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Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 31 — My Last Years of Cricket

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Chapter 31
My Last Years of Cricket

Aboard the Victoria with us was the Australian team organized by Arthur Sims, who, though still in his thirties, was now one of New Zealand's leading men of commerce. The Australian Board of Control was at first hesitant to give its consent to the tour, but in the end placed no obstacles in the way. Such names as Noble, Trumper, Armstrong, Laver, Ransford, Collins, Mailey and J. N. Crawford sufficed to ensure great public interest.

In a way, it was a pity that the visit came right on the heels of our Australian tour, for our players now had to ask their employers for more leave the moment they got back. However, this was a small matter compared with the advantages that would accrue from such a galaxy of cricket talent being seen in action in New Zealand. Noble paid Sims a nice compliment by insisting that he captain his own side. The team played dazzling cricket throughout the tour, with Trumper the particular star. I need not refer to all their matches.

The first game against Canterbury will ever remain a memorable one. The home side gave an inglorious display and were all out for 92. The Australians started badly and in a dull light lost five wickets for about 100 before stumps were drawn. Trumper had been held back for the Saturday crowd.

When the great Victor joined Sims we were to witness one of the most amazing exhibitions of batting ever seen in this or any other country. One can quote numerous brilliant performances where a batsman has scored a century in an hour, but to keep this rate up for three hours is another matter! In the end Trumper was out for 293. Sims, in his later years, had become a dashing batsman, but on this occasion he played for Trumper and reverted to the steady, correct style of his youth. The partnership added 433 runs for the eighth wicket and when the innings came to an end the total was 653—Sims 184 not out. It was a splendid innings and a fitting finish to an excellent cricketing career, which included a page 403 season with London County when Grace thought highly of his batting. Sims had captained the New Zealand XI as far back as 1905.

It was rather bad luck that I had ricked a muscle in my left shoulder and was unable to bowl. Wilson, who came into the side to make up for my mishap, was a leg-break bowler of the type of Sandman, so our all-round and varied attack of recent years was not in evidence, but in any case all bowling would have been the same to Trumper that day. Canterbury, in her second innings, made 197. Sandman played splendidly for 80; he was a real batsman at this period of his career.

The first Test Match, at Dunedin, found us in the position I had feared; none of the Aucklanders could come south, so we were not a truly representative side. Sims's team won by seven wickets.

In the second Test, played at Auckland, the Australians fairly overwhelmed New Zealand. Their single innings produced 610 runs, including four centuries. This was the end of the tour; it was also the end of first-class cricket for another four years, for in a few months the first World War was to cast its shadow over all the lands of the earth.

When the war was over, it was found that cricket had been badly hit. The saddest part to us was that Hickmott, Crawshaw and Wilson of the Canterbury XI had been killed in France. These were all lads of great promise. Hickmott, in particular, was a fine all-rounder and to my mind would have become a Warwick Armstrong in New Zealand cricket, for he was a beautiful batsman and bowled “straight” leg-breaks like the great Victorian. His glorious outfielding against Harry Trott's team was a feature of the Canterbury match. His character and temperament made it certain that he would one day have been New Zealand's captain.

I had always said I would never play cricket after I was forty years of age, but, with so many breaks in our ranks, they persuaded me to play in one or two matches. I went to Auckland and this time the northerners gave us a really good beating. S. G. Smith of the West Indian and Northampton sides was now resident in Auckland and was to prove a tower of strength to them for a number of years. On this occasion he made 256 and we lost by an innings. Smith also bowled with success. In the second innings I hit him for three 6's in page 404 one over, but that pace could not last and I was out for 26. I had now put on weight and, like Billy Murdoch in 1903, showed a preference for hitting fours! Roger Blunt played two beautiful innings for 72 and 56; this was his first season in big cricket. Another new face was that of young Dacre. We had heard of his brilliance and chased him as the Victorians chased Trumper when he first came out.

My last appearance was in our next match against Auckland, in Christchurch. S. G. Smith got us on a pitch on which he could spin the ball the width of the wicket. I went in about fifth wicket down and, almost without getting strike, saw three or four wickets fall quickly. Harry Taylor, our wicket-keeper, was last man in; he was a slogger, pure and simple. We both took the long handle and put on 60 runs in half an hour. Taylor's was an extraordinary performance; it mattered not whether it was with or against the break, he hit every ball in the middle of the bat. His hits were mostly wide of mid-on, sometimes over his head; all were powerful strokes. In the end it was his cross bat and a wild swipe that closed the innings. Taylor had made 32 and I was left with 38 not out. The partnership was exciting while it lasted, and lifted the spectators out of their despondency.

The Aucklanders won comfortably. It will be seen that in the years immediately following the war the northerners were again on top. Snedden was now their captain—he had developed into the best all-rounder in the Dominion, and captained New Zealand teams for a number of years.

Patrick succeeded me as captain of the Canterbury XI, and in the next few years helped to rebuild it into a fine side; he was a clever tactician and able leader and, in turn, succeeded Snedden as New Zealand's captain.

This brought to an end my career as a cricketer; it seemed a long way back to my first appearance in 1895.

On the administrative side of the game I was also to gain experience at an early age. When twenty I was elected Honorary Secretary of the Midland Club. A year later I was paid a graceful compliment in being elected captain of the First XI; I had already played five seasons of senior cricket and had all this time played in the Canterbury XI, as well as visiting Australia with the New Zealand team, so may have been thought an experienced player; MacLaren captained page 405 Lancashire on becoming of age, so I was following a good example.

