Thomas Browning Burtt
January 22, 1915, Christchurch, Canterbury
May 24, 1988, Christchurch, Canterbury, (aged 73y 123d)
Right hand bat
Slow left arm orthodox
Thomas Browning Burtt, who died at Christchurch on May 24, 1988, aged 73, made only one New Zealand tour overseas but it was a triumph for him. In England in 1949, in a hot and dry summer when the pitches generally favoured the batsmen, his accurate slow left-arm bowling brought him 128 wickets at an average of 22.88 from 1,231 overs. The next-best harvest was 62 by Cresswell, whose 692 overs were also the most by any other tourist. Twice Burtt took eleven wickets in a match, and he took five or more wickets in an innings eleven times, including seven for 102 (eleven for 182 in the match) at Worcester in the second fixture of the tour. In the four drawn Tests he was the leading wicket-taker with seventeen at 33.41, including his best-ever Test return of six for 152 from 45 overs in sweltering heat at Manchester.
New Zealand's bowling in this series was not their strongest suit, but they played their hand cannily, bowling accurately and giving nothing away in the field. Burtt, stockily built and bustling in his style, served this stratagem admirably, conceding less than 3 runs an over, bowling a tight off-stump line to a packed off-side field. While specialising in a perfect length, he varied his flight skilfully to make batsmen think carefully before advancing down the wicket to him. Unusually, he imparted spin by flicking the ball with his second finger rather than his forefinger and he was also known to offer some wrist-spin - but only when I'm pushed.
In his ten Test matches between 1946-47, against Hammond's Englishmen, and the South Africans of 1952-53 he took 33 wickets at 35.45; in 84 first-class matches from 1943-44, he took 408 wickets at 22.19, a New Zealand record until Richard Hadlee passed it. His best figures were eight for 35 for Canterbury against Otago at Dunedin in 1953-54. He also scored 1,644 runs, with 68 not out at Derby in 1949 his best, while in Tests he obtained 252 runs at 21.00, usually low in the order. However, after reaching his highest score, 42, against England at Christchurch in 1950-51, he opened New Zealand's second innings in an emergency at Wellington and scored 31. He batted as he bowled, left-handed, and generally in a manner very much in keeping with his vast good humour. He certainly enjoyed taking 24 runs off Johnny Wardle in the last over he faced in first-class cricket, for Canterbury against MCC in 1954-55. In 1937 and 1938 he had represented New Zealand at hockey.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
New Zealand's top spin bowler in the post-war years, Thomas Browning Burtt, who died in his native Christchurch on May 24, aged 73, held the record for most wickets for New Zealand on tour: 128 (22.88) on the 1949 tour of England.
A solidly-built figure of no more than average height, the genial Burtt, a lifelong friend of Walter Hadlee, played hockey for New Zealand in 1937, but had to wait until 1947 before making his debut in Test cricket, against England at Christchurch. "I remember Walter Hammond coming down the track and playing me as though I was a schoolboy bowler," he told Joseph Romanos in an interview for The Dominion a few weeks before he died. "I told him not to make me look so bloody easy, and he chuckled." Tom Burtt took 0 for 55 in that match, but seldom went wicketless thereafter. His persistent slow left-arm spin bowling was seldom hammered and brought results through a big heart, fine humour and keen brain. In his first Test on English soil he took 5 for 97 at Headingley. In the Lord's Test he took six more wickets, and 6 for 162 in 45 overs in England's 440 for 9 dec at Old Trafford. He made useful nuns at No. 8 or 9 too, and fielded solidly close in front of the bat ("It was the only place they could find for me, I suppose!").
By the end of the series of four inconclusive Tests in 1949 he had taken 17 wickets at 33.41, and only Jack Cowie (14) besides Burtt took more than six. On the tour as a whole, Burtt's 128 wickets more than doubled the next bowler's tally, Cresswell's 62, Burtt having wheeled down 1231 overs, almost double anyone else's output. Eleven times he took five or more wickets in an innings, with 7 for 102 against Worcestershire his best figures.
He enjoyed bowling to Compton ("If I could sense him moving, I'd rip it in quicker ... bowling to him was a challenge") and to the hardest of all, Hutton: "One day at Lord's I was bowling with a full set of covers, and they were great fieldsmen. Len was batting beautifully, using his feet to drive me. I wondered to myself how long this would go on before something gave. I bowled one dose to him and it nobbled him. It was one of the finest sights I saw in England!"
It was two further years before his next Test cricket, when he took 1 for 99 at Christchurch and five uncostly wickets in the Wellington match against England, bagging Compton two more times. A year later, in 1951-52, Burtt had a good match against West Indies at Christchurch, taking 5 for 69 (fooling Weekes with his straight one) and 2 for 27, but at Auckland the tourists piled up 546 for 6 and Burtt had to be satisfied with 1 for 120. He played one more Test, his 10th, when South Africa toured a year later. McGlew scored an unbeaten 255 at Wellington, and Burtt's 44 overs brought him 2 for 140. Later that year he was left out of the side to tour South Africa, his fielding being considered inadequate. His 33 Test wickets had been earned at a cost of 35.45, and he had contributed 252 useful runs, many with his scything 'hockey shot', at 21.00. In all first-class cricket he took 408 wickets at 22.19, with best figures of 8 for 35 for Canterbury against Otago at Dunedin in 1953-54, and he scored 1644 runs (17.30) with a highest score of 68 not out against Derbyshire on that successful 1949 tour.
This master of accuracy with the spun ball made a final telling observation to The Dominion: "Rollers were a dime a dozen in England. You have to spin the ball to really make an impact."
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