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John Reid – Otago, Wellington and New Zealand

John Reid - looking good despite being nearly 90

John Reid was 37 when he walked off a Test match ground for the last time. That scene unfolded at Headingley in 1965. It had all begun, sixteen years previously, on the other side of the Pennines. For the intervening period Reid had, with some help from Bert Sutcliffe, carried New Zealand cricket. He played for his country in 58 Tests. He didn’t miss a single one from debut until retirement. He was on the winning side just three times, and had to wait until 1955/56 for the first of those victories, at home against West Indies.

The silver fern had lost in England in 1965, but three years before that two more wins had come against a full strength South African side and, thanks in large part to Reid New Zealand had, for the first time, stood toe to toe with a major opponent and not been found wanting. Statistics are, whether we like it or not, the best yardstick of a cricketer’s quality. In the 1966 edition of Wisden the almanack’s records section showed that Reid had not only scored more Test match runs than any of his countrymen, but he had also taken more wickets. It would be 1970 before paceman Dick Motz went past him in the bowling table, and another nine editions came and went before Bevan Congdon passed his batting aggregate.

It might be expected that the role of holding together a weak side would have made Reid a dour and introspective player. Not a bit of it. He was a wonderful entertainer and would have been a huge success in the T20 age. For more than thirty years he held the record for the most sixes in a First Class innings when he plundered the Northern Districts attack for 15 maximums back in 1962/63. After a time away that is a record that now reposes back in the Shaky Isles after Colin Munro managed 23 two years ago. One wonders what might have happened had Reid been able to use Munro’s bat, and the corollary, what would Munro have managed had he had to use Reid’s.

Reid the batsman was a capable all round player, but primarily he scored his runs off the back foot, and within his armoury he had a sweep which would put fear in the heart of even the bravest of short leg fieldsmen. As he matured he became a little more judicious in his shot selection, but the raw power was always there.

With the ball Reid was never genuinely fast, but was most definitely fast medium and bristling with aggression. Press, opponents and spectators alike would call his fastest deliveries ‘bursters’, so quickly they did they explode on the batsmen. As with his batting Reid the bowler became a little more contemplative with age, and the bustling pace of youth gave way to canny off breaks after a shoulder injury, but the desire to take a wicket with every delivery never dimmed.

It goes almost without saying that Reid was, at the time of his retirement the most capped New Zealand cricketer. Against that backdrop it is perhaps slightly less of an achievement that he had also held more catches than any other New Zealander, 43 of them. Many of those came in the gully, where in the days before it was fashionable to do so Reid would throw himself after anything, and if he got there his huge hands seldom let him down. In his latter years it was seldom seen but Reid also had a superb arm and an immensely long throw. As a youngster he would prowl the covers and wicketkeepers did not look forward to receiving what writer Dick Brittenden described as his cannonball returns. Perhaps inevitably in a crisis Reid was also a serviceable reserve wicketkeeper and has one Test match stumping to his credit. He turned to keeping for a while whilst a shoulder injury restricted his bowling. He clearly had a need to be in the thick of the action.

In different circumstances Reid, an outstanding schoolboy sportsman generally, might have joined Eric Tindall in playing Rugby Union Tests for the All Blacks as well as international cricket. As a youngster a powerful physique transported him into all the age group fifteens well before his due time, and he was also an outstanding swimmer and a sprinter who, at 16, could run a hundred yards in 10.4, just a single second outside the then world record. He was slowed down however by two separate bouts of rheumatic fever. He made a full recovery each time but did make the decision to concentrate on his cricket, and his Rugby career fell by the wayside.

Reid’s First Class debut came for Wellington against Canterbury on New Year’s Eve of 1947. The 19 year old came in at first drop and scored 79 in his first innings. The game ended in defeat for Wellington, but might not have had Reid not been run out for just a single in the second innings. He wasn’t considered a bowler at this stage, not getting a chance to turn his arm over despite as many as seven of his teammates getting that opportunity.

After a successful first season in which he averaged 48.80 Reid pushed that figure above fifty next time round and in doing so secured a place in the side that was to tour England in 1949 under the captaincy of Walter Hadlee. Although the 1950s saw the New Zealanders as the whipping boys of the world game Hadlee’s was a strong combination. It would be a couple of generations before any side from New Zealand looked as powerful and had they had another quality bowler or two to back up the aging Jack Cowie and slow left armer Tom Burtt they might have given England a fright. As it was the four three day Tests the tourists were allocated were always likely to fail to yield a definite result and so it proved as all four Tests were drawn.

