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March 22, 2008
Merv Wallace, who made his Test debut before the war and who was considered one the leading New Zealand post-war batsmen, has died at the age of 91.
Wallace played 13 Tests between 1937 and the 1953, and while his Test average of 20.90 was poor, with only five fifties, it was widely accepted it was not a genuine reflection of his ability. He scored all round the wicket, although his strength was in his cover driving.
His international debut came on New Zealand's tour of England in 1937 and he made fifties in both innings on his Test debut at Lord's. When he returned 12 years later he was in superb form making 1722 runs at 49.20 with 910 runs by the end of May. However, his form in Tests was poor and only salvaged by a brace of fifties in the final game at The Oval which helped New Zealand draw the series. He made his Test best 66 when England toured in 1950-51 but that was his last innings of note and he retired after captaining the side in two Tests against South Africa in 1952-53.
Wallace seamlessly made the switch from player to coach and was drafted in to help in 1954-55, and a year later was in charge when New Zealand won their first Test, beating West Indies at Eden Park.
"He had the all-too-rare ability to communicate technical cricket matters in a way that was effective and simple," Lynn McConnell, the writer and broadcaster, noted. "But he was rarely called upon; his abilities wasted at a time when New Zealand could least afford to ignore them. Given the impact he made in 1956 when called in to assist as coach for a New Zealand team ravaged by a demanding tour of India and Pakistan, and facing the West Indies at home, Wallace did enough to have been New Zealand coach from 1956 until 1970. New Zealand won their first Test in the last Test of that 1956 series, had a good showing against an Australian 2nd XI a year later, and then Wallace was not reappointed."
"The most under-rated cricketer to have worn the silver fern." That was former New Zealand captain John Reid's assessment of Wallace.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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