Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 29 — More Tears of Strenuous Cricket
More Tears of Strenuous Cricket
The story of a few more matches and experiences will complete the picture of New Zealand cricket as it was in the years before the first World War.
The Canterbury match against Armstrong's team in 1910 was a notable game. It was the first Australian XI to visit New Zealand under the auspices of the Board of Control. The inclusion of eight Test Match players made them a formidable side. Armstrong, Hopkins, Kelleway, Whitty and Emery made them strong in bowling, while Bardsley and Mayne, with Kelleway and Armstrong, were their best batsmen. The Canterbury team was at the peak of its form. The province had a fine record against overseas teams; in 1878 it had beaten the Australians, in 1894 a New South Wales team had been defeated and in 1907 the M.C.C. team lost its first provincial match at Christchurch.
We made a bad start and six wickets had fallen for 80 runs when young Carlton joined me, and a hundred runs were added for the seventh wicket. I passed the century and Carlton made 63. This young Melbourne lad had an extraordinary style of batting; like all left-handers, he was strong on the leg side; he had not the deft leg glance of Harry Moses, or the more forceful style of Clem Hill, but had a stroke that was a mixture between a glance and a push. The ball seemed to rest momentarily on the bat before being guided away to fine-leg or somewhere behind the umpire. Carlton showed great skill in choosing the ball that was just off the leg stump. Hopkins was bowling when the lad came in. After a few balls, the bowler changed from round the wicket and began pelting at his leg stump; up would go the bowler's hand, thinking he had hit him on the pads, only to see the ball deflected to leg. Hopkins was stubborn and would not strengthen his leg field as we always did to this unusual type of batsman; instead he bowled faster, but with the same result. I can still hear the Australian saying, “I'll get the young devil in a minute!” Sandman and Boxshall were in merry mood, adding 40 for the last wicket. page 377 Our wicket-keeper batted as he had done against Lord Hawke's team. He was often clean bowled when trying to hit a straight ball to square-leg. This was one of the days when he hit a few 4's before missing one. Our total was 321.
The Australians got a bit of a shock when they were dismissed for 240. Bennett and Sandman bowled finely, while our fielding earned unstinted praise from our opponents.
Another good batting performance, with everyone getting runs, saw us reach 259 in the second innings. Now it was to be a match!
Australia was left 340 to win. The opening of the innings was sensational. Bardsley was brilliantly stumped before he had scored, and Smith clean bowled by Bennett added another nought to the score sheet. The keenness of the bowling and fielding might well be imagined. When Kelleway was caught behind the wickets, the unanimous “Howzat?” could have been heard in the city! The score was now five for 39. Mayne, who had been batting well, was joined by Armstrong. Now we were to see how Australian XI's fight their way out of a tight corner. Without taking the slightest risk, yet scoring at every opportunity, the runs came steadily. Mayne passed the century and was then out with the total at 215. Two more wickets fell, but Armstrong was still there; the score was now eight for 282, with Facey and Whitty the sole remaining supports for their captain. We had arranged to play an extra quarter of an hour. At six o'clock, with the score at 300, Armstrong hit one to me at cover-point. Cricketers will know what it is to snatch at a ball. The tenseness of the moment must have made me grab. I dropped it. Silence … dead silence from the large crowd. In Sydney it would have been, “Get a bag!” I have always interpreted that silence as a token of sympathy from a kindly public. I had been top scorer in each innings with scores of 108 and 41 and thus contributed largely to the winning position we were in; apparently they thought I did not deserve to be reprimanded.
With ten minutes to go I relieved Bennett who had bowled wonderfully well throughout the afternoon. My first ball, turning sharply from leg, beat Armstrong all the way, but grazed the off stump. Boxshall always swore that the ball did touch the wicket, but as he appealed when he took the ball, his contention may be discounted a little. Fate might have been page 378 kinder, for what a let-out it would have been to me had the bail been dislodged. Armstrong's 149 not out was a magnificent effort. I have a barrister friend who chided me at the time and still reminds me of the English amateur who lost the match for the Gentlemen when he dropped a simple catch with the Players' last batsman at the wickets. The story says he was so disgusted with himself that he went away big game hunting and did not return for several years. Going back to Lord's, he arrived during an interval and on entering the pavilion saw two old gentlemen standing looking at his photograph, for he was a famous cricketer. As he approached from behind, he overheard one say, “Do you remember him dropping that catch?”
