Cricket in New Zealand, 1958

Early days

A Yorkshireman, James Cook, discovered New Zealand in 1769, but there is no evidence that this distinguished son of the broad acres was an ardent cricketer or that he introduced the game to the natives of his newly-discovered land. More likely it came with the arrival of the military as it did in South Africa. In 1840 New Zealand was declared a Crown Colony. By that time cricket had made its appearance in both the North and South islands.

Nineteen years passed, however, before any definite competitive spirit appeared. In 1859 Auckland sent by slow coastal steamer (there was no other means of communication) a challenge to Wellington to play a cricket match. It took a long time for the challenge to reach its destination, a long time for Wellington to make up their minds and still more delay for the reply to get back to Auckland. Weeks went by. Then unannounced the Auckland team arrived in Wellington. The local lads were caught on the hop. Some of their best players, so history tells us, were up country and could not be contacted. Yet the match had to be played. Auckland went home cock-a-hoop having won by four wickets.

Three years later Wellington challenged Auckland to a return encounter. The match was duly played and again Wellington lost. But the foundations, upon which New Zealand was to build her Test cricket, had been well and truly laid. It was destined to be a hard uphill fight. There were, however, men of steel in this thinly-populated new country. The greater the difficulties the more determined were these early pioneers to place New Zealand on the cricket map of the world. One called Shadrach Jones of Dunedin took the first step. He was personally responsible for bringing Parr's All-England XI touring Australia in 1864 to New Zealand and it cost him £5,000. He didn't care. The ice was broken.

In 1876 Lillywhite's All-England team played eight matches, winning six and drawing two. In 1881-82 Shaw and Shrewsbury's English XI had seven games, five of which they won. Between those two visits the first Australian team sailed the Tasman sea, and played seven matches before going to England. A tremendous fillip was given to New Zealand cricket when Canterbury beat that side which included such illustrious names as Spofforth, Murdoch, Boyle, Garrett, Bannerman and Horan.

Those sturdy pioneers were now reaping some reward for their labours. Before the end of the century four more representative Australian teams toured New Zealand. Tasmania sent a side. So did Fiji and several came from Australian States. In 1902-3 Sir Pelham Warner skippered a team from England known as Lord Hawke's XI and in 1906-7 came the first MCC side led by Captain Wynyard.

Lord Plunket was Governor of New Zealand at this time and it was in 1906 that he presented a challenge trophy (The Plunket Shield) to be competed for by the provinces. The four major associations are Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago, and each plays the other usually around Christmas because it is as well to remember that cricket in New Zealand always has been and still is strictly amateur apart from the odd professional coach.

Landmarks in the Dominion's cricket history now became frequent. After the First World War there was a gap, but in 1922-23 A. C. MacLaren led an MCC side which included such brilliant players as APF Chapman, the Hon. FS Calthorpe, Tom Lowry, a New Zealander then up at Cambridge who was later to captain his country on two tours of England, Tich Freeman and Dick Tyldesley. The two professionals were a great success and a great attraction. So was the young Percy Chapman and the burly Tom Lowry who rather indiscreetly hit 130 in the third match at Wellington.

The year 1927 was a red-letter one in New Zealand's cricket history. It saw their first visit to England as a cricketing country. Tom Lowry led the team. They were not accorded Test match status but did sufficiently well to warrant official recognition for the side which followed four years later.

The first Lowry team played 26 first-class matches, won seven, lost five and drew 14. The team included names subsequently to become famous not only in New Zealand but wherever the game was played: C. S. Dempster; Charles Dacre; Roger Blunt; J. E. Mills; M. L. Page, later to captain his country; K. C. James, a great little wicket-keeper, and W. E. Merritt, a spin bowler of international class. Merritt, only 18, took 169 wickets in all matches. At the end of the tour Dacre signed as professional for Gloucestershire. Later Merritt went to Lancashire league, Blunt took up a business appointment in Nottingham, James qualified for Northamptonshire and Dempster for Leicestershire.

