February 18, 2003

Noel McGregor puts his thought into bowls nowadays

Former New Zealand Test cricketer Noel McGregor returns to the forefront of international sport later this year.

In a moment of inspiration the Bowls Canterbury Centre president had the notion of combining the men's and women's national tournaments.

"I had this brainwave idea or crazy idea, call it what you like, to run them at the same time and make one big event. We're just fortunate we've got enough greens in Christchurch," he said.

McGregor said the first combined nationals pre-empt two larger Christchurch events, the Asia-Pacific Championships of 2007 and the first combined World Championships in 2008.

He is in his first year as Canterbury Centre president. Now 71, McGregor moved to Canterbury in 1969, ending a career of 21 seasons as a right-hand strokemaker with Otago.

He transferred with footwear maker Suckling Bros from Dunedin and joined the St Albans Cricket Club, playing on until 1990, when he was 58. Since then it's been all bowls.

"I like bowls because I can play bowls and if I make a mistake with my first bowl of the day I get another 41 chances. If I made a mistake at cricket I spent the rest of the day in the grandstand watching.

"Concentration is the most important thing in both games, whether it's batting, bowling or fielding or in bowls on the mat."

McGregor and leg-spinner Jack Alabaster, along with captain John Reid, are the only men to play in New Zealand's first three Test wins.

In the first, against the West Indies at Eden Park in 1956 McGregor made one vital contribution.

"It was a marvellous day. I'll never forget John Reid telling one reporter the turning point was when I caught Everton Weekes who'd made 100 in every other Test.

"It was between he and us who was going to win.

"He hit a rank long hop from Jack Alabaster - I was on the square leg boundary."

McGregor made runs in the next victories, at Newlands and Port Elizabeth in 1961/62, but in the years between New Zealand's form was poor, and McGregor's patchy.

His second Test included the infamous 26 all out against England in 1954/55.

"It was a disaster. No one can quite put a finger on [what went wrong]. It was a day like today with clear blue sky and the pitch not doing anything.

"The destroyer was Bob Appleyard. The quickest was Frank Tyson. They reported he bowled 96mph, but probably one of the best bowlers I have seen was Fred Trueman. He did so much with the ball. The most accurate was Brian Statham. Another good bowler was Johnny Wardle.

"Once when Godfrey Evans was the wicket-keeper, Wardle's first ball to me, I went forward and missed. With the next I went forward and it went the other way and I missed it. Evans said 'You're not picking it too well today are you? Never mind, play straight to the next one.' It hit the middle of the bat."

He scored a century in his fourth Test, in Lahore in 1955, but missed the 1958 tour to England, when a host of inexperienced batsmen failed and New Zealand lost the series 4-0.

"I just didn't make the team. You'll have to ask the selectors about that, except most of them are dead."

McGregor now has no role in cricket - "It's all bowls now."