The Team That Never Played

Published: 2013
Pages: 99
Author: Cardwell, R and Francis, B
Publisher: The Cricket Publishing Company
Rating: 4 stars

This book is the story of the Otago University cricket team that sailed on the ill fated Wahine, which sunk on its way to Wellington over Easter 1968. 53 people died, which made it New Zealand’s biggest modern maritime disaster. Fortunately none of the Otago university cricketers were amongst the fatalities.

The Team That Never Played*, provides each player’s description of the disaster; biographical pen pics of all of them and a brief outline of their cricketing achievements.

The authors are careful not to provide too much repetition, which is no mean feat when providing a dozen accounts of the same event. Each player’s version provides a new description of the disaster and an appreciation of the dangers they faced.

A few things became apparent after reading the players’ accounts. One was how calm the passengers and crew remained. There appears to have been no pushing or shoving even after the captain gives the unexpected command to abandon ship.

Most aboard were apparently confident that the ship would make it to shore, with many having removed their lifejackets. This resulted in a mad scramble with at least one of the cricketers bravely handing his own lifejacket to an elderly passenger. He reasoned that as he was a strong swimmer the elderly passenger needed it more than he did.

A couple of the players found themselves unable to secure berths on the life boats as the ship started to sink and were forced to jump into the sea and wait for rescue boats. An idea of just how close some might have come to death can be appreciated when we learn that at least one of the players was unable to swim.

That things were done very differently in 1968 explains why there was no counselling offered to any of the survivors. In fact they were simply expected to move on with their lives. There is also no mention of compensation or legal action in relation to the disaster. This despite charges being brought, albeit subsequently dismissed, against the captain and officers of the Wahine.

The only stipend was being able to obtain some free clothes from a department store in Wellington and a complementary train ride. One of the cricketers was challenged by an officious attendant on a train who questioned his right to a free ride. After reading all that these survivors had been through, I wanted to slap some sense into that official.

This publisher is known for producing off beat stories with a cricketing connection. The Team That Never Played is one of their best efforts, and given the quality of some of their publications this is a big call. I personally found it inspiring and, after reading of the Otago players heroics, proud of the type of people who gravitate towards the game of cricket. I ended up scouring the web and watching YouTube clips about the Wahine disaster.

Any book that inspires you to further research the subject covered always deserves praise, and The Team That Never Played is highly recommended.

*The book originally appeared in a card wrappered edition as well as a leather bound limited edition of 45 copies signed by each member of the Otago side. The publisher’s website suggests that the limited edition has sold out, but the good news is that it seems the standard edition is still in print

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