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New Zealand's first major tour of Australia on a Test campaign, a most belated act of recognition by the Australian authorities, was made with a party of fourteen players, with J.V. Coney a reinforcement after three games, following injury to the vice-captain, G.M. Turner.
A sadly miscalculated assessment of the conditions saw the side come without a genuinely fast bowler such as M.G. Webb or a specialist wrist spinner like G.E. Vivian. Four specialist pace bowlers, two of whom were similar medium-paced in-swing bowlers, and two specialist finger spinners left the captain, B.E. Congdon, with an attack better suited to English wickets than Australian.
The side had a grievous disappointment in the second Test in Sydney when rain on the last day prevented a probable New Zealand victory, but the balance sheet for the tour indicated just how handicapped was Congdon, for of nine-first class games, including three Tests, New Zealand won only two, drew twice and lost five times.
The New Zealanders, for the main, arrived in Australia without the benefit of hard match practice, their departure coming early in the New Zealand season. What cricket they had had was rain-disrupted, which put the players at a marked disadvantage for their early games. Then, in only the third game of the tour, their opening batsman, G.M. Turner, attempted to take a catch at first slip and broke a bone at the base of his right little finger.
Turner was out of action for three games before he attempted a comeback in the first Test at Melbourne with only the benefit of net practice behind him. Courageously, he opened the innings, but after a painstaking innings of six runs, he was dismissed after taking a glancing blow on the right hand again which prevented him from batting in the second innings and caused him to miss the second Test in Sydney.
Turner's experience and skill were sorely missed and threw a greater burden on the captain, Congdon. Congdon had enough worries with his inadequate attack and lack lustre batting lineup, and it was not surprising that his own batting suffered when it might have been expected that he would make runs on the hard, true pitches. In six Test innings Congdon passed 50 only once. Turner's loss was one New Zealand could ill afford.
In the 21-year-old Wellington batsman J.V. Coney, New Zealand found a young player who should serve his country well for some time to come, for he displayed a temperament and determination, if not a variety of powerful strokes, which were of considerable importance to the team. In addition, Coney's slip fielding was outstanding.
His team-mates had considerable difficulties in the early games judging the pace and lift of deliveries edged behind the wicket and the Australians thought that the tourists were standing too close to the wicket.
One player emerged from the tour who would grace a World XI. He was New Zealand's spirited wicket-keeper K.J. Wadsworth.
He missed the first four games of the tour and was in some doubt for the first Test owing to painful complications from an attack of mumps. He had to be admitted to hospital in Melbourne shortly after the team's arrival in Australia, but by the end of the tour his deft wicket-keeping and his powerful driving had won him a multitude of admirers. His innings of 80 in the Melbourne Test was probably the finest played by any member of the party on the tour and it contained some superb strokes.
R.J. Hadlee and D.R. Hadlee provided the weight in New Zealand's bowling attack, Richard the quicker, Dayle the more subtle. B. Andrews and the Hadlees were a formidable trio on the Sydney Test wicket, using the conditions far more cleverly than the Australians, and it came as something of a surprise that Andrews fell from the selectors' favour towards the end of the tour.
This may have been due to a tardy recognition of the ability of the strongly built B.L. Cairns, originally the surprise selection of the side. At first, it was as if Cairns' youth and inexperience could not be trusted, but his performance against South Australia, when he took five wickets in an innings, proved his worth and he won his first Test cap in Adelaide on merit.
D.R. O'Sullivan bowled cleverly on occasions but the New Zealand tour selectors apparently saw little value in the presence of G.D. Alabaster, for they neglected him throughout the tour, using him in only three first class-games.
They even ignored him for the Adelaide Test when the wicket was obviously one which would give pace bowlers short shrift. Alabaster was just three days from his 40th birthday when he played his initial first-class game for New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The opening batsman J.M. Parker showed the benefit of his English county championship experience and was the side's leading batsman, hitting three centuries and heading the aggregates with 627 runs at 41.80. His second Test hundred at the Sydney Cricket Ground proved that he had arrived as an international batsman. He looked an infinitely better player when attacking than when adopting a dour, defensive role.
M.J.F. Shrimpton began well enough with centuries against New South Wales and South Australia before the Tests, but his form fell away. J.F.M. Morrison became the opening batsman following Turner's injury and he acquitted himself splendidly, hitting a century at Sydney in only his second Test appearance.
B.F. Hastings took time to become accustomed to Australian pitches despite his experience. By the end of the tour, he was one of his team's most valuable players with his aggressive displays; his not out century in Perth contributed to the defeat of the Sheffield Shield holders, Western Australia.
The New Zealanders were popular and proved splendid ambassadors. Congdon was always the diplomatic leader, but there was no escaping the fact that the tour occasionally seemed nothing but a valuable exercise, a preparation for the return series of three Tests in New Zealand. Perhaps that was due to the original team selection rather than by players' design.
Match reports for
Semi Final: New Zealand v Tasmania at Melbourne, Jan 19, 1975
Final: New Zealand v Western Australia at Melbourne, Feb 2, 1975
Match reports for
Australian Capital Territory v New Zealanders at Canberra, Dec 19, 1973
1st Test: Australia v New Zealand at Melbourne, Dec 29, 1973 - Jan 2, 1974
2nd Test: Australia v New Zealand at Sydney, Jan 5-10, 1974
3rd Test: Australia v New Zealand at Adelaide, Jan 26-31, 1974
Semi Final: South Australia v New Zealand at Adelaide, Feb 2, 1974
Final: New Zealand v Western Australia at Melbourne, Feb 3, 1974