Wisden Obituary

John Reid

REID, JOHN RICHARD, CNZM, OBE, died on October 14, aged 92.

If John Reid had been born in Australia, he might have been a superstar; instead, he settled for becoming the cornerstone of a New Zealand team which, in his time, often lacked depth. From his debut in 1949, he played in 58 successive Tests until he retired after the 1965 tour of England. For the previous ten years he had been captain, and led his country to their first Test victory - over West Indies at Auckland in 1955-56 - after 26 years of trying.

New Zealand journalist John Mehaffey wrote: "Through his unflagging enthusiasm and drive, Reid helped keep the faltering flame of New Zealand cricket alight in the dark days of the 1950s, when the nation's Test status was questioned after they were dismissed for 26 by England." Richard Hadlee, one of the few rivals to Reid's status as his country's greatest player, said: "If he was playing today, he certainly would have made a wonderful one-day international cricketer and would have done pretty well in the Twenty20 format. The impact he had on the game during his time was extraordinary."

Like many of his compatriots, Reid was drawn to rugby - but two bouts of rheumatic fever meant he eventually concentrated on cricket. He started as a fast bowler, before a knee injury caused him to throttle back, and he was always an agile fielder. But it was his batting that took the eye, initially as the 20-year-old baby of the strong New Zealand side that toured England in 1949. Accorded only three-day Tests, they drew all four; from then until 2019, Tests in England were scheduled for at least five days.

Reid had played only seven previous first-class matches, scoring a maiden century in the last trial game before selection, but added four more on the way to nearly 1,500 runs in England, including 188 not out against Cambridge University, when he shared a stand of 324 with Merv Wallace. He made 50 on debut in the Third Test, and top-scored with 93 in the Fourth at The Oval, where he showed his versatility by keeping wicket. "Reid grew noticeably in stature as the tour progressed," wrote John Arlott, adding presciently: "He should be a considerable pillar of New Zealand batting for 20 years to come."

Chances to improve, at international level at least, were few: New Zealand's home Tests were usually afterthoughts once a tired touring team had taken on Australia. Overseas trips were also rare, although Reid did manage a maiden Test century at Cape Town in 1953-54. The following season, he was part of the side that collapsed to that Test-low of 26 at Auckland, after starting their second innings only 46 behind England. "It was a freak occasion," he recalled. "We thought we had a sniff of a victory, and ended up being beaten by an innings. Frank Tyson just steamed in and let it go at you at frightening pace - we'd never been subjected to that sort of pace. But let's not forget, he had destroyed the Australian batting too that summer."

Around this time, Reid was spending the northern summers with Heywood in the Central Lancashire League, but he knocked back several approaches to qualify for English counties, which would probably have ended his Test career. "During my time in the leagues, I received five offers (from Leicester, Northants, Worcester, Gloucester, Warwick) but preferred to play my cricket in New Zealand during those league off-seasons."

After an enervating tour of India in 1955-56 - he made centuries at Delhi and Calcutta - Reid took over as captain during the home series against West Indies which produced the long-awaited win. His 84 set up a crucial lead of 110 at Auckland, before West Indies were skittled for 77. "For once, it wasn't us that bowled the one loose ball each over, or dropped the vital catch," said a relieved Reid.

One sadness was that Bert Sutcliffe, New Zealand's only other Test-class batsman during Reid's time, missed the match through illness; he never finished on the winning side in his 42 Tests. "If Sutcliffe wasn't playing, I was the only player in the team who could score a Test century," said Reid. "In the 1980s, they had six or seven. You do feel it's all on you, and that can weigh you down."

New Zealand's next overseas venture, to England in 1958, was a disaster: only rain at The Oval prevented a 5-0 defeat, as callow batting failed to cope with the left-arm spin of Tony Lock, who took 34 wickets at seven apiece on helpful pitches. Reid, at least, had a satisfactory trip, scoring more than 1,400 runs, and was one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year.

It was more than three years before they toured again, to South Africa. Now aged 33, and at his peak, Reid hammered 1,915 runs at 68 in all matches on the trip, setting an aggregate record for a South African season that still stands. Of those, 546 came in an absorbing Test series in which his side twice came from behind to draw 2-2. A measured 142 at Johannesburg - after both openers fell for ducks - was the highest of his six Test centuries.

"I wrote that Reid was 'another Stan McCabe'," said R. S. Whitington, the Australian journalist. "Indeed, I now seriously doubt whether that was a fitting description of the Reid of 1961-62. Perhaps 'a Compton-McCabe combined' would have approached nearer to adequacy." John Waite, South Africa's long-serving wicketkeeper, was similarly impressed: "John is one of the strongest, if not the strongest batsman I have seen." Reid himself admitted he was "a bit of a thumper".

He took his form home: the following season, he blitzed 296 in 220 minutes for Wellington against Northern Districts. His 15 sixes were a world record until 1995, when Andrew Symonds hit 16 in a county game at Abergavenny. Among the opposition bowlers that day at the Basin Reserve was a frustrated Don Clarke, better known as a granite-hard full-back for the All Blacks. He unleashed a head-high beamer at Reid, who coolly hooked it out of the ground: onlookers remember it pinging off a nearby floodlight pylon with the sound of a tuning fork.

The final chapter of Reid's career was an ambitious ten-Test tour of India, Pakistan and England that occupied the first seven months of 1965: not for nothing did he call his 1966 autobiography A Million Miles of Cricket. At Calcutta, the Indian seamer Ramakant "Tiny" Desai started with a bouncer barrage. "Desai tried to knock my head off," said Reid. "He was a medium-pacer, a little wee fellow. Wrong guy. Four sixes in ten balls before lunch."

Even so, New Zealand lost both series in Asia, and it was a familiar story on juicy tracks in England: all three Tests were lost. Reid nursed a dodgy knee through the trip, and retired at the end, aged 37. "I had devoted my time and energy to cricket almost from the day I left school," he said, "and in recent years such application had been increasingly difficult."

He was a popular visitor, and was touched when BBC viewers voted for him to captain a World XI for an end-of-season festival match. In retirement, Reid set up a sports complex at home in Wellington which helped popularise squash in New Zealand, and was a national selector. He then lived in South Africa for a while, and was later one of the first ICC referees; he oversaw 50 Tests, reporting Shoaib Akhtar's bowling action, and 98 ODIs, enraging Pakistan by banning Waqar Younis for ball-tampering.

Reid had been the oldest surviving New Zealand Test player, a mantle that passed to Trevor McMahon. His son, Richard, played nine one-day internationals. One of Reid's stranger claims to fame was his participation in the first organised cricket at the South Pole, in 1969; the wicket was the barber-shop-style post that marked the Pole itself. The game ended when a big Reid hit was lost in a snowdrift; it was noted that wherever he hit the ball, it travelled north.

© John Wisden & Co.