“A day before his 80th birthday, Bevan Congdon passed away. Strangely, his death occurred on the 40th anniversary of the start of the Wellington Test of 1978, the match that saw New Zealand post their first win against England”.
“Perhaps he has a weakness in the 170s,” remarked the jovial voice of Brian Johnston over the BBC microphone.
That was at Lord’s in 1973, when New Zealand captain Bevan Congdon had snicked Chris Old into the gloves of Alan Knott after scoring 175.
Johnston had his reasons.
Congdon’s previous innings, at Trent Bridge, had seen the Kiwis the New Zealanders attempt to overhaul a near-impossible target of 479. Congdon had walked in at 16 for 1, and had been dismissed for 176, fifth out at 307. New Zealand had totaled 440.
Later, Congdon was asked how he had prepared for Test cricket in his nondescript South Island hometown. Congdon’s answer had been typical of the man. “The net pitches in Motueka prepare one for anything.”
That was during an incredible 9-Test period during which Congdon scored 955 runs at 79.58 with 4 centuries. It had started in West Indies in 1972, when he had scored 531 runs in the 5 tall-scoring Tests at 88.50. As if that was not enough, he had picked up 13 wickets as well with his medium pace, at 34.30.
Yet, this was very much the exception rather than the rule. Congdon was not really a world-class batsman.
He did walk in at No 3 for most of his career, but that had more to do with the rather ordinary New Zealand batting than his personal brilliance. His 61 Tests brought him a rather modest sum of 3448 runs at 32.22, and his part-time medium pacers tasted success a non-trivial 59 times, at 36.50.
But Congdon did contribute significantly in the development of New Zealand cricket. He led the Kiwis in 17 Tests. The underdogs of world cricket won only one of those games, but that single win was a source of eternal inspiration. That came against the next-door neighbours, the cricketing superpower Australia. The same Australia led by Ian Chappell and containing stalwarts like Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, the same Australia that had snobbishly refused to play them for nearly three decades after one solitary tour in 1946.
That triumph came at Christchurch. Congdon won the toss and inserted the opposition. And then he picked up three vital wickets with his medium pacers. Following this ace opener, Glenn Turner scored two hundreds in the match and the mighty Aussies were defeated. Of course, a young fast bowler called Richard Hadlee did help matters with seven wickets in the match.
It was after this win that the world started taking New Zealand seriously. Ian Chappell’s men won the third Test and the series was drawn, but that 1-1 result was a tremendous boost for the younger cricketing nation.
Congdon led New Zealand in their first ever ODI as well. That was against Pakistan at Lancaster Park in 1973. He scored just 3, but captured 2 for 17 in the 22-run win.
But as a batsman, Congdon was rather superb in the shorter format. In 11 matches he scored 338 runs with a remarkable average of 56.33. He also boasted a strike rate of 71.61, more than impressive for his time.
Congdon also served as a New Zealand selector after his retirement as a cricketer.
A day before his 80th birthday, Bevan Congdon passed away. Strangely, his death occurred on the 40th anniversary of the start of the Wellington Test of 1978, the match that saw New Zealand post their first win against England. Congdon, 40 years old, had played in that game, scoring 44 in the first innings and picking up 2 wickets for 14 in England’s first essay.
He played a significant part in a lot of New Zealand cricket’s early successes.