Cameron was the common factor in New Zealand's greatest days

Lynn McConnell

May 2, 2003

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Cameron in action during the first Test against Pakistan in 1965
Frank Cameron's receipt of the Bert Sutcliffe Medal for services to New Zealand Cricket last month was acknowledgement of a man who could best be described as the common factor in New Zealand's finest period in the international game during the 1980s.

Even more than Richard Hadlee, the player whose feats inspired the New Zealand side to previously unclimbed heights of winning consistency, could not match Cameron who, from 1976 until 1986, was chairman of New Zealand's selection panel. He was first named as a selector for the season of 1968/69.

And if his selection career was notable for its longevity, then his playing career was significant for its delayed start.

In the modern world, Cameron might well have given cricket away to pursue the other love of his youth, athletics. He had to wait nine summers from his debut in 1952/53, in the match after Otago batsman Sutcliffe scored 385 against Canterbury, against Auckland, until finally being selected for a New Zealand side, to play the unofficial second Test against Dennis Silk's touring MCC team at the Basin Reserve.

It might have been a long wait, but it was a much more satisfying start to international cricket than many New Zealanders had achieved. New Zealand won the game by 133 runs.

However, when selection finally did come. Cameron had reached the stage where he had given up hope of being selected for New Zealand.

He did acknowledge that it was hard to break into the side during the 1950s. Players like Johnny Hayes, Bob Blair, Tony MacGibbon and Harry Cave had all been extensively involved in the game. But he did feel when he played in a trial match before the 1958 tour of England that he might have had a chance.

"There was a New Zealand trial in Wellington and I took six for 29 in the first innings and three for 40 in the second innings. I was also down to play in the second trial which was to be played in Christchurch. That was a bit unusual because hardly anyone else was playing in the two trials. But I didn't play. It was only one of two occasions in my career when I couldn't finish a game because of injury.

Cameron knew that there was a good chance he was up to it. The season before, against Ian Craig's Australians, he took six for 95 for Otago.

Cameron had known frustration before. During his junior days in Otago, he had captained an Under-16 side which beat arch rivals Canterbury. Over the next three summers, despite being one of the better-performed bowlers in club cricket, he could never get himself picked for Otago. Yet a season after his eligibility ceased, he played in the full Otago side in the Plunket Shield competition.

This all from a player who never received any coaching.

"I never had anybody coach me. I never played organised cricket until I was about 11 or 12. I went to Christian Brothers Secondary School in Dunedin. When I was 13 I seemed to keep bowling fellows out at practice so they sent me to the Otago Under-14 trials and I got in the side. But when I started playing [age-group representative] cricket it was the first time I ever had a new ball to bowl with and I couldn't get anyone out because the ball was swinging too much. Tom Flaws was the wicket-keeper and he helped me work it out.

"Actually an old fellow in the park showed me how to bowl the ball once. I was just playing around with my friends at Tonga Park and he came over and showed me how to grip the ball and I never held it any differently after that.

"My bowling never really changed. I was a natural outswing bowler. As they get older a lot of bowlers lose their swing simply because of defects in their action, falling away as they bowl, or differences in their grip. When you start fiddling around with your options you can get into trouble.

"I really concentrated and would swing the ball away for as long as possible. I could bowl an inswinger but if I pushed it my body could feel it. Not too many bowlers can swing it both ways easily. Ian Botham did for a short time but he think he might have got a bad back out of it.

"If you get good outswing, you will get movement off the pitch, either way.

"That's the reward for moving the ball around, when you get them to misjudge what they are doing."

Cameron was aware of murmurings about his possible inclusion in the side to tour South Africa in 1961/62. This was to be the most successful New Zealand side during the early international history of the country. And it was built around the bowling ability of the side of which Cameron, with his ability to bowl for sustained periods, was a significant contributor.

"The year before, Dennis Silk's MCC team came to New Zealand and I played for Otago against them. In the first innings I bowled 22 overs and took none for 22. Jack Alabaster took five wickets. Gordon [Leggat, chairman of New Zealand's selectors] had been down at the game and Lankford Smith [former Otago captain and television commentator] came up to me at the end of a day and said: 'They've been talking about you.' Apparently Leggat had talked to Jim Parks who scored 92 not out in their first innings. He was a good bloke and highly regarded and he apparently spoke well of my bowling. He said I would take a lot of wickets in English conditions. It was funny how their discussion came back to me straight away.