In both Tests the Australians proved too strong for us. In the match at Wellington we had lost five wickets for about 50 runs when I was joined by Sims, who had played an excellent innings of 51 not out in the Christchurch Test. We were the only batsmen able to handle the fast bowling of Facey, the Tasmanian, who was pretty quick and made the ball lift on this Wellington wicket. Our partnership added nearly 80; Sims made 37 and as Facey then rattled out the remaining batsmen, I was left with 69 not out. Facey finished with seven wickets for 71. Hemus got a “pair” in this match; I had been used to seeing him make runs—always.
The visit of the Australian team created great interest, for it included several new champions not previously seen in New Zealand. The fact that our visitors came at a time when the great struggles for the Plunket Shield were taking place, gave an added interest to the tour.
Then began what might be called the second phase of the Plunket Shield matches. Canterbury was now the defender. Otago was the first to challenge. The southerners had previously come north confident of victory, for they had in their team none other than the famous Charlie Macartney. Fortunately, in that match, we dismissed him in each innings for less than double figures, though we found his bowling troublesome. Fisher at the other end made them a formidable pair; we lost six wickets in obtaining the 72 runs required to win.
Next time, in their first challenge match, our Otago friends gave us a real fright. Hopkins, an Australian, batted finely and when he was joined by G. G. Austin we ran into trouble. We page 379 rated Austin as one of Otago's best batsmen, but he was a nervous starter and we always tried to bustle him out quickly. This time he batted splendidly, as he had done against Trumble and Cave ten years earlier. The score was raised to one for 100, then one for 150; they had got on top of our attack. Sims was now bowling his high-tossed leg-breaks and Hopkins jumped in and drove one hard back to the bowler who misfielded the ball, but it cannoned off his hands on to the wicket. Austin, backing up, was out of his crease when the bails were dislodged. We were sorry for Austin, but glad he was out. Macfarlane, a New Zealand representative player, followed and the score went up to 200, then 240 before the third wicket fell. We looked to be in for a rough time. Then Bennett and Sandman prevailed and the rest were rattled out quickly, with Otago's total 302. Canterbury replied with 264. The last day's play was on a rain-affected wicket and we tumbled them out for 52; Reese five for 19—all clean bowled; old George Giffen's theory again—on a bad wicket bowl at the stumps! Left 91 to get, we appeared to be winning comfortably when, all of a sudden, John Ramsden, bowling into the wind and developing a disconcerting swing, took four wickets for 9 runs, two of them caught in the slips and one behind the wickets. We were glad to scramble Home with a three-wicket victory.
Next came Wellington. With Jack Saunders, the famous Australian left-hander, on their side, they also rated their chances as being good. They had not reckoned on the foil our four left-hand batsmen would prove to Saunders' bowling. We had already twice beaten them with this Australian in their team. In this, their first challenge, we started off with 277 and led by 100 in the first innings. Saunders took three for 92 in the first innings, but got five for 75 in the second, when our total was 192. Left with 302 to win, they never looked like getting them and we won by over 100 runs.
Auckland then came south in quest of the shield. The atmosphere surrounding this match was again like a Yorkshire-Lancashire game; perhaps a better comparison would be Yorkshire v. Surrey at the Oval, for it was a case of the North against the South. All New Zealand followed the match, for, good as Otago and Wellington teams were at this time, a special rivalry had developed between the teams now about to meet again.page 380
Fending off the repeated challenges of recent years had nailed down the Aucklanders to home matches only, and made it impossible for them to arrange any extensive southern tours. Their defeat by Canterbury had lifted this restriction and they were glad to give their young players an opportunity to travel. A tour as far as Dunedin was arranged, but the main object was to challenge Canterbury for the shield. G. J. Thompson was now Auckland's coach; he was the best they had had since A. E. Relf; we remembered his great bowling for Lord Hawke's team.
