True to the Spirit of Cricket

Published: 2024
Pages: 106
Author: Francis, Bill
Publisher: The Cricket Publishing Company
Rating: 3.5 stars

Having just counted them I can confirm that this one is the tenth* biography or memoir of a cricketer from New Zealand from Bill Francis that we have reviewed in the last few years. None of them have been duds, and it is no surprise that this one is also well worth reading.

This time however the subject matter has a slightly different emphasis. Don Neely was a First Class cricketer, a decent batsman who played for Wellington and then Auckland through the 1960s. History will remember him better however for his administrative roles, more particular that of a selector for 14 years, half of them as convenor.

Neely was also a historian and chronicler of New Zealand cricket. He produced a New Zealand Cricket Annual each year between 1973 and 1991 as well as a number of other books and, most notably, his monumental history of New Zealand cricket, Men in White, that was first published in 1986.

Francis knew Neely well over many years and the two men were good friends. He clearly at some point had misgivings about whether, against that background, he was the right person to write a biography. Such concerns can be well founded if a subject is such that a biographer has to make judgments about his subject, but that isn’t the case here and Francis was the ideal man to place Neely’s achievements on record.

The book begins with an account of what must have been one of the trickier moments in Neely’s life,and one which was doubtless chosen as it demonstrates very clearly what sort of a man he was covering as it does a meeting when the selectors suggested to Martin Crowe prior to the 1992 World Cup that it might be to his advantage to drop back into the ranks for the tournament. The suggestion did not find favour with Crowe to whom, by marriage, Neely was related and all his diplomatic and man management skills had to be brought to bear.

From that beginning Francis takes the traditional chronological route through Neely’s background, childhood and formative years through his cricketing career, both playing and administrative, and his life outside the game in teaching and then business as well as that most important of aspects of a man’s life, his family.

Don Neely died at the age of 86 in 2022 his final years increasingly affected by dementia, a subject that Francis is open about, but which is dealt with with great sensitivity. True to the Spirit of Cricket will inevitably attract more interest in New Zealand than elsewhere, but to anyone interested in cricketing bibliography his story, produced to the usual high standard of this publisher, is a book well worth seeking out.

*The nine are:-

Sydney Smith

Tom Lowry

Stewie Dempster

Barry Sinclair

Bruce Taylor

Bevan Condon

Dick Motz

Dick Collinge

Mark Burgess

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Martin Chandler