September 1, 2000

Wallace story to be told in book

Merv Wallace should have been one of the greatest names in New Zealand's cricket history.

That he isn't is an indictment of small-mindedness all too common with New Zealand sports administration in the 20th century.

Potentially an outstanding batsman, he did fall 90 runs short of registering 1000 runs in England before the end of May in 1949, his greater legacy should have been as a coach and thinker in the game.

Wallace had the all-too-rare ability to communicate technical cricket matters in a way that was effective and simple. But he was rarely called upon; his abilities wasted at a time when New Zealand could least afford to ignore them.

All may not be completely lost however.

Wallace is the subject of a book being published in mid-September by Wellington writer Joseph Romanos.

The book, which is limited to 500 copies, has been made possible through the financial support of businessman and cricket benefactor Sir Ron Brierley.

It arose after Romanos thanked Brierley for his assistance in supporting the publication of a book published earlier this year about former New Zealand captain, all-rounder and now international match referee John Reid.

Romanos said Brierley's response was immediate: "What are we going to do next?"

Romanos said he wasn't sure, but Brierley suggested something on Merv Wallace.

"He [Brierley] had totally selfless motives," Romanos said.

Making the trip to Auckland to speak to Wallace, who will be 84 in December, Romanos found what he described as "some incredibly staunch Wallace supporters" were only too willing to do anything to help in the writing of a book.

"People like Len Kent, Peter Badley and Roger Harris couldn't do enough to help," Romanos said.

Any discussion with Wallace about cricket is infectious. The little analytical gems he pops into conversation speak volumes of both his love and understanding of the game.

Romanos commented: "I learnt a lot doing this book. It is not a coaching book but I have included 70 coaching nuggets he came up with. He is such a mine of information. There's no doubt he's been wasted in New Zealand."

"He was New Zealand's best batsman on the 1937 tour of England, he won the Redpath Cup the next year and, until Bert Sutcliffe came along, he was New Zealand's best batsman.

"But he never played a Test between the age of 20-29."

Romanos said take those same years out of the careers of Martin Crowe, Ken Rutherford or John Reid and it could only be imagined what would have happened.

Wallace's test average is 20.90 from the 13 Tests he played. Yet a statistical comparison of John Reid and Martin Crowe after 13 Tests shows a remarkably similar record.

"Reid averaged 21.2 with a hundred and two 50s while Crowe averaged 21.3 with a 100 and no 50s," Romanos said.

During his first-class career of 121 games, he finished with a much more indicative example of his worth with a first-class average of 44.32. And just what might have been had the Second World War not broken out in 1939 was obvious from his highest score of 211 recorded in the summer of 1939/40.

Given the impact he made in 1956 when called in to assist as coach for a New Zealand team ravaged by a demanding tour of India and Pakistan, and facing the West Indies at home, Wallace did enough to have been New Zealand coach from 1956 until 1970.

New Zealand won its first Test in the last Test of that 1956 series, had a good showing against an Australian 2nd XI a year later, and then Wallace was not reappointed.

"He was always the best coach in New Zealand," Romanos said.

Wallace's approachability meant he was forever handing out advice in his Auckland sports goods shop Wallace and Webb, to people at all levels of the game.

Romanos said he had concentrated much of the book on the 1937 tour of England because the 1949 tour, and Wallace's role as coach to so many younger players, has already been well chronicled.

The book will retail at $24.95 at selected bookshops and copies are available from the author at jromanos@ihug.co.nz.