New Zealand's determined efforts over the last few years to improve their Test status very nearly won a rich reward. The eighth New Zealand team in England came desperately close to success in the first of the three Tests. And this, if nothing else, made the tour memorable for a team which was always popular and usually proficient; no New Zealand team, at home or abroad, has been so near an anxiously-awaited first victory over England.
An improvement in New Zealand's standards was unmistakeable, although it must be recognised that it coincided with a period in which the six countries still playing Test cricket were closer in quality than ever before.
New Zealand's emergence was achieved mainly through a diligent concentration on more Tests and tours. It brought results--not spectacular, but satisfying--through the steady match-hardening of a core of Test players. Sadly, this ambitious policy has now back-fired. It was disappointing that so many of the 1973 tourists were not available when New Zealand set off late last year for their first full-scale tour and Test series in Australia; but New Zealand, the smallest of the Test-playing countries, cannot yet afford the professional cricket background needed to challenge the best of the others. New Zealand players must have regard for their advancement in business as well as in Test cricket.
It was the experience won over the last few years that made New Zealand a worthy adversary in the Tests with England. Four members of the side were making their third visits to Britain; ten of the fifteen players had toured England in 1969.
None of them showed more benefit from this regular schooling than the captain, Congdon. It was his quite magnificent innings of 176 which gave New Zealand a sight of victory at Trent Bridge, and which made the British public very much aware of the tour and the team. Set the almost impossible task of scoring 479, New Zealand lost two for 16 but Congdon and Pollard (116) fought with such tenacity that a relieved England team won, on the fifth afternoon, by a mere 38 runs.
Victory for New Zealand at Nottingham would have been a miracle. But New Zealand should have won the second Test at Lord's. There the tourists made very good use of a fine batting strip to score 551 for nine, New Zealand's best in Tests. Congdon and Pollard scored centuries again and a third was contributed in handsome fashion by Burgess. New Zealand led by 298 runs, but could not make the most of this splendid opportunity. The pitch remained good but New Zealand, on the final day, lacked the pugnacity and purpose an Australian side would almost certainly have shown in a similar situation. Even so, New Zealand had a fine chance until Arnold was dropped, with England eight down, only 70 ahead, and with two hours of play remaining.
From New Zealand's point of view, the third Test at Headingley was an anti-climax. There, New Zealand's two best attacking bowlers, Taylor and D. R. Hadlee, were often woefully short on a pitch which demanded a full length and which Arnold, in particular, exploited brilliantly.
Arnold, although hamstrung by the excellence of the Lord's pitch (one for 108) took fifteen wickets for 243 in the other Tests, and he was England's sharpest weapon. Snow also bowled with hostility. When the cloud was low and the humidity high, these two were more aggressive than any bowler New Zealand could muster. It was a seamers' series; in the three Tests Illingworth, Gifford and Underwood bowled 142 overs in the aggregate, without a single success.
England's batting was distinctly below the standards New Zealand bowlers have come to expect. Boycott was clearly the best of the home batsmen but the others always looked vulnerable, even Fletcher, whose long innings at Lord's was of such value.
New Zealand, then, returned home with the Test rubber lost, 2-0. They were the first of the short-tour New Zealand teams--or of any New Zealand team in England--not to lose a three-day match. They won only three games, but this modest record was not attributable entirely to New Zealand's bowling deficiencies. Wet weather in May and an unexpectedly conservative approach by some of the counties made decisions difficult to achieve on pitches good enough for the touring team to average nearly 400 runs an innings.
The New Zealanders batted well, and none had more spectacular success than Turner, who became the first player in 35 years to reach 1000 runs by the end of May. It was an outstanding performance, but one which probably cost New Zealand much, for this accomplished batsman had lost the keen edge of his concentration by the time the Tests began. He scored 1,380 runs on tour and Congdon, who set magnificent standards in application and determination, was also well clear of 1000. It was some measure of the New Zealanders' batting strength that they hit fourteen centuries, compared with six on the previous tour four years earlier.
Burgess, the most attractive stroke-maker, enjoyed a good tour. Pollard, with a Test average of 100 and a tour figure not far short of 50, at last fulfilled the promise he had shown as a youngster in 1965. Hastings was a sounder starter than before and he deserved the distinction of a Test century at Lord's. The young Worcestershire player Parker began well, but from the time of the first Test he was sadly out of form and his decline was accentuated by the pressures put on him by confident England bowlers.
Redmond, the tall left-hander who had made such a remarkable Test debut (107 and 56) against Pakistan in Auckland in January, had a modest return. He had trouble with his contact lenses, and against skilful professional bowling, his aggressive front-foot methods were successful only in the early stages. Anderson, a right-hander, often looked capable, but got himself out regularly. It is not easy for young batsmen such as these to produce their best on short tours in a successful batting side when so often declarations are imminent, batting sacrifices demanded, or Test team candidates being kept in playing trim.
The New Zealand bowling lacked hostile pace or penetrative spin. It was usually steady and well-organised, but the most promising of the faster bowlers, R. J. Hadlee, played in only one Test. His best bowling came late in the tour, but he has considerable prospects of success ahead. His elder brother, D. R. Hadlee, had some very good days, and so did the experienced Taylor. The tall left-handed Collinge deservedly completed the tour with the best figures; his 51 wickets were just three times as many as he gathered in 1969. He was consistently accurate and sometimes lively.
The left-arm spinner, Howarth, was not the bowler of 1969. He seemed jaded at the start of the tour, and then missed six matches through injury. Ten wickets at Fenner's on his return augured well, and he bowled with admirable persistence and stamina in the Lord's Test--95 overs, seven for 186--but his tour total of 31 at 36.74 was far below his 1969 figures, 57 at 19.75. To be sure, he had fewer helpful pitches on his second tour. Gillott showed he had yet to develop all the skills of a top-class left-hander and Pollard's off-spin was of limited value. Congdon, with control of length and direction, variations in pace and swing, was often a useful member of a rather undistinguished attack.
New Zealand's ground fielding was nearly always sound and sometimes of a very high class. The catching was poor in the early weeks, but improved markedly and Wadsworth enjoyed another successful tour as wicket-keeper.
If the 1973 New Zealanders came no more than close to victory in the Tests, their success in other respects was unqualified. Their Trent Bridge performance led to splendid crowds at Lord's, and the team's reputation off the field was excellent. For this much credit was due to Congdon and to the amiable manager, Mr J. C. Saunders. For the first time, New Zealand made a tour of England under financial guarantee. The tour showed a handsome profit--in gate and other receipts, and in the furtherance of friendship.
Test Matches--Played 3: Lost 2, Drawn 1.
First-Class Matches--Played 19: Won 3, Lost 2, Drawn 14.
All Matches--Played 23: Won 4, Lost 3, Drawn 16.
Wins-- Glamorgan, Lancashire, Essex. Also London N.Z. Club (1 day).
Losses-- England (2). Also England (1 day)
Draws-- England, Derrick Robins' XI, Worcestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Gloucestershire, Somerset, M. C. C., Derbyshrie, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxford and Cambridge XI, Warwickshire, Surrey. Also England, Scotland (each 1 day).
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