June 28, 2002

Dacre makes his mark on New Zealand cricket scene

The Ces Dacre Files: Part Two

Ces Dacre was a pioneer in New Zealand cricket, the first professional to make his mark after playing for New Zealand, he qualified for the Gloucestershire club in 1930. Upon his return to New Zealand, he wrote a series of articles on his career for the long defunct New Zealand Observer. CricInfo New Zealand editor Lynn McConnell has used these articles as the basis of this feature series on one of the legends of the New Zealand game.

Ces Dacre's debut in first-class cricket has been clouded in debate. In his reminiscences in the New Zealand Observer he claimed that he was 14 when making his debut for Auckland against Canterbury.

However, the records show that he was 15 years 224 days, still the youngest first-class player in New Zealand, but not 14 as he claimed.

He scored nine and 37 in his first match. By 1921 he was included in the New Zealand team. After that inclusion he was only ever left out of one side on account of his lack of form, for the first match against Archie McLaren's touring side from England. And as it turned out it was a good one to miss as McLaren scored a double century.

It was against C G Macartney's New South Wales side of 1924 that he scored 145 for New Zealand at Lancaster Park.

"This innings to me will always go down in my memory as the best of my career. Also, I will say here that after it I was lucky to be alive, as, if one ball which I received during that match had hit me, I would never have seen any more cricket fields.

"During the match, when the New Zealand total had reached 200, Macartney called for a new ball and gave it to his fast bowler, Sam Everett. At the time I had been batting for some minutes and consequently had my eye in. And lucky for me I had, as during one over he let me have a beautiful full tosser, fair and square at my head, like a shot our of a gun. I just ducked a fraction, and with a flick of the wrist I sent that ball many a yard over the fine leg boundary for six.

"Roger Blunt was batting at the other end, and he did not forget to tell me how lucky I was and what a fine shot I had played. Anyone who knows the game at all will understand how hard it is to get out of the way of a full tosser bowled shoulder high. It well and truly put the breeze up poor old Sam Everett, who made all kinds of humble apologies for letting the new ball slip out of his hand."

He followed that a year later with a century in each innings for Auckland against the Victorian side led by Edgar Mayne.

"During the second innings Edgar Mayne gave me a few runs by putting on some of his spare bowlers, but when nearing the three-figure mark he tried to get me out by putting on his stock bowlers and set about me.

"It was the last over of the day and the match when I faced [Arthur] Liddicut with 92 and only eight wanted for a three-figure score. I wanted five with the last ball of the over, and believe me, I did crack it straight over his head at the Dominion Road end for six."

In 1925/26, he toured with the New Zealand team for the first time, to Australia. It was a well-balanced side, he said.

"We had two very fine left-hand bowlers in Dan McBeath, of Canterbury, and Cyril Allcott, of Auckland.

"[Bill] Cunningham was our stock medium-pace bowler, and what a good one he was on his day! He impressed the Australians very much. To me he always gave the impression of being a second Maurice Tate. He had exactly the same action."

Dacre also recalled H S T L 'Stork' Hendry's triple century for Victoria. His 325 not out remains second only to Walter Hammond's 336 not out in 1932/33 as the highest score made against any New Zealand team.

"He was well and truly caught behind the wicket by Tom Lowry when he had scored 56, but the umpire thought differently so we had see some more of him while he hit our bowling to the tune of three and a half hundred."

In 1927, New Zealand made their first tour of England, and while there were no Tests on the tour, it was a significant part of the country's cricket progress. The team travelled from Wellington to San Francisco, stopping off in Rarotonga for a game where the locals asked that the spin bowlers be taken off so they could have a crack at the faster bowlers who they hit all over the place.

Once in the United States, the team travelled across the country by train, before catching another ship to England. Once in England, Dacre lamented the standard of catching, especially by the New Zealand players in the slips. At that stage it was clearly not a specialist fielding position. Much of this was due to the lack of match play the New Zealanders experienced at that stage in their domestic competition which, if there was no touring team in the country, allowed them only three matches a year.

"It is difficult to make a New Zealander into a first-class 'slipper' in one season in England. The atmospheric conditions and the different lights are all against any touring side.

"Our ground fielding in New Zealand is good, but our slip-fielding is wicked," he said.

In this day and age of specialised field positioning, it is hard to believe that there was ever a time when individual fielding skill was not recognised. But that was the case in New Zealand's earlier years. Even in 1937, Dacre was critical of this feature.

"A good captain should always keep his side in the same positions for every match, and in this way we can expect good fielding. It is useless for a player to be in the slips for about two hours and then be moved out into the covers or some other position."


The constant diet of cricket the New Zealanders were exposed to in England took its toll, especially with only 14 players on the tour. Dacre himself asked to be sent home when there was still a month to go on the tour.

"I went to our manager and asked to be sent home, as I had had enough cricket to last me a lifetime."

He stayed.

And the remainder of the tour produced more comment from Dacre.

Part Three: Dacre sheds light on the bowling frustrations suffered by Bill Cunningham.