captain New Zealand. Both of them should have had longer Test careers: Crowe's was blighted by injury, latterly a serious knee problem, while Rutherford was dumped after a modest run and went off to South Africa to play for Transvaal.
And now Hamish Rutherford has arrived. He does look a good player, although he's clearly not, as their respective Test debuts might suggest, really 171 times better than his dad. New Zealand Test cricket has a rich history of families: Martin Crowe's brother Jeff also captained them, Chris Cairns followed his father Lance into the national side and outdid his achievements, and there have been Hadlees and Bracewells galore, among many others. Ken Rutherford's brother Ian - Hamish's uncle - himself had a distinguished career with Central Districts and Otago, although he never quite cracked the Test side.
One word of warning, though: England's bowling looked undercooked - or do I mean under-Cooked? - in Dunedin: Hamish Rutherford may never clatter 171 again. Let's hope, though, that it's not a reverse of New Zealand's Redmond saga: Rodney (another left-hander) announced his arrival in Test cricket with 107 and 56 against Pakistan in Auckland in February 1973... and never won another cap, for various reasons, chief among them an inability to adapt from glasses to contact lenses. Rodney's son, Aaron, made his Test debut in England in 2008, and collected a duck: in his seventh Test, against Australia in Adelaide later that year, he made his top score of 83... and, in accordance with family tradition, hasn't played again since.
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013. Ask Steven is now on Facebook