Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 28 — Early Plunket Shield Matches

page break

Chapter 28
Early Plunket Shield Matches

I Arrived back in New Zealand in the summer of 1907, when Captain Wynyard's M.C.C. team was nearing the end of its tour. There were still two Test Matches to be played. I immediately began playing club cricket and found that the continuous deck cricket on the Suevic had helped to bring back some of my form of earlier years. I was elected captain of the New Zealand XI for the First Test, but the Englishmen proved too strong and won handsomely.

The New Zealand team for the Second Test was a stronger side. It was a great match. In New Zealand's second innings Haddon and Williams both played grandly each to pass the seventy mark on a wicket that was beginning to wear and with P. R. May making the ball fly shoulder-high. England failed by 56 to obtain the required runs. It was a fine win for New Zealand. Fisher took nine wickets and Upham seven, so it will be seen how the inclusion of these two bowlers strengthened the side.

It was from then on that I was to experience what proved to be the brightest period of my cricketing career. I was captain of all New Zealand Test sides until 1914, and played in many stirring inter-provincial matches. I propose to record but a few of these games.

In 1906 Lord Plunket presented a shield to be contested by the four major provinces. It had been decided that it should be a challenge shield. The New Zealand Cricket Council awarded the trophy to Canterbury whom they adjudged the best side of season 1906–7. Auckland was not satisfied with the decision and promptly challenged Canterbury. The match of December, 1907, was thus the beginning of the great Plunket Shield series in New Zealand. Our friends from the north backed their freely expressed opinion with a performance that left no doubt which was the better side. Their first innings total of 539 was more than enough for Canterbury's two innings. Relf, 156, and Hemus, 148, wore our bowling down until the making of runs by the remaining batsmen looked page 364 simple. This was the first time I had experienced in New Zealand cricket a type of dour, determined and stolid batting that one now associates with Tests between England and Australia. A. E. Relf, the well-known Sussex and all-England player, had been engaged by the Auckland Association as a professional coach. He was the best cricket coach we have had in New Zealand, being most thorough in his methods and making his young players work at the game. The Aucklanders began to bat like a team of English professionals. It was playing for keeps all the time, and our bowlers soon found that bowling to them was a more exacting experience than meeting sides where more than half the batsmen would give it a go. In this first match I scored 26 and 42, but was accused of playing too rashly. Perhaps I did, for I hit 6's in each innings.

For the next half-dozen years and more, there was to be seen in New Zealand cricket a revival of interest that was to have far-reaching effects on the standard of play. Canterbury's reply to Auckland was to engage E. Humphreys, the Kent professional. He was a young man of pleasant personality and great cricketing ability.

It was a different Canterbury XI that went north as challengers the following season, for, apart from the added strength through Humphreys' presence, we had all sharpened our blades following the beating we received the previous year. This time we also played Test Match cricket, and the game developed into a grim struggle. We were left with 220 runs to get in our final innings. After a bad start it looked as though we might still win when Anthony and I were well set and had reduced the runs to get to 75, with five wickets to fall. But Relf was in fine form and we lost by 32 runs. The Sussex professional took twelve wickets.

One incident in this match was to give us a thrill. Relf, who was always a thorn in our flesh, faced Orchard, a lefthander, bowling round the wicket. The Englishman seemed puzzled at the placing of the field, for nearly everyone went over to the on-side. Orchard was an ideal change bowler for a moment such as this—just before the tea adjournment—for his high-tossed off-break slows had tremendous spin on them and were best dealt with by the batsman's going down the pitch to him; few players care to do this when they also have page 365 their eyes on the clock, and Relf, who had not previously seen Orchard bowl, groped forward to the first ball and was out to a simple catch; caught and bowled. He stood for a moment and looked as though he still did not know which way the ball had broken. We knew!

The Aucklanders now fended off repeated challenges from the other provinces. Otago's first challenge match provided a unique incident. Canterbury had arranged the date for her match against Auckland, and Otago then endeavoured to make a similar arrangement. The date they wanted was one week ahead of the Canterbury fixture. Auckland agreed, but stipulated they would play a three days' match only. The Otago Association agreed. Before tossing, the captains agreed to play a fourth day if necessary. This would still have left two clear days between these important matches. The arrangements between the captains did not become known to the Auckland executive until the morning of the third day, when the northerners had drifted into a difficult position. They at once refused to endorse the captains' arrangement and the Aucklanders, left 302 to get, managed to play out time. The irony of it, from Otago's point of view, was that it rained in torrents that night. Bright sunshine next day, and with Fisher on their side, a win for Otago was a certainty.

