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The Rise of New Zealand Cricket

The Rise of New Zealand Cricket

New Zealand were the fifth country to play Test Cricket back in 1929/30 when an England team lead by Harold Gilligan played a four match series. The purpose of this article is to enable comparisons to be made with the more recent elevations of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and, perhaps, to stimulate some debate.

Some international competition came early to New Zealand when George Parr’s touring party to Australia were lured across the Tasman briefly in 1864 as were others most notably James Lillywhite’s combination that contested what was later to be awarded the status of the first ever Test Match. In relation to that tour some take the view that New Zealand irrevocably altered the course of cricket history by incarcerating Ted Pooley, Lillywhite’s only specialist wicketkeeper, thereby preventing him playing in the Test. Pooley had been arrested following a scuffle that had resulted from what the alleged victim asserted was a betting scam perpetrated on him by Pooley, but which was in truth nothing of the sort. In any event the charge was dropped but too late for Pooley to make the Test.

Those matches played in New Zealand were played against odds and were essentially speculative financial ventures as were the occasional visits from Australian sides at this time. The first tour planned in the main for a New Zealand visit was the team Plum Warner took under Lord Hawke’s name in 1902/03 and that was followed by Percy May’s side in 1905/06. Warner’s side contained Bernard Bosanquet, George Thompson and Frederick Fane as well as Warner himself, who history records as Test players and although the party consisted primarily of amateurs it was a strong combination and it won all 18 games it played. In fairness the New Zealanders by no means disgraced themselves in the two representative games but they both ended in comfortable victories for the Englishmen.

May’s combination was not as strong as Warner’s and although it did still call on a number of test players only one of those, Johnny Douglas, really left his mark on the game and only five of the party had played regular county cricket in the previous season. May’s side did not dominate in the manner of Warner’s and indeed the second representative match was lost to the delight of the hosts. In 1905 the All Blacks had enjoyed a hugely successful tour of the British Islands and the win was just what cricket needed in order to retain interest from the Rugby loving New Zealand public.

The Warner tour had turned in a profit of around 600 pounds for NZCC but the May tour, due to the lack of “names” lost around 950 pounds and, unfortunately there were no more tours until after the Great War although two positive aspects were that Randall Johnson, who had been on both tours, expressed the view that New Zealand were 25% stronger by the time of the May tour and, for the long term more significantly, the Governor-General of New Zealand, Lord Plunket, in 1906 donated the trophy which at last resulted in a domestic first class structure being set up.

Money remained a major concern on occasion provinces having problems raising funds to meet their playing commitments and in 1913 when the players performed creditably on a tour of Australia NZCC struggled to pay anything remotely comparable to reasonable compensation to those who travelled for their lost wages. The Great War then put paid to first class cricket but not until after wealthy businessman Sir Arthur Sims had brought over a star studded side from Australia, in which Victor Trumper excelled, to play a series of matches which were very popular with the public and which provided a welcome financial boost. One of the games on that tour, in which Trumper scored the small matter of 293 after coming in at number nine, stuck in the memory sufficiently to have a small book published about it as recently as 1978.

After the war England were invited to send a tour party although that invitation was withdrawn when the NZCC considered the proposed party too unattractive having pleaded without success for the inclusion of “Spooner, Gillingham or anyone who has played for England”. There was, apparently some intemperate correspondence that passed but by 1922/23 all issues were resolved and MCC agreed to send out a party under the captaincy of Archie MacLaren. Cardus’s “Noblest Roman” was, of course, one of the truly great names of the golden age but he was by now 50 years of age and hadn’t played regularly since before the war however the NZCC were, although they later regretted it, happy to have the old champion on board.

The truth is that MacLaren’s party was a pretty weak combination with no outstanding players although MacLaren himself, before injury finished off his tour after three games, did score 200* in the first representative match which by all accounts was a majestic innings. The two professionals on the tour were Tich Freeman, who was just about to embark on his record breaking seasons and the jouneyman Lancashire seamer Harry Tyldesley. Percy Chapman would find fame in Australia in 28/29, and, with his dashing batting and fine fielding, was the star of MacLaren’s show but him apart the amateurs on the tour, save perhaps Freddie Calthorpe who captained the 29/30 tour to the West Indies, are no longer remembered.