The best measure of the quality of the visitors batting was that, when he forced his way into the side by dint of the runs he had scored against the counties the man Reid replaced, Brun Smith, had himself recorded scores of 96, 54* and 23 in the first two matches. Reid contributed exactly 50 and 25 to the drawn third Test. There was a brief moment of time in the final Test, four men including Sutcliffe and Martin Donnelly back in the pavilion and New Zealand still in arrears when it looked like, on a turning pitch, the trio of top class spinners England had (Jim Laker, Eric Hollies and Doug Wright) might break the deadlock. Reid had other ideas however and his 93 led his side to safety. Wisden wrote that he weathered an uncomfortable start and mastered bowlers previously troublesome to all the batsmen, before adding, his attacking stroke play gave considerable pleasure.

On the tour as a whole Reid scored 1,488 runs at 41.88. He held 26 catches and made five stumpings. He kept wicket in the final Test after an injury to Frank Mooney kept him out. With the ball Reid was not used much until the end of the tour when injuries to other pace bowlers created a vacancy. In the penultimate match of the tour, against the South at Hastings, he dismissed Trevor Bailey and Denis Compton twice, as well as ‘bursting’ through Harold Gimblett’s defence and forcing the Somerset opener to retire hurt after hitting him in the mouth.

There was another innings of exactly 50 in Reid’s next appearance, the first of two Tests England played in New Zealand after their defeat in the 1950/51 Ashes. After that however Reid endured the leanest of lean patches. In his next seven Tests he failed to get past 11 and the selectors’ faith in him must have been tested. By now Reid was a frontline bowler so there was no real likelihood of his being dropped, but he had slipped down the batting order to number five when, finally, he came good at Cape Town in the third Test of the 1953/54 series, the New Zealanders first major trip to a country other than England. They made their highest Test score to that date, and made the opposition follow on for the first time. In the end the South Africans batted out time comfortably enough, but Reid’s contribution was an impressive and chanceless 135 in less than three hours. He ended the tour as the first man to have scored 1,000 runs and taken fifty wickets in a South African season.

The New Zealanders were at a distinct disadvantage in the early 1950s in that they were all amateurs, thus club cricketers who occasionally stepped up to Test level. It is hardly surprising that so many of them struggled. Reid had his chances to turn professional. Warwickshire and Worcestershire both made him offers after his successful trip in 1949, but he wasn’t interested in giving up his international career. It would be twenty years before it became possible for overseas players to continue to play Tests whilst contracted to an English county. Nonetheless Reid did continue his cricketing education in England, playing as a professional for Heywood in the Central Lancashire League between 1952 and 1954. He was a great success, in the last of those seasons becoming only the fifth man in the League’s history to do the double, and he wasn’t far short in the two earlier summers either.

England visited once more in 1955 after the triumphant winter in Australia when Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson and Brian Statham were the spearhead of Len Hutton’s excellent team. With two Tests against the Englishmen, followed by eight on the sub-continent (three in Pakistan and five in India), followed by four more at home against West Indies it was the start of a sequence of fourteen Tests in less than a year, a prodigious undertaking for a country that had played just thirty in the first quarter of a century after gaining Test status.

In the first Test against England New Zealand meekly capitulated for 125 and 132 to lose by eight wickets. The second Test started badly too, Tyson reducing New Zealand to 13-2 but, with Reid scoring 73, the all out total of 200 looked a bit better, and really quite promising by the time England were bowled out for 246. With their visitors batting last there were some New Zealanders who dared to dream. In the end they had nothing but nightmares as they were shot out for 26, the lowest Test score ever, and surely a record that will stand in perpetuity.

The New Zealanders were shell shocked. Years later Reid said; we felt we had let down New Zealand cricket. We knew we weren’t world beaters but we weren’t that bad. We had to go out and prove that. A year later, ironically at the same venue, Eden Park, the New Zealanders felt rather different emotions as they took their first ever Test victory against West Indies. It would be with a much changed side, with just four survivors from the carnage of the 26 all out, but first there was that trip to the sub continent.

