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Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 1 — Youth

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Chapter 1

I Have chosen November, 1895, as a suitable date on which to begin my story. It was then, at the age of sixteen, that I was first selected to play in the Canterbury XI against Wellington.

My father's death in 1891, at the age of fifty, changed our family fortunes, and my wonderful mother was left with a family of nine, I being the middle one, aged twelve. Anyone able to go back to the early 'nineties in New Zealand will know they were hard times. All who could were needed to contribute to the family earnings. My education naturally had to be curtailed, and, when barely fifteen years of age, I found myself apprenticed to engineering with the firm of John Anderson—now Andersons Limited—one of the best-known engineering firms in New Zealand.

Limited chances of advanced education were now replaced by technical training. Five years in evening classes at the Canterbury College School of Engineering, under Professor Scott, in many ways repaired the damage that would have been done to me had I made no effort to study after leaving school. There is, in engineering, a practical training that I was later to find invaluable when applied to everyday life.

To return to my selection in the Canterbury XI—the thought of the inclusion of so young a boy in a representative side came as a surprise to many, and the critics were not too sanguine about the wisdom of it. However, Mr. A. M. Ollivier, a noted player in his time, and later sole selector, having fixed ideas about team building and the giving of opportunities to youth, was pot deterred by criticism. What clinched the matter was my performance when playing for the Midland Club, in Christ-church, against the great Lancaster Park team, which included six members of the Canterbury XI. Favoured by a soft wicket, ideal for a left-hand slow bowler, I took eight wickets for 50 runs.

The previous year, when a member of my club's Second XI, and not yet sixteen years of age, I had gone to Wellington to page 20 play in the annual match between the Christchurch Midland and the Wellington Midland Clubs, taking the place of our captain, John Wheatley, who was not available. My brother, T. W. Reese, twelve years my senior, captained our side. Batting first, Wellington made a splendid start. Arthur Black-lock, their best player in those days, and Salmon, a veteran, had put on 100 for the first wicket, when Pearce, our fast bowler, bowled the sturdy Salmon off his belly! I have never since seen that happen. With the score at one for 105 my brother threw the ball to me, and I bowled one over before lunch.

On resuming there was to be a sensational happening in my first over. Naughton, a promising young player, was stumped. R. V. Blacklock, a New Zealand Test captain, groping forward at the pitch, and expecting my natural turn from leg, played outside a ball that went straight on, and was clean bowled. Fitzsimmons, also a representative player, was next, and, jumping in to hit his first ball on the half-volley, drove it back hard and low on my left side. Stretching to reach it, I held what in ordinary circumstances would have been a good one-handed catch, but to complete the hat trick, well, of course it brought down the house. In recording a catch of this sort, C. B. Fry once said in the choice brevity for which he was noted, “It stuck—glad it stuck.” Cricketers will know that when even the hottest of catches strikes the hand on a certain spot, the fingers automatically close over the ball; this was such an occasion. There was excitement at once. Billy Garrard, our wicket-keeper, of boisterous nature, whose laugh could be heard all over the ground, wanted the team to do the maypole dance round the bewildered lad standing with all these grown-up men, half of whom were among the best cricketers in New Zealand. Dear old “Jum” Barnes, the genial and giant veteran on our side, put his arms around me. From their baby boy, as one man said, I had changed to someone of importance. I finished with five wickets. In batting I tried to cut a ball off the off stump in the first innings, and in the second attempted to hit a straight one to square-leg, so could not have been quite normal when I went in. Instead of being like the man in the Bateman cartoon, showing how a batsman sees the crowd when he returns to the pavilion after making o, the position was reversed with me, for it was when I went in to bat that I felt the eyes of everyone page 21 upon me. The bowlers, too, looked big fellows, and yet I suppose all would be hoping the “little chap” would make a few runs. The members of our team presented me with a bat instead of the proverbial hat, as was the custom in those days.

My selection in the Canterbury XI, to play Wellington on the Basin Reserve in the capital city, was my first appearance in representative cricket. I took three for 33 in the first innings, and three for 18 in the second, thus making a reasonably good début. As was the case on this ground the previous Christmas, I remember being very nervous when going in to bat, although not affected in this way when taking the field, or at the bowling crease.

