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June 11, 2002
New Zealand cricket lost the chronicler of some of its finest days with the death of writer R T 'Dick' Brittenden in Christchurch yesterday.
Brittenden, 82, retired from active daily newspaper writing in 1984 but had continued to write cricket reports for The Christchurch Press and, until recently, for The Cricketer magazine in England.
Dick Brittenden chose early on in his career to follow cricket. It wasn't a fashionable newspaper round at a time when New Zealand knew little of international success.
But there was never any doubt about his love for the game. He first worked for The Press, the largest newspaper in New Zealand's South Island, in 1938. War service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force interrupted his journalism career when he enlisted in 1940.
He returned to the Press after the war and in 1955 was entrusted with setting up a sports department at the newspaper and served as sports editor from 1955 until his retirement in 1984.
In that time he fashioned a career that made him New Zealand's pre-eminent cricket writer and one of its trio of great sports writers along with Sir Terry McLean and Alex Veysey.
While New Zealand may have struggled to make an impact on the world cricket stage, Brittenden had no such problems and his reputation around the world was well-earned.
He covered four cricket tours to Britain, two of which included visits to India and Pakistan and one to South Africa. He was editor of the New Zealand Cricketer magazine, and the author of 15 cricket books, including, Silver Fern on the Veldt, Red Leather Silver Fern, New Zealand Cricketers, Scoreboard '69, The Finest Years and the first autobiography of Richard Hadlee.
He was once reported as saying that cricket was his mistress and that he had been mad on the game from an early age. His early days saw his style modelled on Neville Cardus but he soon established his own style and he worked to a specific creed.
"I believe that in sports reporting it is essential to be honest, and not betray any confidences. If you do, you've got a story but you've lost a news source, and, perhaps a friend."
While New Zealand may not have had a lot of success in his earlier years, he nevertheless saw some fine players. He recounted some of his thoughts to Christchurch's opposition newspaper of the day when he retired, The Christchurch Star.
"I'll never forget Ray Lindwall. He had the most perfect beautiful action," he said.
"Keith Miller, he bowled like the wind and he hit like a kicking mule.
"Peter May would rate as among the greatest strokemaker I have seen.
"In New Zealand, we have had none to equal Bert Sutcliffe as a batsman. He was also the most popular person cricket produced here. He never became swollen-headed, and he is the same man he was when he was 20."
He also recalled the most momentous event of his career, the day at Ellis Park on Boxing Day 1953, when Bob Blair, despite losing his fiancee in the Tangiwai train disaster, which until the Mt Erebus plane crash of 1979, was New Zealand's worst disaster, came to the aid of his team.
Blair came out to bat after the New Zealand team had been sorely tested by South African fast bowler Neil Adcock. Several players received injuries, including Sutcliffe who was batting with bandages all over his head. The follow-on had been avoided when the ninth wicket fell and the players started leaving the field only to see Blair walk out from the pavilion.
He had been left at the hotel in his grief earlier in the day but came to the ground to support the side.
Brittenden told the Star: "We were all white as sheets and the top South African writer Louis Duffus, had tears running down his cheeks."
But Brittenden's perseverance as a writer brought its own reward as he was able to write about New Zealand's first Test victories over England and Australia.
"If I single out one moment it is [Richard] Collinge bowling [Geoff] Boycott off stick for one to start England's collapse in Wellington in 1978."
The Australian victory had been achieved four years earlier, in Christchurch, where Brittenden had one of his busier summers as the city hosted the outstanding 10th Commonwealth Games.
There were other notable moments during his career. He recalled in a retirement story in his own paper The Press, his reaction to the Packer Affair.
"When Kerry Packer started his circus I was appalled at first. I later realised that he gave cricketers a much better deal than they had had before - and they deserved it."
He encapsulated the thoughts of many however when commenting on the increasing professionalisation occurring in sport.
"So amateurism has gone; but my abiding hope is that New Zealanders never lose the pride of playing for their country.
"If cricketers are just interested in participating for money, the public's interest in our team performances will diminish. We won't be a plucky little nation fighting the big guys any more," he said.
As with any New Zealand sportswriter, Brittenden also covered rugby, and he had a long asssociation with golf as well. He was president of the Waitikiri club in Christchurch and a member of the Eagles Golfing Society.
His services to sports journalism were recognised with the presentation of an MBE and the press box at Jade Stadium, formerly Lancaster Park, was named after him.
He is survived by his wife Joy and five children, Wendy, Richard, Peter, Gary and Denis.
His funeral will be held in Christchurch on Friday afternoon.
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