The incident caused a good deal of heart-burning. The Auckland Committee had reason to feel vexed at the departure from arrangements made between the Associations, but the question of the legal rights of the matter was not, to my knowledge, ever settled. It will be seen that to have won within three days, Wilson, the Otago captain, would have needed to declare his second innings and no doubt would have done this had he known earlier. The Canterbury team, arriving early to obtain some practice before their match, witnessed the finish of this Auckland—Otago game.

Having got so close to winning the Plunket Shield, Otago redoubled her efforts and for the following season engaged as their coach C. G. Macartney, the brilliant Australian. Wellington followed suit by engaging Jack Saunders, the Australian left-hand bowler.

Each of the major Associations now had a professional. Their participation in these matches resulted in a wave of public interest throughout the country, and the effect upon page 366 the players was to develop a keenness such as I had not previously seen in New Zealand cricket.

To prevent the extension of this importation of first-class players, the Cricket Council introduced a rule limiting each side to one player only who need not comply with the six months' residential qualification required.

Auckland's powerful side, staving off challenge after challenge, created a new problem. Taking all the gate money for its home matches, except for a small percentage to the Council, it soon began to grow opulent, while the challenging Associations struggled to raise the money for their professional coaches and the travelling expenses of their teams. An amendment was then added to the rules, giving challengers a percentage of the gate money.

Relf had a good business head, as well as great cricketing ability. He raised his price and got it; he raised it again and got it, but in the end killed the goose that lays the golden egg. Humphreys raised his fee also—we thought he was prompted by Relf—but Canterbury could not find the extra money and his re-engagement fell through. On behalf of the Canterbury Cricket Association, I then cabled Buckenham, the Essex fast-bowler, who accepted at once. Unfortunately, owing to a misunderstanding with regard to remitting the passage money and booking his berth, which, I believe, was mostly my fault, there was a delay that proved fatal to completing the arrangements in time for that season. Canterbury then engaged W. Carlton of Melbourne. Pearson, the Worcester professional, took Relf's place and the following year G. J. Thomson replaced Pearson. Lord Hawke chose these professionals for Auckland, and showed great judgment, both as regards their play and personality. The latter quality was important in a job that included the coaching of boys. After Macartney, Otago's coach was J. N. Crawford.

The foregoing will give an idea of the calibre of these imported players and the uplift they gave the young New Zealanders. It will also help the reader to appreciate the increased interest of the cricketing public in matches that became stern contests with rivalry resembling Yorkshire v. Lancashire, or New South Wales v. Victoria of many years ago.

During this period, the Wellington XI never really extended page 367 Auckland, while Canterbury and Otago were well beaten in their second challenges. In the former's match against the holders of the shield there was to be a sensation greater than that caused by the fall of Relf's wicket in the game of a year earlier; this time, coming on in the middle of Auckland's high-scoring innings, Orchard, with his tantalizing slows, immediately performed the hat trick!

The Otago match of 1910 is worthy of comment. Their captain, G. G, Wilson, an Australian, was a keen player and stuck to his belief that they could beat Auckland. On paper his team looked equal to the task. Downes was persuaded to play, and with Fisher and Macartney also included, their bowling was certainly strong, while an array of batsmen such as Wilson, Siedeberg, Macartney, Hiddlestone and Mac-farlane, all of our Test Match standard, completed a side that appeared to be as good as any in the Dominion. But Fisher and Downes were now veterans and while still good bowlers on a pitch that gave them some assistance, were in no shape to face a four-day match on a hard wicket.

Winning the toss, Auckland set about to repeat the wearing-down tactics that brought them success in the first Plunket Shield match. Hemus, Relf and Sale each made centuries and a total of 579 was more than enough to register a win by an innings.

A delightful story is associated with this match. J. H. Hope, one of Otago's best bowlers of a decade earlier, maintained his interest in the game and continued as a member of the executive committee. He was appointed manager of the Otago touring team. It is the custom in New Zealand cricket for the manager of a team on tour to send telegrams at frequent intervals to the local sports depot, giving the scores as the match progresses. These wires are posted outside the shop, where cricket enthusiasts know they can learn the scores. It should also be said that Hope, in business, was an undertaker; his partner's name was Wynn and their chief rival in the funeral furnishing business in Dunedin was a man named Gourlay. When the first wire came down, some wag, seeing the signature “Hope” and prompted by a spirit of mischief, wrote “… and Wynn.” after it. Everyone chuckled and the next wire was made to appear as signed “Hope to Win.” Next it was “Hope and Glory.” The wires were arriving every two page 368 hours; this was not quick enough for the increasing number of people who now stopped to learn the score and read the witty additions to the wires. Wag No. 2 went across to the Post Office and in the Secretary's name wired Hope: “Public keenly interested your wires send every hour!” Down they came at more frequent intervals and there was competition to add words that made the whole community rock with laughter. Biblical phrases were used and the whole atmosphere was one of merriment.