A month later, playing against a strong New South Wales team at Lancaster Park, in Christchurch, I took five wickets for 95 in the first innings, and shortly afterwards, against Otago at Dunedin, took four for 29.

The following season my bowling seemed to lack the nip of the previous year, but my batting came on apace; a change of form that often takes place with young players beginning to develop all-round ability. My captain, John Wheatley, a sound judge, handled me as Lord Hawke handled Wilfred Rhodes, except that he reversed the order, and would hardly ever give me a bowl. Possibly he was repaid. After making 128 in a club match, I made 55, being the top score for Canterbury, against a Queensland team touring New Zealand. This team included S. P. Jones, the graceful Australian batsman of the teams of the 'eighties to England, also S. Donahoo, a dashing player who, at one time, promised to be one of Australia's greatest left-handers.

As I was also a left-hand batsman, Donahoo took a keen and kindly interest in my play, but it was Sammy Jones's advice that I remembered most. In the second innings I attempted to back-cut a ball, and was caught in the slips. That evening Jones said to me, “Look here, sonny, with such a range of strokes in front of the wicket, why in the devil do you want to tip them through the slips?” I did not forget his advice, although I suppose I nibbled at them occasionally.

He also advised me about my bowling. At that time I used now and then to bowl an off break, and, sending down one of these unexpectedly, clean bowled him. Later, in the pavilion, he said to me, “Now, my boy, forget all about bowling me with page 22 that ball to-day: you must never bowl it again.” He then explained that with my fieldsmen all on the off side, and my type of bowling depending so much on them, this off break would prove expensive against good batsmen. His parting advice was, “Bowl for your field, and depend mainly on flight, spin, and variation of pace.” I did not again bowl this ball in first-class cricket, although I was sometimes tempted in club cricket, especially against a stonewaller.

The bowling of this ball raises the question of the origin of the word “googly.” It was about the year 1900 that Bosanquet discovered how to bowl an off break with a leg-break action, yet, in 1895, E. P. Barnes, a Victorian journalist, who played in my club team in Christchurch, used to whisper, “Bowl him a googler, Dan'l,” when urging me to bowl the left-hand bowler's off break to a right-handed batsman. Neither the ball nor the name is the same as the googly, but it does suggest that the latter term was coined in Australia, and possibly as far back as the 'eighties.

During their stay in Christchurch, the Queenslanders were thrilled with the hospitality and attention shown them. “Thorrington,” the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Clark, was a charming place, and in the days when garden parties played an important part in the social life of the community, was the scene of much entertainment. When their elder son, Charles, was elected captain of the Canterbury XI, visiting teams were to enjoy many an outing of a kind that for a number of years was to displace the old-fashioned coach drive on Sundays to places of interest. The Queensland team was one of the first to be entertained at the Clarks' home, or, to be more correct, in the lovely grounds, and the best private garden in Christchurch. The site of this old home was on the banks of the river Heath-cote, close to Cashmere Hills. The lawn, alongside a picturesque artificial lake, was, on this day, to be the scene of a thrilling spectacle. On our side we had Stanley Frankish, a splendid athlete, who could run 100 yards in a fraction over ten seconds. The Queenslanders had Owen Cowley, a champion sprinter. It was not long before claret cup, and cider, a popular drink in those days, stirred someone's imagination to suggest a race between Frankish and Cowley. There was much boisterous banter and persuasion by all present until the race was finally arranged. The 100 yards' track was measured, a starter page 23 appointed, a sporting gun provided to give a pistol-start, and judges held the tape at the finishing post. Well, as the Americans would say, it was some race. Prankish got the better start, but he was up against a tough opponent. Cowley had the most extraordinary style I have ever seen. He galloped! With his bounding, kangaroo-like jump, he overhauled Prankish at the half distance, and it was all over in a flash. More claret cup, more cider—more anything one liked. It was not until after the race that we learned that Cowley was one of the best professional sprinters in Australia.

All the Australian teams of the 'nineties, and the early years of this century, were entertained in this way, either at “Thorrington” or “Fownhope,” the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wilding; and it was a charming thought which, thirty years later, prompted Trumble and Armstrong to cable Mrs. Clark their congratulations on her ninetieth birthday.