In this his first visit, C. S. Dempster showed his remarkable skill with the bat. He made 1,430 runs, average 44.68, and was second in the bowling averages although bowling was not one of his recognised accomplishments. Six of the New Zealanders scored over a thousand runs on that tour. The bowling was weak. The fielding, appalling at first, improved tremendously under the stern direction of the captain.

Harold Gilligan, who has been New Zealand's representative in England for many years; took the next MCC side to the Dominion in the winter of 1929-30. They opened with five matches in Australia but the main purpose of the tour was to play in New Zealand. This was an even stronger side than the previous one. Gilligan had with him such brilliant amateurs as K. S. Duleepsinhji, E. W. Dawson, G. B. Legge, M. J. Turnbull and M. J. C. Allom and six of the leading professionals of the day--F. E. Woolley, E. H. Bowley, M. S. Nichols, T. S. Worthington, F. Barratt and W. L. Cornford. The three Tests originally arranged were increased to four but only the first produced a definite result, England winning by eight wickets.

This was a famous match. Batting first, New Zealand lost three wickets for 15 runs to Nichols and then Allom, bowling in his first Test, took four wickets in five balls, including the hat-trick. Duleepsinhji, who prior to the first Test could not make a run, suddenly hit form and in six Test innings scored 358 runs, twice not out, for an average of 89.75. In the second Test Dempster and Mills made centuries for New Zealand in the first innings. Frank Woolley achieved the remarkable bowling figures of seven for 76 in an innings of 440 runs.

A year later (1931) New Zealand undertook their second tour of England and this time with Test match status, but only one Test was allotted them. They did so well in their opening matches--a strong MCC team was defeated by an innings and 122 runs--and made such a brilliant recovery to save the first Test at Lord's that two more Tests were arranged. The Lord's game is still regarded as the most famous in New Zealand cricket history. It was their first Test match abroad. It was at headquarters and it ended in New Zealand striving for victory after being 230 runs behind on the first innings. Heroes of the fight-back were Dempster (120), Blunt (96), Page (104) and the skipper Tom Lowry, who made 34 with an injured hand. England, set to get 240 to win in two hours twenty minutes, never tried to get the runs.

In the second Test at The Oval New Zealand took a thrashing, Herbert Sutcliffe, Hammond and Duleepsinhji making hundreds which enabled Jardine to declare at 416 for four wickets. The tourists were unable to reach 200 in either innings. The third Test at Old Trafford was washed out, play being possible only on the third day.

Of the 32 first-class matches, New Zealand won six, lost only three, the other 23 being drawn. The strength of the batting and the comparative weakness of the bowling was undoubtedly the reason for the high number of drawn games. Dempster, Blunt, Mills, Lowry, Vivian and Weir all made over a thousand runs. No bowler took a hundred wickets although Merritt came within one of that feat, but the average cost was 26.48 runs apiece.

I have reason to remember this New Zealand tour. In their first match against Essex, Dempster made a double century. I dropped him in the slips when he was 46. Jack O'Connor made 129 (remember the figure) in our first innings. In the second match against my county Tom Lowry made 129 before he was caught on the boundary by me, a catch which caused some controversy because I could not say whether I was over the boundary line when I caught the ball. The umpire consulted the crowd and eventually gave Lowry out. It has remained a subject of good-natured banter between us ever since. To complete the coincidence of 129 I made exactly that score in our second innings.

The winter of 1932 recorded another landmark in New Zealand cricket history. So impressive had been Tom Lowry's 1931 side that when D. R. Jardine took his famous body-line team to Australia, New Zealand was included in the tour; two Tests were played and both drawn. Walter Hammond was then in his prime. He made 227 at Christchurch and 336 not out at Auckland--then the record individual Test score. The precedent established by Jardine's team was continued. It is now the normal practice for the England team to cross to New Zealand after the end of each Australian tour.