"Out in the middle one day during the game I was aware of some applause but didn't know why. Apparently they had announced the team for the internationals and I was in. They were looking for a third man to go to South Africa because they had younger guys in Gary Bartlett and Dick Motz.

"I didn't play in the first game, and then in the second at Wellington I spent the first day bowling into a really tough southerly with no luck. But the second day dawned beautifully and suggested the right conditions to get some of the swing that could occur at the Basin Reserve.

"Gordon Leggat said to me: 'Righto young Cameron, today's your day. Be in there like a rat off a sinking ship!' Jim Stewart was batting and from my first ball of the day an edge flew to Paul Barton at second slip. And Jim just stood there. This MCC team had come out and were making the first noises about walking, but he just stood there until we told him to leave. And in that wee spell that morning I took three wickets for no runs. [He finished up with three for 46]. I felt the selectors had been hoping I would do something in the game to prove them right."

Cameron took two more wickets in the second innings and with Alabaster taking five wickets, New Zealand won the second match by 133 runs.

"So I made the team for South Africa and on the way over in Perth the [Fremantle] Doctor was blowing and I took seven for 37, just like Guy Overton had taken seven there, bowling from the other end, in 1953/54. I thought to myself, 'bloody hell, I'm up to standard.' That was reassuring because I didn't want to go away and not perform well."

The requirement in South Africa was tough. Only three seamers were selected for the tour and with Bartlett suspect to injury, that was going to mean a big workload for Cameron. As it was, he bowled 721.4 overs on the tour, to take 77 wickets at 22.09 and was second only to leg-spinner Alabaster for the total number of overs bowled.

Cameron found his basic skills were heightened by the repetitive nature of cricket on tour and his speed quickened as the tour went on.

"They had to have someone who could bowl for a long time. There were only three seamers in the team. Bartlett was always suspect to injury. Bogo [John Reid] did nearly all the off-spinning as John Sparling was hardly used. Bryan Yuile was in there but there was one spinner too many and one seamer short. Things turned out right for the selectors though. They brought back Zin Harris and [Murray] Chapple, as vice-captain, and he did that job well. I guess in my case it was time for a new lot of bowlers and they needed a stock bowler.

"Artie Dick did a wonderful job on that tour too. Leggat and Reid had both made enquiries about him. Gordon rang me to ask about him. They were looking for somone who could bat in the top-order and who kept wickets. I said that Artie did. I didn't know until a year or two ago, that Bogo rang [Otago commentator] Iain Gallaway to ask about Artie. So I suppose they were cutting down their chances of making mistakes in the selection.

"They selected the team with a look to fellows who could play their shots. That's only good as long as they stay in long enough.

"But Zin scored a century, and Paul Barton got a century in Tests that we won."

"At the end of the tour we sat around talking about when the next tour was and someone said 1965 to England and I said, 'That's too far away for me.'

But he was still there. And he was a senior hand in a tour notable for the younger players it introduced for the next stage of New Zealand's development. Players like: Bruce Taylor, Richard Collinge, Terry Jarvis, Vic Pollard, Bevan Congdon, Ross Morgan.

"Our team in 1965 was a very different team. The side wasn't as homogenous and we had to play in terrible conditions against India and Pakistan and then go and play a very strong England team. They had [Geoff] Boycott, [John] Edrich, [Ken] Barrington, [Ted] Dexter and [Colin] Cowdrey who were in world class of all-time. Their bowling wasn't as great but was good enough to do us."

The tour had been too demanding. Conditions in India and Pakistan were tough, with illness common throughout and to have to go to England immediately afterwards made it very difficult. It all helped Cameron realise that he had reached the end of the playing road.

"I played my last game for Otago in 1966/67. I wanted to finish when I was going well."

It was a playing career that resulted in 447 wickets at an average of 21.60 of which 258 were for Otago at 20.17.

Any thoughts that he had of retirement were short-lived, he was a member of the national selection panel two seasons later.

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