For the Otago team the match was not such fun. Auckland's 200 had become 300, then 400. The tone of the humorists' additions altered when the Auckland score passed 500. A two-lettered word in front made the signature read “No Hope”—four letters at the end and it read “Hopeless.” Otago's follow-on, which began disastrously, prompted the original wag to go to the Post Office and send Hope a final telegram which must have reached the cricket ground when the Aucklanders were busy hammering the last nails into Otago's coffin. The wire read: “Send for Gourlay!”

I hvve heard the man on the bank at Lancaster Park call to Lowry, “Put Cunningham on,” when the pride of Sydenham had been omitted from the New Zealand side. When English batsmen were taking toll of Australian bowling, I have heard the familiar voice on the hill in Sydney yell to Woodfull, “Send for Grimmett,” when that great little slow bowler had been left out of the Australian XI. But of all the jokes of this type I think “Send for Gourlay” the wittiest.

The stage was now clear for Canterbury's third challenge. The Aucklanders, by their skilful play and team-work, had withstood two invasions from each of the southern provinces. It was an outstanding performance. Like Yorkshire in England and New South Wales in Australia after a long sequence of wins against the other counties and states, this Auckland side had stirred in the minds of the rest of New Zealand a desire that someone should wrest from them the Plunket Shield which seemed to become more coveted with each failure of the challengers. Canterbury, by its repeated victories over Wellington and Otago, and an outstanding performance against the Australians at the end of the previous season, appeared most likely to succeed. The Aucklanders had always looked upon the men of the Plains as their most redoubtable page 369 foe. The people of the Dominion had become cricket-minded. The inclusion of players of International repute, the keenness of the players and the tenseness of the struggles had heightened public interest to a pitch not previously experienced.

The Canterbury Cricket Association's total funds had been absorbed by coaching fees and travelling expenses, but this did not prevent a challenge being issued. Johnnie Fowke, our old wicket-keeper of earlier years, and one-time sole selector, retained his overflowing enthusiasm for the game, and undertook to canvass the city to raise the money by public subscription. His immediate success was a tribute to his popularity and evidence of the faith Christchurch people had in their cricket XI. The Canterbury team had now developed into a fine side; its strength-lay in its all-round ability. Our quartette of bowlers was not comparable with Otago's famous Fisher—Downes—Hope and Lawton combination, but it possessed the same remarkable degree of variety in attack. Two right-handers and two left-handers, all of different types and different paces; what more could a captain desire? When it is added that three of our bowlers were batsmen also, it will be realized that we were far from being disposed of, even after the sixth and seventh wickets had fallen. By common consent, Canterbury was the best fielding side in the Dominion, so our all-round strength was considerable.

It had taken three years to build this side. Partick and Sandman had developed into budding champions, while young Tom Carlton, a nephew of our coach, had arrived from Melbourne and fitted into our side admirably. Caygill made a splendid foil to Lusk when opening our innings. This galaxy of youth provided for the run-about positions in the outfield and added to the team's reputation as a fielding side. Our more experienced players were all in excellent form, for so great was the urge to beat Auckland that never before had they practised so hard. How keen we were may be gathered from the fact that, during the fortnight prior to leaving in quest of the shield, the whole Canterbury XI practised twice each week-day. This was in the days before long nets reached to the bowler's end. For the mid-day practices we had improvised sides and another net behind the bowlers. Thus very few fieldsmen were required. Those who lunched between 12 and 1 batted first and the 1 to 2 lunchers, assisted by a few page 370 enthusiasts, completed their practice in more leisurely fashion. Sims, Orchard and I were able to give the whole two hours. I was always sorry Syd Orchard was unable to make this trip, for he was one of the few of us who, three years earlier, joined in a determination to avenge the thrashing we received in our first Plunket Shield match. After five o'clock in the evenings our usual full representative practices were held. Is it any wonder the people of Christchurch backed such enthusiasm?