The first Melbourne Cricket Club team to tour New Zealand was also entertained at “Thorrington.” Hugh Trumble, on this, his second visit to this country, became very attached to Charlie Clark, an attachment that developed into a lifelong friendship. The latter was a good, hard-hitting batsman, but a nervous starter. When he went in to bat on the Monday following one of these Sunday picnics, Trumble was bowling. Generous as always, Hughie's first ball to Clark was a full-toss on the leg side, which the batsman hit with terrific force straight at short square-leg, who was fielding close in. The fieldsman got something of a shock, but he couldn't get out of the way of the ball, and held an exceptional catch. “The best laid schemes o' mice and men….” Trumble was more successful with his generous impulse in the match against Wellington. Midlane, the most promising young player on the local side, put his leg plumb in front to a straight ball. Trumble did not appeal, but as he turned to bowl again, he whispered to the umpire, “I believe that would have bowled him.”

A fortnight after the Queensland match, when playing against Wellington, in Christchurch, I made 96, caught against the fence at deep square-leg. In this innings, Arthur Sims, my lifelong friend, and a really good batsman, stayed while we added 140 for the fourth wicket, and then went on to score 103 not out. As Sims was but eighteen months my senior, the stir caused by youths of seventeen and eighteen making such scores will page 24 be appreciated. We were called the “Canterbury Twins,” “The Prodigies,” and all sorts of flattering names. Fortunately, we were both immune from the danger of being spoilt.

I wonder if any two boys were keener on cricket than we were? After net-practice, and when everyone else had gone, we would take turn about throwing or bowling to the one with pads on, and in this way practised particular strokes. As we had no fieldsmen the ball had to be hit into the side net. Sims had more strokes behind point than I had, for, remembering Sammy Jones's advice, my only back-cut was just behind point. On the leg-side we both became adept at playing off our pads. We would have fielding practice as well. On Sundays, right through the summer months, we would walk the hills all day, usually doing about eighteen to twenty miles.

Perhaps the strangest outlet for our keenness was the theory we each had that prior to a big match we should rest our eyes in pleasant green surroundings. In Christchurch, the river Avon flows through the centre of the city. The representative games start at 11 a.m., so each morning of a match Sims and I would hire canoes, paddle a little way up the river, and after about an hour return to the boatsheds and then slowly wend our way down to Lancaster Park. This may make some people smile, even be thought ridiculous, but I tell it as a story of youth's enthusiasm. I was always taught that keenness was more than half the game.

In 1896 Trott's great Australian XI visited New Zealand. They came early in the season, and had time for only a few matches. Canterbury agreed to forgo a game against them so that a New Zealand match could be played at Christchurch. It was the first time I saw in action Giffen, Trumble, Jones, and McKibbin, the great quartette of bowlers, and Trott, Darling, Giffen, Gregory, Graham, Iredale, and others at the batting crease. Clem Hill did not play at Ghristchurch on account of a family bereavement. This was a particularly keen disappointment to me, for I had been likened to Hill in my batting, and especially wanted to watch him. It is somewhat of a coincidence that at this time, Clem, too, was an engineering apprentice.

Two or three incidents in this match will suffice. Arnold B. Williams made 73 for New Zealand, which, considering the calibre of the bowling, still ranks as one of the finest innings ever played for this country. In the first or second over, Jones page 25 clean bowled Cuff, the New Zealand captain, who had a habit of lifting his bat back very high when awaiting the bowler's delivery. Cuff's bat was still in the air when one of Jones's fastest balls clipped off his leg bail which soared down to fine-leg. George Giffen stepped off the distance, for it was at once apparent that it must be nearly a record; the bail was found to be fifty-seven yards from the wicket. I have since read of a bail being hit fifty-nine yards. When the Australians were hurrying against time to get the required runs, Syd. Gregory tapped a ball to third man fielding fairly close up, and the fieldsman, in returning direct to the bowler, bowled the ball slowly along the ground. In a flash Gregory called, “Come!” and with Trumble ready they ran the easiest of singles. I have never since seen advantage taken of a slow return from such a close-up position, although the unwary outfield is often caught napping.