Lancaster Park is the principal football and cricket ground in Christchurch, and on my return from England Mr. Wilding asked me to become a member of the Board. A. M. Ollivier, F. Wilding and W. P. Reeves were the founders of the Park and it was on the former's shoulders, and after his death, Mr. Wilding's, that most of the early cares of management had fallen; some years earlier he had persuaded Charles Clark to become Chairman. Lancaster Park, established in 1881, while a great asset to Christchurch, had proved a liability to the men who became shareholders in the original company. That it had weathered the storm of long years of financial strain and adversity was due entirely to Mr. Wilding. The Canterbury Cricket Association had now taken over the ground, accepted all the liabilities of the company, and placed the management in the hands of a Board of Directors, each Director holding a one shilling share which made up the total subscribed capital of the reconstructed company.

Everyone was anxious to assist in the effort to safeguard for posterity this fine ground. Great as Charles Clark's work had been in the control of Hagley Park, he was now to show even greater administrative ability in steering Lancaster Park through the rapids of difficult times. The company struggled along, with but little improvement in gate takings, and the mortgage on the property continuing to prove a severe handicap. In 1912, when the management was faced with financial difficulties which seemed insurmountable, the Canterbury Rugby Union agreed to join forces with the Cricket Association and paid £1,000 cash to become half owner of the park. A system of ground members was instituted and this ensured a certain fixed income. In response to a further appeal for assistance, generous patrons subscribed several thousand pounds and the greatest crisis in the history of Lancaster Park was over.

The board was now in a position to make much-needed improvements to the ground, for the increasing interest now being shown in Rugby football called for better accommodation for the public. The oval was reduced to the standard size of a county cricket ground, the fine old pavilion was moved to an end-on position, a new grandstand was built at the north- page 406 east corner, the cycling track done away with, and a bigger embankment made around the new oval. These alterations at once made Lancaster Park, more than ever, the finest ground in New Zealand. Now able to cater for a public that watched, with approval, the extensive alterations and improvements carried out, we were not to be given much respite from anxious times, for the work had hardly been finally completed when the first World War broke out. Soon the first drafts of our young men were going overseas; the gate takings for local matches began to dwindle; no touring teams came to the Dominion and all chance of making ends meet faded away. Finally, it was decided to reduce the expenses of upkeep and look for income in other directions; the ground, both the oval and outside area, was ploughed up and put down in potatoes, which ensured at least some return.

In 1919 there was a general desire to have the ground made free of debt for the young sportsmen who were now returning from the war. The Canterbury Commercial Travellers' Association made a handsome offer when it placed its organization at the service of the Board. Cricket and football supporters subscribed sufficient money to purchase three bungalow cottages, and the Association's energetic members then set to work on a series of Art Unions, each with a cottage home as first prize. In a whirlwind canvas of the province they startled everyone by the success of their efforts, and the amount of money raised was more than enough to pay off the entire indebtedness of the park. Their action is remembered with gratitude by the cricketers, footballers and athletes of Canterbury.

All this experience came to me during my cricketing career, and my close association with such men as Wilding and Clark, as well as the Rugby Union representatives on the Board, proved invaluable.

It could be said that Lancaster Park might just as suitably have been renamed to commemorate the memory of the Wilding family, as is the fine tennis ground that to-day bears the name of Wilding Park. It was on Lancaster Park that Anthony Wilding, before going up to Cambridge, played his first representative game in the Canterbury XI and made a successful début. It is perhaps telling a family secret to say that in the first instance Mr. and Mrs. Wilding would have pre- page 407 ferred Anthony to have won his university cricket blue. Any such thoughts soon gave way to pride in his achievements—a pride that was shared by the people of New Zealand—when he became the world's greatest tennis player, and reached heights in the International field not attained by any other New Zealander in any sport. The young champion was to become known in every European capital as well as in America and Australia. His handsome features and magnificent physique made him a figure on the tennis court comparable with that of C. B. Fry on the cricket field. His charm of manner endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. Truly, the name of Wilding will live on in the history of New Zealand cricket and world tennis.

My connection with the New Zealand Cricket Council and the management of the game in this country began immediately after my return from England in 1907. In these early years it was the Council's practice to invite touring teams to visit New Zealand every two or three years, so it will be seen there was much work involved. I served with many splendid men who gave much of their time to the game. A member of the executive all through my cricketing days, I was able to bring experience of first-class cricket to our counsels. My business took me to many parts of New Zealand and to Australia. I was thus in close touch with the players and authorities throughout our own country as well as the Commonwealth. In the late twenties I was made chairman of the Executive and three years later was elected President of the New Zealand Council.

The Australian tours of New Zealand were always profitable ventures, and contributed largely to the working expenses of the Council. English teams, while always including some attractive players, were sometimes less successful, partly due to the high steamer fares. Lord Hawke's team was the one exception.

In the more recent English teams that visited this country, players such as MacLaren, Chapman, Duleepsinhji, Woolley and Hammond played brilliant cricket, but rank and file batsmen were often stodgy in the extreme. In these post-war years New Zealand will need to revise her International programme. Great Test sides, like Jardine's and Allen's, showed us cricket of the world's highest standard, but fleeting page 408 visits at the end of an Australian tour cannot benefit our cricket in the way other English and Australian teams have done when making complete tours of the country and playing games against teams of the major and minor associations as well as Test teams.

The tours of England by New Zealand teams opened up a new field for our players and gave greater opportunities for distinction than against crack Australian State teams on their own fast wickets. When I saw Dempster play on his return from the first tour of England I thought, “Here's the best batsman New Zealand has produced.” There was no doubt that this country now had more good batsmen than ever before. The same could not be said of the bowlers, some of whom could not even keep a length. One thought of how differently Lowry would have been served had he been able to call upon Fisher and Downes, or Frankish and Upham.