Our keenness was shown in other ways. Up till this time, New Zealand players dressed according to their tastes; a white aertex-like shirt was mostly worn. This type of shirt was first seen here when Trott's 1896 Australian XI toured New Zealand. All dressed alike, they presented a fine, uniform appearance. The Aucklanders were neat in their dress, but too many of them persisted with silk shirts. Hemus, like Ranjitsinhji, would play in nothing else. I had recently seen in England the universal use of the cream flannel shirt, which, matching the trousers, produced a pleasing effect. It was not long before I had all the members of the Canterbury XI in flannel shirts. Lusk and I always carried a couple extra in our bags in case anyone let us down. The effect was immediate, for personal pride in one's appearance is no hindrance to success. One of our bowlers always wore trousers that were too tight for him. When I got him a bigger pair of tailor-made pants, his fielding improved fifty per cent! The outcome of all this was that the Canterbury XI took the field looking like a county side and, I believe, the public liked our appearance as well as our play. We were now ready for the Auckland trip.

Our lovable Johnnie Fowke was given a complimentary trip in reward for his services, and his presence was a delight to us all. I was appointed manager as well as captain. Cheers of encouragement died in our ears as we steamed out of the Christchurch station to catch the ferry steamer at Lyttelton. It is an easier journey now, but on the occasion of our first challenge the main trunk railway between Wellington and Auckland was not completed. This meant going on by train to New Plymouth, then steamer again to Onehunga and a short run in the train to Auckland.

At Wellington we were spurred on again, for now everyone wanted Auckland's blood. We allowed ourselves two days' page 371 practice before the match. At our second practice I was standing behind the nets with old Bob Yates, a member of the Auckland XI of the 'eighties, and at this time groundsman on Auckland Domain where our match was to be played. Presently he turned to me and said, “You'll win, Mr. Reese. I've been telling our fellows for years that they don't use their feet enough; yours are the quickest footed batsmen I have seen for some time!” This was encouraging. The inclusion of Patrick and Sandman certainly added to our fleetness of foot.

The battle began. I lost the toss. Opening the innings in an atmosphere typical of a Test Match in Australia, the Aucklanders began as in Christchurch, three years earlier. No risk, no hurry—50 up, then 100 for no wickets. Hemus got his usual century, but still went on. Haddon, the Auckland captain, joined him and things looked ugly when 250 was passed with only three wickets down. I had not bowled much up till this time. I was not often accused of bowling too little! I then clean bowled Hemus who was approaching the century and a half, and dismissed Haddon in the next over. The game altered in a flash, though Auckland was still in a strong position. Haddon was an Australian player. I have never seen a more determined or a better player at a pinch. An Auckland enthusiast always used to bet him a pound to nothing that he wouldn't make 50. We had some fun and listened to a burst of lurid language when, on one or two occasions previously we dismissed him when just short of the half-century. This time he won a pound in each innings. Auckland's total was 349. Reese five for 43.

We left the ground that evening fairly satisfied with the day's play, for they were a good batting side. It had been a glorious sunny day, followed by a warm evening which gave no indication of what was to happen. In the middle of the night we heard thunder, then heavy rain. It rained and rained, it seemed for hours. Many of us turned uneasily in our beds that night. In the morning the sun burst through the clouds and soon it was a clear, hot day. When we reached the ground there was a crowd round the wicket, which was roped off. Old Auckland cricketers shook their heads and quite genuinely commiserated with us: the match was ruined. We thought so too. In the circumstances, young Norman, a left-hander who opened the innings with Lusk, played finely to reach 47. Our page 372 wickets kept falling; there seemed no stopping the rot. The score was six for 80 when young Patrick joined me. His first ball he hit beautifully on the half-volley to the square-leg boundary. When we met in mid-wicket, I said to him, “Here, none of that! That ball was on the leg-stump all the way.” Cricketers will know the risks run with such a stroke. It was one of those impulsive strokes a young player will often make when he first goes in to bat. We then played for keeps. The wicket was improving all the time and we took the score to 100, then to 150, then 200. It was now after five o'clock—would we play out time? In the last over of the day I was caught behind the wickets for 80. Patrick 75 not out, and the total 240 for seven. It was a great recovery and, for a young player, Patrick's self-control was remarkable, for, like his captain, he liked hitting fours! He was out first ball next morning and our last wickets did not add many.

Auckland, with a lead of 80 runs, began their second innings with a confidence that betokened trouble for us. Hemus was off again, and after a good innings by Pearson, the English professional, Haddon played finely. The score was now three for 120, with their two best batsmen going strongly. As in their first innings, the persistence of our attack and keenness of our fielding reaped its full reward. This time it was Sandman's day. He bowled his leg-breaks with Braund-like precision and had all the batsmen in trouble. Haddon jumped out to hit him, and Boxshall had the bails off in a flash. This marked the end of Auckland's run-getting vein, for the remaining batsmen struggled to keep their ends up. The last wicket fell just on time, when the total was 199. Twenty-one-year-old Sandman finished with five for 55 runs—a splendid performance.