Rain overnight had left the wicket on the soft side; I won the toss and elected to bat; most of my colleagues thought I made a mistake. We lost four wickets before lunch—all to Thompson: two of them were yorkers, so it was not all the fault of the wicket! We never recovered and were all out for 86. Oliff, a clever little bowler, came with a run at the finish and took the last six wickets. Auckland replied with 220. So far they had all the advantages of having second use of the wicket. It was in our second innings that we should have regained a fighting position and left them a reasonable number of runs to get. We were all out for 192; Auckland left 59 to win. The real story of this match can be compressed into these 59 runs.
As there was still an hour to go before stumps, Hemus came to me and suggested we play on and finish the match that evening; he said his men would rather have the whole day off on the morrow. I readily agreed. Off they went. Hemus and Sale, their two best batsmen, opened to Bennett and me. Runs came slowly, the usual Auckland gait for the opening of their innings. The score was twenty odd when I bowled Sale and immediately afterwards had Hemus caught at short leg; 0 for 24 became two for 25. Then Bennett got two wickets quickly, and the score was four for 35. Now there was a flutter in the Auckland dove-cote. All except two or three of the visitors had changed into their ordinary clothes. Our bowlers again took it turn about and the score was six for 40. More players getting back into their flannels! Next was seven for 48. The time was now ten minutes past six and Hemus came out and appealed against the light. I said, “But, dash it all. Chummy, we always play till 6.30 at this time of the year in our club matches.” On we went. Hemus came out again. I referred him to the umpires. They said go on. Eight page 381 wickets had now fallen and the score crept up one at a time. The excitement was intense. Bennett and I had now bowled for an hour and a half, but I felt I could not risk changing the bowling. At half-past six the score was eight for 58—one to tie, two to win. Had Hemus come out then I should have had to agree to stumps being drawn, but apparently everyone thought we had better finish it. The previous batsman had been run out as a result of an excited call, but that did not deter Thompson bolting for a quick single for a ball played to forward short-leg. Hayes, one of our best fieldsmen, fielding the ball brilliantly, threw back quickly to the wicket-keeper. Unfortunately it was not straight, but Boxshall, by a valiant effort, caught the ball and swung round at the wickets which were now behind him. With ball in hand he missed the top of the stumps when the batsman was still a foot short of the crease. By the time Box-shall could get back to remove the bails the bat was over the chalk line. Could anything have been more hair-raising? The remaining run was scored when the clock read 6.40, and an excited crowd rushed the field to give vent to its feelings. The game ended as it should have, for we could not have dared claim victory in a light that was now worse than any in which I had ever played in first-class cricket.
When we came off the field and were chattering in the dressing-room, for we were all excited, dear old Bob Neill, the Auckland slow bowler of more than a decade earlier, who was travelling with the team, said to me with a twinkle in his eye, “I was nearly bringing candles on to the field!” For many years afterwards both sides laughed over this match. It was certainly one of the most remarkable I ever played in. It should be said that Hemus, having asked me to play on to finish the game, did not want to appeal for the light, but his team mates and especially a group of enthusiasts travelling with the team, insisted.
As I made the second highest score in the first innings, was top scorer in our second and took five for 61 and four for 35 it was a strenuous match for me. The way Bennett and I were able to spin the ball in those final stages left me with the conviction that had our batting been as good as it should have been in the second innings, we would have won the match because of Auckland's being left with fourth use of the wicket. My old friend Lusk does not agree with this, and still says that page 382 on that first wicket my left arm would have been of more value to Canterbury than Thompson's right arm was to Auckland. Who can tell? At this stage of my career, my bowling had again caught up with my batting. I have often wished that I had been in such all-round form when playing for Essex.
We were now nearing the end of a decade of cricket in New Zealand in which was witnessed the greatest continuous stream of visiting teams to the Dominion. Lord Hawke's team of 1903 was followed by the Australian XI in 1905, and the next year came the Melbourne C.C. In 1907–8 Marylebone sent out Captain Wynward's team; Armstrong's Australian team followed in 1910. Next came Harry Trott's South Melbourne Club team. This was not equal to a State XI, but included some very good players, the best of whom was J. Giller, an all-rounder who, some said, should have gone to England with one or more of Australia's touring teams. Trott was now a veteran, forty-five years of age, but the same delightful character as when, on the way back from England, he toured New Zealand with his great Australian XI of 1896. South Melbourne played two matches against Canterbury; the first was a good game. We led off with 333, Patrick playing finely to make a century, but in our second innings, against the fast bowling of Kyle and the heady Giller, collapsed for a total of 91. The visitors lost seven wickets in making the 145 runs required to win.
