Was It All Cricket?
Although New Zealand is of lesser stature than other members of the Imperial cricketing family, the early history of the game in this country makes a chapter both interesting and eventful. It also reveals a beginning that was different from Australia's, but in some ways similar to that of South Africa's.
When the first Australian XI went to England in 1878, it was composed of young Australians who had so readily absorbed the lessons taught them by visiting English teams, and the coaching of Caffyn and Lawrence who remained to become outstanding coaches of the ardent youth of the Commonwealth. On the other hand, the members of New page 438 Zealand provincial teams of this time were nearly all young Englishmen and this accounts for the relatively high standard of play in the Dominion in the 'seventies and early 'eighties.
The game in Auckland received its start from the presence of officers and men of British regiments stationed in that province at the time of the Maori Wars. Canterbury was a purely English settlement conceived by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and founded by Robert Godley who brought with him a band of splendid young men fresh from the public schools and universities of the Old Country. These men were idealists, bent on building another Britain on this side of the world, and their planning provided for the development of the sports games of England which accounts for Hagley Park being located in the heart of the city of Christchurch. Climatic conditions similar to those of the south of England, and the provision of other spacious fields and suburban grounds gave this province a splendid start, accounting for Canterbury's being the greatest provincial side in these early years. Otago, settled by Scotsmen, was to receive unexpected help when gold was discovered and there occurred an influx of venturesome young men, not only from other parts of New Zealand, but also from Australia, who joined in the rush to the gold-diggings. Many of them finally settled in Dunedin and so it is we find Otago, even in the 'sixties and 'seventies, fielding sides that could hold the northern province to reasonably even games. With a climate more like the north of England these players of the south were to develop into a veritable Yorkshire XI in New Zealand cricket, with bowlers able to make full use of their softer wickets, and batsmen possessed of the same grit as the Tike. It is worthy of note that not until 1914, when Patrick scored 118, did a Canterbury batsman make a century against Otago on the Dunedin wicket.
Wellington remained a cosmopolitan city, drawing recruits from all parts and was always able to field a good eleven.
The above sketch will show that it was Englishmen who played and maintained such a high standard until young New Zealanders grew up and became the cricketers of the Dominion.
The first great bowler in New Zealand cricket was Charles Frith whose bowling against Lillywhite's team was mainly responsible for holding the Englishmen down to a 24 runs victory. So impressed were the visitors that they endeavoured page 439 to persuade him to go to England to play county cricket. When Alfred Shaw learned that Frith was born in London and would thus avoid losing the time required for a residential qualification, he was even more insistent, but the young bowler would not leave his father and mother who had brought him out to New Zealand as a lad. This story would seem to establish the fact that New Zealand's champion bowler of the late 'seventies and early 'eighties was as good as the old-time cricketers say he was.
On my first visit to Dunedin with the Canterbury XI, Frith, then a veteran, bowled to us at the practice nets and his bowling impressed me as George Palmer's impressed Trumble. The ex-Canterbury bowler was a tall man and the nearest comparison I can make to his beautiful delivery is the bowling action of S. T. Callaway, the ex-Australian who was to figure largely in New Zealand cricket.
The first great batsman was W. E. Barton of Auckland who was outstanding in the early 'eighties. I quote one performance which will illustrate the quality of his batting: playing for the Wanganui XXII against the 1880 Australian XI, he scored 44 out of 86 required to win, and was mainly responsible for the defeat, by eleven wickets, of a team that included such bowlers as Spofforth, Boyle and Palmer.
What may be termed the middle period of the game in this Dominion is covered by the picture I have drawn of matches played and players met during the twenty-five years of my own cricket career, so need not again be referred to in this summary.
In the post-war years of the early nineteen-twenties, New Zealand had two splendid batsmen in J. S. Hiddleston and J. Shepherd, both of whom, but for the break in their careers during the years of conflict, would have become better known to the outside cricketing world. At the time of Lowry's first team going to England, Hiddleston was the finest player in the Dominion, and there was general regret when it was learned that business responsibilities prevented him from accompanying the team; his brilliant batting would certainly have added to the strength and attractiveness of New Zealand's touring side. Just prior to this tour W. S. Brice of Wellington was the outstanding bowler, particularly on his home ground. It is surprising to find Brice performing better at the age of page 440 forty than in his younger days, when he was overshadowed by Upham. The fine all-round play of S. G. Smith and of F. T. Badcock, another young Englishman, was also a feature of this period.
Tours of Dominion sides to England opened a new page in the history of the game in this country. Lowry's captaincy had much to do with the first impressions made upon English critics. He was one of the best of attacking captains, and always “chasing” the batsman. He drove rather than led his side. I sometimes doubted the wisdom of his over rapid changes in bowling; this may have the effect of upsetting some batsmen, but it also upsets the bowlers. I am sure that Giffen or Barnes, with their quick tempers, would have rebelled against being given one or two overs only; Turner would have slammed the ball on the ground as he was known to do. A few overs at a time would not have suited the schemers of earlier years who required time to develop their plans of attack. A. P. F. Chapman, Lowry's brother-in-law, was the first Test Match captain to adopt the system of quick bowling changes, but, obviously, there are two sides to the argument as to the wisdom of this strategy. When Jardine made Larwood and Allen bowl alternate overs from the one end it was not for the purpose of unsettling the batsman, but to conserve the strength of his famous fast bowler.
These overseas tours developed Dempster into New Zealand's finest batsman. They also made Blunt and Wallace splendid players, and Dacre a hitter more brilliant than any other New Zealand player. And last, but not least, was the emergence of young Vivian as a fine all-rounder, batting and bowling left hand. New Zealand batting was now stronger than it had ever been, but the same cannot be said of the bowling and fielding. It is surprising to find that three tours of England produced only two bowlers who can be classed with the very best of earlier years. Merritt was New Zealand's best bowler on the first two tours and developed into a googly bowler comparable with Sandman at his best; then came Cowie, who was at once rated as the greatest of the Dominion's few really fast bowlers; had Pritchard been selected in the 1935 touring team, as was urged by Billy Patrick, New Zealand would have known earlier that in this Manawaut lad she possessed another Cowie. These tours confirmed the old saying, page 441 “One good bowler will not make a bowling side,” and it was this shortage of good bowlers, plus indifferent fielding, that at times made Lowry's task difficult. In one match, against Yorkshire on a bad wicket, when New Zealand had a chance of winning by an innings, the Yorkshiremen not only saved the follow-on, but went on to make our men fight to avoid defeat. James proved himself a first-class wicket-keeper, but not the equal of Boxshall and Rowntree of years gone by.
These sketches may enable the modern critic to get an outline of New Zealand cricket from its beginning and make possible a comparison between the play and players of the different periods. A study of the historical side should prove no less fascinating than that of other cricketing countries.
Just as this book was about to be sent for press the author added the following note about the matches played between representative New Zealand sides and the M.C.C. tourists of 1946–1947.