Now we felt happier, but were sobered by the knowledge that 280 runs were required to win with fourth use of the wicket, and on the fourth day. In those days it was not often in New Zealand cricket that a match ran into four days. It was still anybody's game. The people of Auckland and Christ-church had their hopes alternately raised and dashed to the ground as the game passed through its different stages. On this final day the citizens of the northern city were able to attend in large numbers to witness the finish of a great match. In Christchurch the enthusiasts had to be satisfied with the page 373 frequent bulletins that appeared on the notice board in High Street.

The ever-confident Lusk was an ideal batsman for such an occasion and from the outset he dominated the scoring. After the first wicket had fallen at 32, Caygill lent valuable assistance, but it was soon two for 60, then three for 90. When it became four for 126 we began to feel anxious, for at this rate we were going to leave the tail-enders to get as many runs as the leading batsmen on the side. I then joined Lusk, my club mate, who was playing the finest innings of his career. At first I played the role I have already described when Joe Darling used to leave Jack Lyons to do the scoring. The first time I opened out I drove Sneddon hard and low to cover-point. The fieldsman got both hands on the ball, but dropped it! This was Auckland's last chance. We were now past the 200 mark, with Lusk well over the century. We approached 250, then raced on to the 280 required. In the final stages we were scoring as fast as we usually did in club cricket. It was the first time in the match that ca' canny methods had been discarded and was evidence that even in hard-fought games there are moments when free hitting can be more profitable than safety first. Lusk finished with 151 not out and Reese 67 not out; this was the second 150-run partnership of this match in which I had taken part. Canterbury won by six wickets. I have described this game in some detail, because it was, and still remains, one of Canterbury's greatest matches.

In their sequence of wins the Aucklanders had been good winners; now they were to prove themselves splendid losers. They were loud in their praise of the way we extricated ourselves from the hopeless position we appeared to be in at lunch-time on the second day. There was a presentation of the shield which took place in front of the pavilion, when Mr. F. Earl, their President, said some nice things. It was a scene of excitement with the spectators applauding our meritorious win.

By the time we arrived back at our hotel, telegrams had begun to arrive, not only from Christchurch, but from many parts of New Zealand, for our victory had stirred cricket enthusiasts to a pitch of great excitement. We learned that in our own city the crowd had blocked the High Street, making it impossible for the trams to pass. It will thus be seen that page 374 feelings which had been bottled up for three years and so recently stirred by the ups and downs of the match, were now exploding. It was said the cheers in the heart of the city that afternoon were something to remember.

Just before dinner that evening, Arthur Sims came to my room and said, “What do you think of this?” and produced a bottle of champagne that a friend had given him to celebrate our win. I at once realized that a few of us could not possibly have this by ourselves, and ordered some more so that all might have a “sip!” A modern journalist would have had this over the wires in a flash, with a headline: “Champagne for Canterbury XI.”

For three years we had stayed at “Glenalvon,” then a private hotel at the old Admiralty House, since pulled down to make room for Anzac Avenue. The landlady had become proud of her Canterbury boys and when we went in to dinner, all the tables were decorated with red flowers and red and black ribbons—Canterbury's colours. It was a graceful compliment.

There was a humorous sequel to the champagne incident when an excellent but parsimonious treasurer checked over my accounts for the tour and complained over the Association's money being used to purchase “bubbly wine,” as the Maoris call it. There were two things he did not allow for: firstly, the circumstances in which it was ordered, and, secondly, that the money for the tour was subscribed by the people of Christchurch and that they would have allowed us to swim in champagne that night!

The end was not yet. On our arrival back in Christchurch we were met at the station by a crowd of enthusiasts and driven in a four-in-hand coach to the Civic Hall, where the Mayor and citizens gave us a public reception. It was like going back to the 'seventies and 'eighties in Australia when English cricket teams arriving, or triumphant Australian teams returning, were driven straight to the Town Halls of Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney, and given a reception typical of their country.

Three successive trips to Auckland had developed many friendships that were to have far-reaching and beneficial effects. Friendships developed with Wellington in the same way, and our old ties with Otago completed the development of a general all-round spirit of understanding and agreement.

page 375

And so ended the first phase of Plunket Shield matches. It would have done the donor's heart good could he have seen the standard of play and the type of cricket contests that developed in this country following his generous gift. I was one of a deputation that had called upon Lord Plunket and presented him with the first ball used in the first Shield match.