Neither India nor Pakistan were very strong in the 1950s and New Zealand, despite the knowledge they would be playing in unfamiliar conditions, set off with a degree of confidence. Sadly however this was misplaced. In Pakistan they lost the first two Tests and would certainly have lost the third had not rain wiped out the first three days. They did better in India, losing just two of the five Tests. For Reid there were back to back centuries in the third and fourth Tests, although the wicket the former was played on was remarkably placid – only ten wickets fell in the entire match. In the fourth New Zealand really should, after taking a first innings lead of 204, have won the match but they ran out of ideas, and the Indians saved the game with a resolute second innings performance. To rub salt in the wound they whipped out six of the New Zealanders in the final 95 minutes to take a moral victory.

There were extenuating circumstances for the apparent failure. Foolishly the party left home for the sub-continent without any sort of medical support, be that a doctor or a physio. The food and water caused problems, and it was not until well into the second leg of the tour that New Zealand were actually able to select a team, rather than just see who was well enough to play. Many of the party lost a great deal of weight, and conditions were primitive to say the least. A photograph of opening batsman Gordon Leggatt that was taken in Peshawar became well known. Leggatt was snapped whilst using an old tin bath, barely big enough for him to get his ample frame into. That was the extent of the washing facilities that had to suffice for eight people.

The New Zealanders fortunes did not initially seem to have changed much in the home series against West Indies. There was no Frank Worrell or Clyde Walcott but one ‘W’ seemed quite sufficient as Everton Weekes scored a century in each of the first three Tests, all won by the West Indies at a canter. By now Reid was skippering the side, but the appointment seemed not to have made much of a difference. The fourth Test looked like it would go the same way, and whilst a hard hit 84 from Reid took the home side to 255 in their first innings it hardly seemed enough. A tropical cyclone at the end of the first day however changed the character of the pitch and in the end a constantly increasing fourth day crowd saw the New Zealanders through to their first Test victory by the convincing margin of 190 runs. For Reid, a lifelong teetotaller, the win merited his first taste of champagne.

After fourteen Tests in a year, in the lop sided manner of the times, New Zealand then had to wait more than two years for their next Test when, in the Northern Hemisphere summer of 1958, they returned to England to try and rekindle the pleasant memories of 1949. Sadly the tourists fell well short of their predecessors’ achievements. This time the five Tests were all of five days duration but it was a case of throwing Christians to the lions in each of the first four Tests as England simply overwhelmed their visitors. Only in the final Test was some pride salvaged. Even then New Zealand needed plenty of help from the weather to get a draw, but at least on the last afternoon Reid posted an unbeaten fifty in trademark style. On the tour as whole he had done very well and was the tourists’ leading batsman by a considerable margin, but he didn’t come off in the Tests, his eight innings in the first four Tests bringing him just 69 runs.

From the end of the England visit to the first Test in South Africa in 1961/62 saw more than three years pass for Reid and New Zealand during which their only Test cricket was two Tests against England at the end of the Ashes series in 1958/59. The all powerful England side that had hammered New Zealand in 1958 had in turn been humbled by the Australians but they were still too strong for their hosts and won the first match easily before rain ruined the second.

The visit to South Africa in 1961/62, by which time Reid was 33, was to prove his finest hour. It didn’t start too well, a misdiagnosed knee injury sustained whilst fielding on the boundary in a warm up game in Western Australian putting the ‘bursters’ to bed for good. The only effect on Reid’s batting however seemed to be to improve it. He scored 546 runs at 60.66 with a century and four fifties. On the tour as a whole he eclipsed the achievements of men like Denis Comption and Neil Harvey as he scored 1,915 runs at 68.39 including seven centuries. With the ball Reid took it easy, but his 11 wickets at just 19.72 were a vital ingredient in the success his side had.

There was no Sutcliffe to support Reid, but he did, unlike for the tour to England in 1958, have an influential role in the selection of the party. None of the other batsman got near to Reid, but he received valuable support from the likes of Zin Harris, Murray Chapple and Graham Dowling. With the ball Frank Cameron, Dick Motz and Gary Bartlett proved to be a potent pace attack, and leg spinner Jack Alabaster was a revelation.

When the Tests began South Africa won the first by just 30 runs. Reid was getting over a bout of flu and never felt fit, his innings of 13 and 16 suggesting that without that handicap the result might well have gone the other way. The second Test was drawn, New Zealand not being able to make too much impression on a target of 278 in four hours. Despite Reid hammering an unbeaten 75 to try and wrest the initiative the visitors ended the game on 165-4.

New Zealand were determined not to run out of time in the third Test and in their first innings Reid, from number four, set the tone. Wisden wrote that once again he tore into the South African attack and delighted a large Newlands crowd with a pulsating 92. A 72 run victory levelled the series at 1-1 and was New Zealand’s second victory, and their first away from home..

