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The hundredth anniversary of the birth of New Zealand cricket great ML "Curly" Page fell this week.
The last survivor of the ground-breaking 1927 tour to England, Page died in 1987, aged 84.
Born Milford Laurensen Page in Lyttelton in 1902, he went on to be one of a select group of double internationals. He played half-back for the All Blacks in the third Test against New South Wales in 1928 at Christchurch, whilst another All Black team were touring South Africa.
He was a schoolboy prodigy in the mould of near-contemporary Tom Lowry, but young Curly went to Christchurch Boys' High School, rather than the fee-paying Christ's College of "born to the purple" Lowry. The scene of the development of future Test captains Walter Hadlee and Lee Germon, as well as Ian Cromb, Dayle and Richard Hadlee and Chris Cairns, Page was encouraged towards the first XI at school by Bob Burns, soon-to-be Canterbury's genial wicket-keeper, who was two years Page's senior at school. He played against the 1920/21 Australians for Canterbury while still at school.
After school, he spent six years near Darfield, birthplace of future New Zealand captain John Wright, for health reasons, then returned to become a dual international within a year. He was first selected for New Zealand's unofficial series against the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1926/27, scoring 207 runs in four innings, to win selection for the Lowry-led 1927 first full New Zealand tour of England.
Renowned for his sportsmanship, Page led New Zealand on their 1937 tour to England after being vice-captain in 1931's tour under Lowry. In 1930, he scored one and 21 in New Zealand's first Test match, followed by 67 and 32 in the second. In 1931, Page made 104 in 220 minutes in what Arthur Carman called "arguably New Zealand's proudest batting achievement to date" at Lord's on New Zealand's first Test appearance in England. By 1937, Page had retired temporarily in 1935/36, and was 34 and past his best.
Dick Brittenden wrote, "Page had a hard row to sow that summer. Had the catching of his colleagues matched his own high standard, he might have given New Zealand its first Test win in the second of the series at Manchester." As it was, with England just 152 runs ahead and with seven wickets down, they were "let off the hook" according to Men in White, with Freddie Brown dropped three times before he had made 21. He went on to top-score with 57. Tom Goddard "seemed to intimidate tentative batsmen" and took six for 29. He bowled Page for two.
An admirer of Page's was the second-last survivor of the 1927 pioneers, Bill Cunningham. "He could handle a side well under any conditions. He was a genuine man, great to play under," said the Canterbury fast bowler. EG Garbutt wrote that Page "often pocketed catches with the sleight-of-hand of a Kreskin."
Brittenden described Page as a "quiet, modest, kind, always painstakingly fair in his assessment of a player or situation. He stood, indeed, for all that was best in one of New Zealand cricket's golden ages."
Matthew Appleby is preparing a book entitled 'New Zealand Test Cricket Captains,' to be published by Reed in October 2002.