G. O. Allen's team of 1936-37 did not play any Tests in New Zealand because the Dominion was sending a team to England the following summer. This time Lowry came as manager but played in a number of matches. M. L. Page was the captain with H. G. Vivian vice-captain.

Three Tests were played and again it was made apparent that three days were not enough to ensure definite results. Two of the three were drawn, England winning the Manchester match by 130 runs. The third Test is historic in that Denis Compton made his debut. He scored 65 before being run out unluckily. A hard drive from Hardstaff cannoned off the bowler's hand into the stumps with Compton out of his ground. The record of M. L. Page's side was on a par with the previous New Zealand touring team. Out of the 32 first-class matches, nine were won, nine were lost and 14 drawn. Again the side was top-heavy in batting. Two brilliant young batsmen made their appearance, W. M. Wallace, aged 20, and M. P. Donnelly, 19. They finished first and second in the team's batting averages. The tall W. A. Hadlee was also a most promising performer. John Cowie was the pick of the bowlers, taking over a hundred wickets, the first New Zealander to accomplish that feat on an England tour.

The Second World War hit this young cricketing country as hard if not harder than any other. But when W. R. Hammond's MCC team returned after playing four matches, including one Test in New Zealand after the 1946-47 Australian tour, they brought back glowing accounts of a young left-hander named Sutcliffe. He had hit two hundreds, 197 and 128, in one match against the tourists for Otago and scored 58 in the only Test. W. A. Hadlee showed that he had developed into a class batsman and it was no surprise when he was chosen to lead the 1949 team to England.

This was unquestionably New Zealand's best team. They drew all four Tests with England. Thirteen of the 32 first-class matches were won. The only defeat was by Oxford University. Under the genial managership of Mr. J. H. Phillipps and the efficient captaincy of W. A. Hadlee so popular did the tourists become that not only did the receipts cover the £25,000 expenses but a net profit of £15,000 was taken back to New Zealand. Martin Donnelly (pictured) and Bert Sutcliffe had a superb season both making over 2,000 runs. Sutcliffe scored seven centuries, Donnelly five. V. J. Scott and W. M. Wallace also hit five hundreds each and J. R. Reid four. The batting was immensely strong. A pity the bowling was not as good. Cowie was affected by minor strains and therefore did not repeat his success of 1937. He was now 37. Age was beginning to tell.

A young fast bowler, J. A. Hayes, tore a muscle so badly halfway through the tour that he was unable to play again. The bulk of the bowling fell on the tubby, cheerful T. B. Burtt, slow left-arm immaculate length, good flight, who attacked the off-stump so accurately that he constantly tied down the opposing batsmen. Burtt took 128 wickets for an average of 22.88.

This side did not achieve the long-coveted first victory over England but they did well enough for New Zealand to shed the mantle of the poor relation of international cricket and to warrant a full Test programme with the home country in future.

It was therefore a profound disappointment when Sir Leonard Hutton's Ashes winning team went on to New Zealand in 1955 to find that first-class cricket in the Dominion had suffered an astonishing set-back. Bert Sutcliffe was only a shadow of his former self. Hadlee, Wallace, Donnelly, Scott, Cowie and Burtt had all left the international arena. None of similar calibre had been discovered to fill the gaps. The result was that the MCC won all four matches. The two Tests must have been bitterly disappointing for New Zealand. The first they lost by eight wickets and the second went against them by an innings and 20 runs in three days. England achieved a world's record by dismissing New Zealand in the second innings for 26, the lowest total in Test cricket.

Since that disaster, however, New Zealand have registered their first Test victory. It was against the West Indies at Auckland in March 1956 by 190 runs. The fact that New Zealand had lost the first three Tests did not lessen the joy in winning their first victory in 26 years of Test cricket.

So to 1958. This will be New Zealand's fifth official visit to England. For the first time they will play five Tests of five days' duration. We look forward to having them here again and wish them a happy and prosperous tour.

© John Wisden & Co