A fortnight later a return match was played; this time the position was reversed; they collapsed on a good wicket for a total of 80. Bennett and Sandman bowled splendidly. We had lost four wickets for about 70 when a lad named Paterson, making his debut for Canterbury, joined me. There was an hour to go before stumps, and we added 100 in that time. Old players still say it was one of the breeziest home-side partnerships seen at Lancaster Park. Young Paterson kept pace with his captain, and eventually reached 53. Our total was 384; Reese 130. Giller and Kyle were again the most successful bowlers, but this time we made them pay for their wickets.
The visitors' second-innings total of 270 failed to save them from an innings defeat. Trott said some nice things about my batting, and was loud and generous in his praise of the Canterbury XI. He said there was not a better fielding side in page 383 Australia at that time. I was keenly interested in Trott's captaincy. He had the same knack as MacLaren of holding a side together and keeping them working as a team. Trott's jovial disposition was backed by sound judgment and great strength of character. Noted players have told me that while there was little to choose between Trott and Noble, it was the former's understanding of human nature that made him a shade the better captain.
A delightful story told by members of the 1896 Australian team, returning via New Zealand, will bear re-telling. Iredale was a fine batsman with a style resembling Lionel Palairet's. He was a very temperate young man, almost a teetotaler, and always a nervous starter. On the English tour he had failed several times and was fretting about it. The next match was a Test and Trott said to him, “Look here, Frank, what you need is a tonic. I often have one myself and will mix one for you.” After Iredale had donned his pads in readiness to open Australia's innings, the beloved Harry Trott brought to the dressing-room a glass of ginger ale with “something in it.” One can imagine Iredale on reaching the wickets saying what the mouse said after drinking spilt whisky, “Bring out your cats!” At any rate, he proceeded to play in superb fashion and made 107. With the ice thus broken he made two more centuries in quick succession. No wonder they said Trott was a genius.
I approach the end of this second phase of Plunket Shield matches with another Auckland—Canterbury contest. We were not satisfied that the sensational match at Christchurch was a fair test of strength, so off we went again in quest of the now much coveted shield. On the way up in the train Lusk said to us, “We must hit Oliff more.” I had heard Cuff say that of Fisher and Downes in my first season of first-class cricket.
This time Auckland failed to get the better of our bowling and were all out for a total of 190. Lusk and Caygill opened our innings and were going along nicely when, to our amazement, Lusk jumped out about a yard to hit Oliff. Finding the ball was dropping short he stopped and tried to play it, but was clean bowled. Lusk was always quick on his feet, but we did not expect him to try and play like Harry Graham. We had some fun with him when he returned to the pavilion. I went to the wickets at ten minutes to six. Hemus, the Auckland captain, bowled the last over. His high tossed leg-breaks were tempting, page 384 but I was playing out time. I had not the faintest idea that he could bowl a googly. With the last ball of the day he did what Jim Kelly said Bosanquet did at Lord's in 1902; to me the ball came back from leg instead of from the off; I was plumb in front and plumb out! “That'll teach you,” laughed Hemus as we walked off the field. I was in good form at the time and hated giving away my wicket in such a manner. It made little difference, for on the following morning Hayes, a lad who was making his first appearance in Auckland, went on to make 125. One or two more wickets fell quickly, but Sandman took the long handle and made a dashing 93. The days of dour contests were over and we rattled up a total of 364—Sandman hitting three 6's.
The Aucklanders fought back in their second innings, but Bennett maintained his fine form throughout the match; Auckland's total was 292. The wicket had shown some signs of wearing, but we had no misgivings about getting the 122 runs required.