Still another happening out of the ordinary occurred when the Australians were properly under way, and Iredale, batting beautifully, had reached 75. Mr. Wilding, then a veteran well over forty—father of Anthony Wilding, the world-famous tennis player—had previously said to his captain in his somewhat high-pitched and cultured voice, “I have not broken my arm, Cuff!” The latter laughed, but soon afterwards threw him the ball. Now, Wilding was an able barrister, and one would expect him to be a clever bowler. A tall man, he bowled a high tossed off break, also a good ball going with his arm. When about to bowl he was always fiddling with his fingers round the ball, and when he wrapped his forefinger over it, the batsman was apt to think he had no other thought but to make the ball break about a yard. Down he comes to Iredale, and this graceful Australian batsman, playing close to his pads, and watching for the off break, was chagrined to see a perfectly straight ball go on and hit his middle stump.

Wilding had been one of our best players, scoring in New Zealand big cricket over 1,000 runs and taking a hundred wickets. Against an English XI at Lancaster Park in 1886, he took eight for 21, so there was no fluke about his bowling of Iredale. His finger display was as tantalizing as George Giffen's habit of juggling with the ball, throwing it up a few inches as he walked a yard or two before commencing his run to make delivery. Wilding was just as wily as Giffen, and that is saying a good deal. When our club team played against him we always page 26 thought he threw one now and again, but he was too slow to be no-balled.

Wilding could also be tantalizing when batting. After playing a ball, say, to cover-point, he would dance out of his crease a few yards, and call to his partner, “Can we?” Often, a fieldsman, taunted by such enquiry for an obviously impossible run, would shy at the- wickets, sometimes giving an over-throw. Wilding once did this to Charlie Clark, fielding at third man, who threw quickly to the wicket-keeper, but the batsman had his bat back in time. Shortly afterwards, the stroke and call were repeated, and the impetuous Charlie, annoyed by another “Can we?” slammed the ball at the wickets, hitting them on the full. Wilding again got his bat over the crease in the nick of time, but this did not prevent the umpire giving him out. When in reminiscent mood, and this incident is revived, Mr. Wilding, now ninety-two years of age, dismisses it with a haughty, “Damn bad umpiring!” but Charles Clark, thirteen years his junior, remembers only the accuracy of his own throw-in and the umpire's decision. His gleeful chuckle and inimitable mimicry of Wilding's “Can we?” are always highly amusing.

It was this same umpire who, in answering a unanimous appeal for a catch behind the wickets when his own son was batting, said, “Not out! Over!” As the old man walked away towards the square-leg position, he called to his son, “Did you hit that ball, Leonard?”

“Yes, father,” came the reply, but the elderly parent continued his walk as though he had not heard the embarrassing answer.

Reverting to Trott's 1896 Australian XI, I finish with one more story. These Australians were a band of merry men, led by a genial captain. On their visit to Canterbury they were taken for the usual Sunday picnic. Calling at Sumner, a seaside resort near Christchurch, they were entertained on the lawn of one of the local residential hotels. Before leaving, the Mayor proposed the health of the visitors. After responding, Trott stepped forward, and in the manner of a Maori chief leading his tribe in a haka, called aloud, “What's the matter with the Mayor of Sumner?”—to which his team chorused, “He's all right!” “Who's all right?” cried Trott. Chorus: “The Mayor of Sumner!” All together: “That's all right then!” Using the name of anyone who entertained them, they carried out this page 27 little bit of byplay wherever they went. They chuckled over an experience they had in Canada, where they played a few matches en route to New Zealand. The Mayor of one town they visited had just recovered from a serious illness, and was somewhat startled at, “What's the matter with the Mayor of—?” When they had finished he rather embarrassingly explained that he had been very ill, but was now all right.

One more memory of boyhood days: It was in the second year of my apprenticeship when, beating the five o'clock whistle at Andersons, I raced to Lancaster Park on my brother's “penny-farthing” bicycle to see Cuff and Lawrence score the last hundred of their record first-wicket partnership against Auckland. By the time I reached the ground, the batsmen were on top and scoring at a great rate; batting as though with one eye on the clock they raced to make it an afternoon of centuries. In the last over of the day Canterbury's captain was stumped and the score read “one for 306, Cuff 176, Lawrence 123 not out.” The runs were made in three hours, with the last fifty coming at the rate of two a minute. It was a grand exhibition of forceful batting and. remains a record, unbeaten in New Zealand cricket.