Nelson personality died at weekend

Lynn McConnell

August 14, 2003

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Rex Challies, who died in Nelson on Saturday aged 78, once bowled one of the more legendary full-tosses in New Zealand minor-association cricket. A Nelson stalwart, who played first-class cricket for Central Districts and Wellington, Challies was a legspinner who became something of a character in his home town.

That full-toss, bowled in a Hawke Cup challenge match in Hamilton in which Nelson beat Waikato to wrest the Cup, allowed Nelson to begin their record-breaking era of 28 defences of the Cup. Nelson had scored 188 after batting first and Waikato, the holders, were getting a little close. But on 176, Challies trapped Allen Lissette leg before wicket for 16, to end his shepherding of the lower order as they got closer to the first-innings lead that allowed a team to claim the Cup.

Nelson scored 195 in their second innings, and Waikato were 64 for 5 when the match was ended by bad weather. It was the second successful challenge Challies had played in, as he was also a member of the Nelson side which also beat Waikato in 1951. Nelson scored 110 and Waikato were dismissed for 97 as Ian Leggat took 7 for 36 and Challies 2 for 47. Nelson scored 239 in their second innings, and then dismissed Waikato for 133 to claim a 120-run win.

Challies' involvement in the second era was reduced because another legspinner had emerged in Nelson, Don Currie, who went on to play 11 first-class matches for Central Districts in which he took 31 wickets at 24.96. Challies moved to Hawke's Bay, where he played for the Hastings Old Boys' club before enlisting in the Army where he served in Malaya and Singapore.

Upon his return to New Zealand, he settled in Christchurch where he played President's Grade cricket only. A player who was rated highly by his Nelson contemporaries, he had earlier in his career made a regular practice of catching the Cook Strait ferry from Nelson to Wellington in order to play club cricket in the capital. He would then catch the ferry home after completing his day's play with the Midland club. However, the evidence of his gregarious nature was seen when he happened to miss the ferry on some occasions.

He performed well enough to be included in nine matches for Wellington, including their 214-run loss to the MCC team of 1946-47. But Challies did have the satisfaction of taking two of the more impressive wickets of his career, Denis Compton and Cyril Washbrook.

When the Central Districts association was formed he returned to Nelson to use that as the base for his future eight first-class appearances.

Former team-mates said Challies bowled best when he was under pressure or when he hadn't observed the curfew he was placed under the night before matches. This sometimes involved having some pre-match drinks with the opposition, something which he proved better equipped to handle than his opponents.

In later years he was a regular watcher of cricket at Trafalgar Park, where his Wakatu club team was based.

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