As Lusk left the dressing-room he turned and said in his confident manner, “I'll show you how to lift a bally shield!” This time he was as good as his word. He took Oliff by the scruff of the neck and dealt with the other bowlers in the same way. He was the Lusk of club cricket in Christchurch. The brilliance of his performance may be gathered from the fact that he made 82 and was out before our total reached 100; his runs were made in exactly an hour. We won by eight wickets. Harry Trott had said the Canterbury XI was a team of hitters, while after this match was over old Bob Yates could be heard saying to a group of Aucklanders, “I told you so. I told you to jump out and use your feet. Now do you believe me?”
The Aucklanders needed the help of a player like Relf or Thompson, for Canterbury had now developed into a formidable side. The northerners missed Haddon who was a fine player and shrewd captain. Macartney, Saunders and J. N. Crawford all expressed surprise at the standard of play in New Zealand at this time, with particular reference to Canterbury, for we now supplied more than half the New Zealand Test XI.
New Zealand Team—Australian Tour, 1913–14
H.J.Tattersall. T.Carlton. N.C.Snedden. J.H.Bennett. C.W.Robinson. R.E.Somervell. R.G.Hickmott. C.Boxshall. D.M.Sandman. D.Reese. S.A.Orchard. L.G.Hemus. W.R.Patrick. B.J.Tuckwell. L.G.Taylor.
We had no sooner got back to Christchurch than Otago was at us again. This team had given us one or two frights, but had not beaten us for some years. On one occasion in Dunedin we lost eight wickets for 66 and looked a goner, when Syd. Orchard, our hard-hitting left-hander, demoralized the attack and, with the help of Bennett and Boxshall, lifted the total to 206. In the second innings we scored 259, Reese making 83, and we eventually won by 245 runs. Humphreys and Bennett were too good for their batsmen. In another match against Otago the “biter was bit.” Emulating Peel and Briggs, I occasionally delivered a ball from about a yard behind the crease. Alloo bowled one of these to me. I hit him hard and high to be caught in front of the sight board! This was meat to the genial Arthur Alloo who had suffered the same fate at my hands in an earlier match. He still chuckles about it and quite recently we had a good laugh over the incident.
In this latest challenge from Otago, Alec Downes, who had not previously captained the southerners, was paid a nice compliment at the end of his long cricketing career by being asked to lead the side. This time there were no exciting moments, as at the finish of the previous match against them. All our batsmen made runs, and an evenly balanced score of 242 enabled Canterbury to win by an innings. I had first played against Downes as far back as Christmas of 1895, when the Fisher-Downes bowling combination was an outstanding feature of New Zealand cricket.
A pleasant surprise was in store for me in this game. At luncheon on the last day, Downes rose and said that when his team heard that Mr. Reese was to be married the week following this match, they felt they would like to make him a presentation, and he then handed me a handsome silver tray inscribed as “a marriage gift from Otago cricketers.” It was a nice tribute from opponents, and remains a treasured possession.
Many more matches were played in these years, for the ordinary inter-provincial games went on as usual, despite the challenges for the Plunket Shield. Although Wellington, in a later period, was to become the best team in the Dominion and the holder of the shield, they were not at this time equal to the strong Auckland and Canterbury XI's.page 386
An amusing incident in a match with Wellington is worth relating. W. Redgrave, an ex-Queenslander, was in the local side and, being a good runner between the wickets, was always on the look-out for the short run. When joined by a young player who persisted in looking in the direction he had hit the ball, even if it was behind the wicket, the Australian was unable to go for those singles that are so easily taken without a call if there is understanding between the batsmen. He remonstrated with the youth, but without effect, for the habit had become ingrained. Presently the lad glanced a ball to fine-leg and turned to watch it race towards the boundary, when Redgrave, who was both humorous and quick-witted, ran the full length of the pitch, touched his partner on the shoulder and ran back to his own end. The ball did not reach the fence!
This period of inter-provincial cricket in New Zealand was among the busiest and brightest years of my career. The Canterbury team had travelled so often that the members all knew each other intimately. Dr, A. J. Orchard managed the team on one of its visits to Auckland and said to me, “Upon my soul, I didn't realize a cricket team could talk so much cricket: it's cricket all the time—and stories!” Yes, we had three or four good story-tellers on our side and we had great fun wherever we went. When I first came back from England, my team mates wanted to know all about Grace and Murdoch; about Ranji and Fry. How did they bat? Was Hirst the same sort of bowler as Frankish, and was Rhodes like Fisher? What was MacLaren like? To say that I had also seen Alfred Shaw and Bobby Peel in flannels was like telling a fairy-tale.
