Martin Donnelly

Rightly regarded as the world's best present-day left-handed batsman, MARTIN PATERSON DONNELLY was born at Ngaruawahia, New Zealand, on October 17, 1917. Despite his lack of inches, few cricketers show more punishing power with the drive against good-length bowling, and he is merciless in pulling and cutting shorter-pitched balls. The example of this quiet and unassuming man is one of perseverance, for he did not model his style upon that of any great predecessor, but developed on the axiom that constant practice and match play must of necessity bring improvement. His cricketing efforts date back farther than he can remember: certainly as early as his sixth year, when his father and elder brothers imbued in him some idea of the rudiments of the game. At his first school, Eltham, he progressed so well under the tuition of a Lancashireman, G. H. Percy, that when going on to New Plymouth Boys' High School, Taranaki, he earned a regular place in the eleven for six years from 1931 to 1936, being captain in the last two seasons. At the High School, C. G. Bottrill, the coach, applied polish to sound groundwork. In 1935, too, he received many valuable hints from A. E. Alderman, of Derbyshire, who visited New Zealand on a coaching engagement. All this knowledge from his elders Donnelly assimilated with avidity, and in 1936, when the M.C.C. team under E. R. T. Holmes toured New Zealand, he, as a schoolboy, played against them for Taranaki. He followed 4 in the first innings with top score, 49, in the second, a performance which prompted Holmes to report most favourably upon his prowess to the New Zealand Cricket Council. This virtually marked the entry into top-grade cricket of Donnelly, who in January 1937 was chosen to play for Wellington in what was actually the first Plunket Shield match he ever saw. Just after this the side which, led by M. L. Page, toured England was selected, and the 19-year-old left-hander found a place in it. How marked was his success is shown by his record. He scored 144 against Surrey and, with 1,414 runs, average 37.21, finished second in the batting figures. In the three Test matches he made 121 runs for an average of 24, with 58 his highest innings. Upon returning to New Zealand, he went to Canterbury University College, where he took a B.A. degree.

In 1938 he became a regular player for Canterbury, and in 1939 was awarded the Redpath Cup for the best batting performances in Plunket Shield games. Then came the second Great War. Volunteering for The Army in January 1940, he was called up as a private in the 2nd N.Z.E.F. a year later, and, upon being commissioned in 1941, was posted to an Armoured Regiment. He went to Cairo in 1942, and served in Italy with the tanks from October 1943 until Trieste. He reached England in 1945, then a Major, and in the course of service at a rehabilitation center found time to turn out for Dominions at Lord's, where, with a dazzling innings of 133, he assisted in the defeat of England by 45 runs with eight minutes to spare. During demobilisation leave he commenced reading history at Worcester College, Oxford University, and in January 1946 re-entered civil life. An automatic choice, he received his Blue as a Freshman, and, with scores of 142 and 1, he helped in the defeat of Cambridge in 1946 by six wickets. He easily topped the Dark Blues' batting figures with 1,256 runs, including six centuries, average 62.80. Then he became cricket captain, and, in the course of a drawn University match, hit 81 as his share of 457, the second highest Oxford total in the history of the big fixture at Lord's. Again he headed the Oxford batting list, his aggregate being 1,144, with three centuries, and his average 67.29. That season also provided the opportunity for the display upon which Donnelly looks back with most pleasure: for Gentlemen v. Players at Lord's he hit an almost faultless 162 not out in three hours. Besides his fluent, stylish batting, Donnelly has few superiors as a fieldsman at cover point.

Though cricket has always claimed his chief attention, he is also a skilled exponent of Rugby football. At school he filled at one time or another every position behind the scrum. Later he was generally full-back, playing there for Canterbury University, Canterbury Provincial XV, and, in 1940, for New Zealand Universities against Services. As stand-off half, he was a member of the Oxford team unbeaten in the 1946-47 season. The same winter he was picked as centre by England for the match at Dublin in which Ireland registered their biggest victory in the series over a side seemingly petrified by the bitter cold. It is as a cricketer, however, that he enjoys chief fame, and all followers of the game will join in the fervent hope that much more will be seen of one who has brought life to many an otherwise dull match. - E.E.


© John Wisden & Co