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In recent years no touring team has gone through such a lean time as did the New Zealanders on their fifth visit to England in 1958. Before they arrived they were well aware of their limitations, but under the optimistic guidance of their captain, J. R. Reid, and that of the genial manager, Mr. J. H. Phillipps, they hoped that six-days-a-week cricket, compared with one day at home, would soon provide the many youngsters in the side with the match practice and experience needed to mould them into a first-class combination.
Up to a point, this proved correct, for in the month of May six of the first nine three-day engagements were won, and among those victories was a vital one at the expense of M. C. C. at Lord's. But in the process of achieving that result B. Sutcliffe, the talented left-handed batsman upon whom so much depended, broke a bone in his left wrist while fielding. The injury not only kept him idle for a month--he missed the first Test--but threw so much responsibility upon others before they were ready that the team never really recovered from the effects of this mishap. Indeed, after that win against M. C. C. on May 20 the New Zealanders gained only one other victory--over Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow, in July.
For all their shortcomings there could be no doubt that the tour, from a financial as well as a playing point of view, was spoiled by persistently wet weather. In four and a half months 174 playing hours were lost--a matter of 29 days--so that day after day the players were compelled to remain idle or to bat and bowl on rain-affected surfaces. One wonders whether even the Australians would have acquitted themselves very much better under such adverse circumstances.
In their very last engagement, when they were thankful to find the sun and a firm pitch, the New Zealanders tied with the powerful team got together by Mr. T. N. Pearce for the Scarborough festival. So we saw them do themselves justice before the curtain was rung down.
Despite the many disappointments, the New Zealanders made friends wherever they went. They proved themselves true sportsmen, for they never uttered one word of complaint, nor did they make excuses or allow any unpleasant incidents to occur. On the previous tour of England in 1949 they were blessed with sunshine all the way. Then they held England to a draw in each of the four three-day Tests and made a profit of £15,000. This time they faced a much more difficult task of five five-day Tests. They were overwhelmed at Edgbaston, Lord's, Headingley and Old Trafford, and only rain saved them at The Oval. The financial position caused some anxiety, but in the end they managed to meet all their expenses and take £4,000 home.
Uncertainty in batting was always the big trouble. Their totals in the first four Tests point clearly to this fact: 94 and 137 at Edgbaston; 47 and 74 at Lord's; 67 and 129 at Headingley; 267 and 85 at Old Trafford. By the end of the tour it was plain that New Zealand had not produced one high-class batsman since Reid himself came to the front in 1949. With the country so bereft of proved talent, the selectors decided to plan for the future and included four youngsters who were almost strangers to big cricket, namely, Sparling and Playle, both 19, Ward, 21, and D'Arcy, 22. Another surprise choice was Meale, a tall 29-year-old left-hander, who had appeared in London club cricket, but failed in his effort to qualify for Kent.
The search for players did not produce a left-arm slow bowler, nor was there an off-spinner of genuine experience, but the attack formed the best part of the team. There were three capable right-arm fast bowlers in Hayes, MacGibbon and Blair, two medium-pacers in Cave and Reid, and two leg-spinners, Moir and Alabaster. For the most part the fielding was keen and adequate, with Petrie, a neat and reliable wicket-keeper, who showed a big advance in skill and was immensely popular because of his pleasant personality. Ward, his deputy, received few chances to shine, but looked capable.
While Reid could not have been satisfied with his batting in the Tests, he was the outstanding member of the party. He missed only three first-class matches and easily headed the batting with an aggregate of 1,429 runs, average 39.69. He was the best slip-fielder, accomplished some valuable bowling and led the side cheerfully, always encouraging the youngsters. A fine cricketer, Reid would adorn most sides and rightly appears earlier in this Almanack among the Five Cricketers of the Year.
Next in usefulness was MacGibbon, a 6 ft. 5 in. all-rounder, who stayed in England to read Civil Engineering at Durham University. Making the most of his height, he imparted swing each way and could make the ball lift awkwardly. He did great work on the opening day of the first Test when, taking five wickets for 64, he was primarily responsible for England being dismissed on a good pitch for 221 before tea. Altogether MacGibbon took 20 wickets in the five Tests.
Only Sutcliffe, Miller and Harford, in addition to Reid, managed to complete 1,000 runs. Sutcliffe was not expected to repeat his 1949 aggregate of 2,627 runs, but he began the tour with a fine innings of 139 at Worcester and finished with two seventies at Scarborough. Except for his injury and the many treacherous pitches, he would surely have troubled the bowlers far more. Miller, at the age of 35, came too late on his first tour of England. Possessing a long reach and plenty of courage, this pleasant left-handed batsman was too set in his ways. If he did not enjoy the satisfaction of making a century, he knew how to punish the loose ball, but he was not happy against bowling of the highest class. Harford, aged 27, never fulfilled the promise of his fine 158 at Oxford. He possessed a sparkling drive, but was unsound in defence. Still, more may be heard of him if he can improve and gain confidence when facing spin bowlers.
Undoubtedly most promise was revealed by Sparling, a short fair-haired all-rounder who played in his first Test--at Headingley--on his twentieth birthday. Primarily an off-break bowler who was coached by Laker in Auckland at the age of 14, he came second to Hayes in the averages and played a gallant innnings of 50 in the Old Trafford Test. A natural cricketer, he should come to the fore with so many years ahead of him.
No one excelled D'Arcy for determination and concentration. He showed great pluck in opening the innings and often defended admirably, but an absence of forcing strokes, due probably to his extraordinary grip, reduced his effectiveness. Playle possessed possibilities as a stylish batsman and must have done better in a dry summer. In this age of safety-first batting, New Zealand left the impression that they have been suffering from over-emphasis on defence. They should remember Dempster, Dacre and Donnelly and encourage their young batsmen to hit the ball.
Test Matches.--Played 5, Lost 4, Drawn 1.
First-Class Matches.--Played 31, Won 7, Lost 6. Drawn 17, Tie 1.
All Matches.--Played 35, Won 7, Lost 6, Drawn 21, Tie 1.
Wins.--Leicestershire, Essex, Cambridge University, M. C. C., Glamorgan, Somerset, Scotland.
Draws.--England, Worcestershire, Oxford University, Hampshire, Derbyshire, Sussex, Lancashire (2), Yorkshire, Scotland, Ireland (2), Middlesex, Glamorgan, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Kent, A. E. R. Gilligan's XI, Minor Counties.
Losses.--Surrey (2), England (4).
Tie.-- T. N. Pearce's XI.
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