My mess-room stories, most of them new to New Zealand, lasted for a long time and added to the mirth of our travels. It was only the other day that W. R. Patrick said to me, “Do you remember how we used to come along to your room to talk cricket and exchange stories?” In such circumstances there is always a danger of the censored and uncensored getting mixed, but it can be said that there was a restraining influence as there was on board ship. I must tell one that was sprung back upon us by the youngest member of our team. We were in the train going to Auckland. In a lull in the conversation, young McEwen, our new googly bowler, said, “Did you ever hear the story of the cock-eyed butcher?” There was a yell of laughter, for McEwen is the most cross-eyed cricketer I have ever seen. page 387 Had it been an axiom in cricket that a batsman watched the bowler's eyes instead of his fingers, McEwen would have been the most deceptive bowler in the world. The kindest way of referring to a person so afflicted is to say he has a cast in his eye; others might say a squint, but the term used by McEwen is the most expressive of the lot. He was facing Patrick, but looking at me when he asked the question! When the laugh subsided he went on, “Well, there was once a cock-eyed butcher who was going to cut a sheep's throat. He asked a young fellow to hold the sheep's head for him. With knife in hand and about to operate, the butcher was halted by the lad's asking, ‘I say, are you going to cut where you're looking?’
‘Of course I am!’ came the reply.
The boy let go and said, ‘Well, you hold the b … sheep yourself!’”
We laughed and laughed until the tears ran down our cheeks. It was a good story from anyone, but from McEwen…!
It was during one of these talks that I was to learn, with surprise, how incidents on the cricket field can impress the mind of a small boy in a way different from what one would expect. W. R. Patrick was but a lad when Lord Hawke's team visited New Zealand, and ten years later when this tour was being discussed Patrick turned to me and said, “I remember your fielding at cover-point better than I remember your century.” It struck me as a remarkable coincidence when, in 1932, Captain E. W. Ballantine, the noted South African cricket journalist and chronicler of a hundred Test Matches, told me that he would go miles farther to see Bradman's fielding than he would to watch his scoring of centuries.
I finish these sketches with one more Auckland-Canterbury match that is worth recording. The shrewdness of Patrick is disclosed in the incident I quote; it is a study of psychology. Cricketers will know that it is modern practice to open with bowlers who can swing the new ball; they will also know that even a Bosanquet or a Grimmett would bowl a few leg breaks before mixing in an occasional googly. Patrick had figured it out that if a googly was bowled first ball, the batsman would not be prepared for it. The Canterbury XI was in the train on its way to Auckland when Patrick turned to Sandman and said, “If you go on first, will you bowl a googly to begin with?” Everyone laughed, but he was persistent, for he wanted his page 388 theory tried out on Hemus who always proved such a thorn in the flesh of Canterbury. In the end Sandman did open the bowling; he did bowl a googly to start with and, to everyone's amazement and delight, clean bowled Hemus first ball of the match. It was a fine piece of strategy worthy of any class of cricket.
The last ball of this match was to prove as thrilling as the first one. Sandman was also in on this. Canterbury had been left 293 to win. It was even going all the way. Runs kept coming, but wickets kept falling. With the score at nine for 289, Boxshall joined Sandman. Our wicket-keeper was now past the middle forties, had grown rotund and required “nursing” between the wickets. Sandman, ever eager for runs, already had the field rattled. Presently they went for what appeared an easy single. The active Sandy, after running half the length of the pitch with Boxshall having covered not more than a quarter of the distance, decided he had more chance of getting back than our wicket-keeper had of reaching the other end in time. With a yell, the mercurial Sandman called, “Go back!” and wheeling round, scooted for the home base; he ran like a hare to beat the throw in. Both sides were now wildly excited, with the crowd unable to contain itself, but old Boxie steadied his youthful partner, who in the end made the winning hit. And so, sensational is the word that best describes the beginning and the end of a great match.