CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1974

Bevan Congdon

Bevan Congdon, the New Zealand captain, gave two revealing insights into his character during the Trent Bridge Test. On the third afternoon, New Zealand began their second innings needing 479 runs. Very soon two wickets were down for 16. Congdon battled on, but when he had scored 24 he was struck on the cheek by John Snow, a painful and upsetting blow. After a few minutes' delay, Congdon took strike again, and Snow dropped one just short enough to threaten further discomfort. Congdon moved into line to play it perfectly and he went on to contribute 176 towards New Zealand's gallant 440.

A second glimpse of Congdon's personality was offered in the New Zealand dressing room on the final morning of the match when New Zealand were moving towards 400 still with five wickets standing. The tension in the changing room was immense. Congdon read a C.S. Forester novel.

In the middle, Congdon had displayed the courage and concentration which have made him a great batsman. In the dressing room he demonstrated his ability to divorce himself from the stress and strains of the game. This remoteness might not have won him the adulation of his players, but it was part and parcel of his progress from obscurity to world-wide acclaim.

"I am a realist", Congdon said, after the match. "A lot of worry will not help your side play better. Tension does not help. I base my game on keeping everything as simple as possible, and not allowing tensions to come into it, in any circumstances".

BEVAN ERNEST CONGDON is very much a self-made cricketer. He was born on February 11, 1938, at Motueka, a sun-drenched, soporific spot in New Zealand's tobacco empire. It is a small community and Congdon, the youngest of six boys in his family, should have nurtured few hopes of playing for his country. But he was ambitious and determined.

When he was sixteen, he all but gave up cricket for tennis. Although he had enjoyed his cricket in junior grades he bought himself a new racquet and tennis gear. He did not think he would enjoy senior club cricket so much. It turned out very differently. Although the establishment of Central Districts in the Plunket Shield competition ostensibly brought many more county players into contention, it was very difficult to win recognition when playing in a remote, rural area. Congdon played for Nelson in the Hawke Cup contest - a sort of minor counties' competition - in 1959-60 and the following season won a place in the Central Districts team. In 1971-72 he changed his alliance to Wellington and in 1972-73 to Otago.

In his early years Congdon benefited from the coaching of the Derbyshire and England player, L.F. Townsend. It required a round trip of 70 miles, twice a week, but Congdon found it very useful. "Les was pretty straight forward in his coaching", says Congdon, "it was a matter of hitting the ball, and he did not make basic alterations of style".

Congdon began rather as a thrower of the bat at the ball, and for his first few years he was a useful rather than a vital player in the Central Districts scheme of things. He began his first-class career when he was twenty-two, and he took four years to win a place in the New Zealand XI.

He first played Test cricket against Pakistan in 1964-65 and went on New Zealand's 1965 tour to India, Pakistan and England. He was moderately successful. So he was on a similar tour in 1969. But in the last two years, Congdon has emerged from the ranks. Now he is only the third New Zealander after Bert Sutcliffe and John Reid who has scored 10,000 runs in and for his country. In the West Indies in 1971-72 and in England in 1973 he developed into a top-class Test batsman.

His concentration became immense - the pitch his working world. With his advance in the practical application of his talents, he ripened as a better stroke-maker, rather than one who discarded the flamboyant for the fruitful. He hit straighter, he used his feet effectively and today he is a fine driver, as well as a sound defender.

For years Congdon played for New Zealand reasonably well. The West Indies tour marked a change in his fortunes. "I think I learned a lot through batting long hours with Glenn Turner", he says. "I probably adopted a more professional approach. I think my footwork improved. Perhaps, before, I tended to make involuntary movements one way or the other. Now I try to see the line ands the length of the ball before I commit myself, and I am clearer in my decision as to what I am going to do".

The lean, craggy Congdon was a tremendous success in the West Indies. In first-class matches, he scored 988 runs at 89.8; in the five Tests 531 at 88.50. In England in 1973 he made 1081 at 60.05, and in the Tests, 362 at 72.40.

In cannot be said that Congdon was a great captain, first because he lacks a flair of aggression, second because he is without the ability to make his players willing to give their all for him. But as a front-line leader, he is admirable. New Zealand had had very few batsman with his application, his basic courage; and in England he demonstrated a quite a remarkable ability in public relations.

Brought up in the restricted atmosphere of a family furniture business in Motueka, Congdon branched out into an insurance post, and is now with a tobacco company. His innings of 176 at Trent Bridge and 175 at Lord's were all he needed to make his mark indelibly in the story of New Zealand cricket. And he has given much more than those two fine performances. Essentially practical, Congdon at thirty-five took New Zealand to Australia for a first full tour there. It was a demanding job. He, almost alone among the New Zealand cricketers of his generation looked capable of withstanding the pressure of the Australian press, public and players. No Trumper; no Bradman; Congdon is simply a cricketers' cricketer. - RTB

© John Wisden & Co