South Africa won the fourth Test by an innings. They redeployed their fearsome pace attack of old by recalling Peter Heine and Neil Adcock. The fearsome pair, with the assistance of Godfrey ‘Goofy’ Lawrence dismissed New Zealand for 164 and 249. Reid top scored in the first innings with 60, and in the second with his highest Test score, 142. He was particularly severe on Heine who, always an unpleasant character when bowling, began to sledge Reid unmercifully. The problem he had was that the more he talked with his mouth the more Reid replied with his bat. Had one or two of the other New Zealanders been able to do the same it might have been interesting.

So South Africa went into the final Test 2-1 up. Reid scored 26 and 69 and was able to leave South Africa 314 for victory. It was a war of attrition. Alabaster and Reid bowled in tandem for over after over as they slowly reduced South Africa to 199-8 before Peter Pollock and Adcock refused to be dislodged by them. Both reached their highest Test score before, after figures of 45-27-44-4 for himself and 52-23-96-2 for Alabaster Reid turned back to his quick men, and Motz and Cameron took the last two wickets to leave New Zealand victorious by 40 runs and the series tied at 2-2.

Not surprisingly South Africa proved to be the high watermark of Reid’s career. He couldn’t stop England winning 3-0 in New Zealand a year later, although it wasn’t for want of trying on his part. In the third Test he scored 74 and 100, but the support was woeful, the next highest score in the second innings of 159 all out being 22. It remains the lowest complete Test innings to contain a century.  The following year the South Africans, again after a visit to Australia, came to New Zealand for three Tests. As in 1961/62 the series was undecided, all three matches being left drawn, but the South Africans would have won comfortably had rain not intervened. Reid disappointed with the bat, his highest score just 37, but in the second Test he recorded his best figures in Test cricket, 6-60.

In early 1965 Pakistan were due to visit New Zealand for three Tests. A return trip was due to take place immediately, and would take in three Tests in Pakistan and four in India, before moving on to another three Tests in England. Thirteen Tests in little more than six months was a punishing schedule for a man whose knee was no better and, after his last visit, the trip to the sub continent was not one that Reid found attractive. Perhaps it was with that in mind that the Board added trips to Scotland, Ireland, Bermuda and California to the schedule. In any event with the selectors deciding to include a doctor in the touring party Reid was persuaded to extend his career.

Each of the three home Tests against Pakistan were drawn, which was unfortunate as the teams were evenly matched. If the matches had been five days rather than four there would certainly have been results in all three. Reid was New Zealand’s leading batsman.

Moving on to the subcontinent the seven Tests were in consecutive matches. The presence of a medic helped, but the New Zealanders still had their share of selection headaches brought about by illness. In India three draws were followed by a defeat. Reid’s best was 82 in the second Test at Kolkata and is an innings which defines him as well as any. Even in the twenty first century a batsman who hits four sixes before lunch on the first day of a Test match, as Reid did, is unusual. In the 1960s it was unheard of.

Moving on to Pakistan the Tests were now of five days duration, although Pakistan needed just three to win the first match. The second was drawn before Pakistan won again in the third. The match was one of those where only Reid stood between his side and humiliation. In the first innings he took four and a half hours to score 128 out of 285, the next best score being wicketkeeper Artie Dick’s 33, and in the second 76 out of 223. This time Bevan Congdon got 57, but no one else more than 25.

And so to England for the last First Class cricket of Reid’s career. The New Zealanders showed flashes of what they were capable of, but were easily beaten in all three Tests. In Wisden’s words; Reid, who should have inspired his side, seldom showed his true form due to a damaged knee cartilage which also prevented him from taking any major share of the bowling. At least he did manage a half century in his final Test, and his last First Class innings was a thunderous 70 against Scotland in Glasgow.

Outside the game Reid was employed in the oil industry in New Zealand for many years and he also had other business interests, including a squash centre. He became a coach, both in New Zealand and, for a period, in South Africa and was a national selector for New Zealand. In due course he became a high profile ICC match referee and in 2017, his ninetieth year, is still with us in retirement in New Zealand. His only son, Richard, played in nine ODIs for New Zealand in the late 1980s. John Fulton Reid, who enjoyed a successful international career with the bat a decade before Richard gained his caps was, contrary to the belief of many, unrelated (although he was a cousin of the Australian pace bowler Bruce Reid).

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