MCC were not unduly troubled by the New Zealand sides they met but were themselves largely swept aside by the not particularly strong Australian state sides they played at the beginning and end of the trip and the whole tour ended amidst some rancour as MacLaren made some ill-advised remarks and the NZCC wrestled with a loss of around 2,000 pounds only half of which MCC had agreed to bear – prevailing opinion seemed to be that for the foreseeable future the New Zealanders should deal only with their neighbours across the Tasman who had sent out a young side in 21/22 after the MCC invitation had been withdrawn and who it was felt had played better cricket, done more to help the New Zealand players and, as importantly, been nothing like as costly.

By 1927 however NZCC and MCC were at peace again and, with a view to test status being granted, NZCC agreed to send a tour party to England and in May the first New Zealand representative side arrived. It was a miserable summer weatherwise and no New Zealand bowler achieved outstanding success but two batsmen, Stewie Dempster, whose career statistics do no justice to his talent, and Roger Blunt, had excellent summers and over the tour as a whole the New Zealand side emerged with considerable credit. Wisden for 1928 described them as not being as strong as the leading counties but well able to compete with the rest. Again money was lost, this time around 2,000 pounds after various adjustments, but a public subscription beforehand had ensured that finance wouldn’t be an issue and the achievement of the promise of Test status made the investment worthwhile.

In the 1929/30 season New Zealand played those first four Tests. As in 1921/22 the NZCC wanted a say in the selection of the England party and the two men they wanted were Frank Woolley and Duleepsinhji. It was an odd winter the MCC, for only the second (and to date last) time, sending out two touring parties at the same time to play Tests. The other, stronger, party went to the West Indies where it was discovered MCC had, as they would on their next two tours there, seriously underestimated the strength of the home side. England’s big guns, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Tate and Larwood all stayed at home so why did NZCC want Duleep and Woolley? One was a young promising batsman who had just one Test behind him and the other a gnarled old veteran who had made his bow in Tests as long ago as 1909 alongside Fry, Spooner, Barnes and MacLaren. I have never seen an explanation so perhaps it is again as in 22/23 that their links (in Duleep’s case through Uncle Ranji) with the golden age made them, like MacLaren, an attractive proposition.

This time NZCC got their men, with, in the case of Woolley, a condition Frank placed on his availability that Mrs Woolley and their two year old daughter accompanied him for the whole trip. In the first Test no fewer than six Englishmen made their Test debuts with four of the other five having just one cap each. England won that first Test by an innings within two days. The third and fourth Tests were true stalemates with the hosts putting up solid performances. As to the second Test the hosts were always on top of that drawn encounter and had a chance offered by Stan Nichols early in his 78* in the tourists first innings been taken then the hosts would almost certainly not have had to wait nearly fifty years for their first Test victory against England.

Never again would New Zealand play such “understrength” opposition. It was 1977/78 before an England tour was anything other than the final leg of an Ashes visit to Australia and in home series while there were certainly a few “left field” selections against New Zealand over the years England sides were strong. It was more than a quarter of a century after that first series that New Zealand finally won a Test against anyone (West Indies) and, with a pleasant symmetry 48 years before England were finally overcome in their 48th Test match. As for Australia apart from dishing out a fearful drubbing in a one-off Test in 1945/46 they didn’t even deign to play until 1973/74 and the Glen Turner/Hadlee brothers inspired victory in that series must have tasted very sweet.

So there you have a potted history of New Zealand’s international cricket. Parallels with more recent additions to international cricket are few – New Zealand, in comparative terms has a tiny population and cricket is not the nation’s main sporting passion. In addition funding in the modern age is not the problem it was in the early twentieth century given the ICC’s resources, and the absence of ODI’s meant that there was no form of the game in which the early New Zealanders could pit themselves against full strength opposition before their elevation.

There is, however, one inevitable similarity and that is the lack of world class players and until Bangladesh produce a George Headley, an Aravinda De Silva or an Andy Flower they are going to struggle to set up good positions and without a Sonny Ramadhin, a Fazal Mahmood or a Murali they will find it difficult to exploit what good positions their honest toilers can produce. I, personally don’t believe stripping them of test status now is the answer although for any number of reasons, not least the credibility of Test cricket, I don’t believe their overseas tours should contain Test matches until standards rise.

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