Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Quote: “A lot of schoolboys who got into long trousers for the first time”
By: Tom Lowry to the British Sportsmen’s Club, April 1927.
New Zealand cricket of the early 20th century involved hosting touring English sides for a handful of matches, mostly to serve as a break during Australian tours. While this often guaranteed them quality cricket, this also meant that there was hardly ever a full tour.
The Englishmen made a detour of New Zealand during the 1876-77 tour of Australia. Ted Pooley was arrested for gambling in New Zealand during, and was sent to Christchurch for the trial just before the boat left for Australia. This meant he missed out on being part of the first ever Test.
Surprisingly, no English side visited New Zealand between 1887-88 and 1902-03, though a touring team of English footballers played a solitary one-day cricket match against Canterbury in 1888-89. The tourists were a strong cricket side, including Drewy Stoddart, Arthur Shrewsbury, and James Lillywhite Jr. Over this period, England and Australia had toured each other nine times.
However, several Australian teams toured New Zealand over this time and mostly won by humongous margins. New Zealand sometimes made return trips. Fiji toured them once, in 1894-95.
But despite her proximity to Australia, New Zealand cricket largely grew up almost unnoticed. Perhaps the isolation did them good, for women’s cricket developed better than in any country in the pre-War era.
There was considerable women’s cricket in New Zealand even in the 1840s and 1850s, though not many competitive ones. In 1883, William Outhwatte published The Ladies Guide to Cricket, by a Lover of Both, with a Glossary of Technical Terms and Cricket Slang and the Laws of Cricket.
Greg Ryan’s seminal work, The Making of New Zealand Cricket 1832 – 1914, lists several early women’s matches. There is mention of a women’s match as far back as New Year’s Day, 1867, at Greytown in the Wairarapa. By 1900 Canterbury Women and Wellington Women had formed a rivalry of some significance. Matches between girls’ schools also became a common fixture.
Ryan has reproduced a speech by one Miss Butler, Headmistress of Auckland Girls’ Grammar, when she presented a bat to a member of the 1st XI: “I am only fearful that, seeing an embryo W. G. Grace in one of my school’s daughters, Mr Tibbs will want her to play for the boys’ school … The boys may be scornful about a girl getting 101 runs.”
All this probably explain why New Zealand Women have typically ranked in the top three in the world and have consistently done better than their men in their respective sports: they had started early.
But let us return to the 1902-03 tour, the first full tour of New Zealand by an English side (though they played once in USA and thrice in Australia en route). Plum Warner led the squad in the absence of Lord Hawke, who had to opt out after his mother fell ill. The tourists played 18 matches in New Zealand and won every single one.
MCC sent another team to New Zealand in 1906-07 after an argument between Australian states led to an Ashes tour getting cancelled. Every major New Zealand state association then assured MCC £500 and each minor association £100. MCC rescheduled their tour.
This time the tourists won 10 and drew 4, but also lost 2 – to Canterbury and Wellington. However, as Peter Wynne-Thomas pointed out, the MCC side consisted of only five county players and four university players.
Roughly around this time, the locals figured out that rugby was suited more to the local rains than cricket. Rugby was not the only competition either. Back in 1886, the following report appeared in Press: “We do not wish to decry cricket or to make out that tennis is a superior game. We only assert our belief that if it be true that cricket is less popular than it was, it is largely owing to the increased popularity of tennis.”
A strange sense of self-deprecation did not help things either. Consider the statement by the Cricketers of Otago to George Parr’s English side when the latter toured in 1863-64: “As humble imitators at these distant antipodes of your famous deeds in England, we gladly hail the opportunity of witnessing the excellence to which your prowess has brought the manliest of English pastimes…
“To look for anything like success in the forthcoming struggle, when pitted against the Champions of the world, would be presumptuous on our part, but you will be glad to learn that no exertion has been wanting to select the best twenty-two our province can boast of to take the field against you.”
Evening Post adopted a similar tone when Lillywhite brought his team in 1877-78: “The fact that a dozen of the most renowned English players of England’s great national game find it worthwhile to travel all the way to New Zealand and play matches in half-a-dozen different parts of the colony, tends to direct hither the attention of many classes who would otherwise no nothing of New Zealand but its name.”
Contrast this with Australianism. Despite the geographical proximity, the two countries have never been similar in their approach towards cricket.
A combination of poor performances and dwindling interest thus pushed New Zealand cricket to the doldrums in the 1920s.
Despite their consistent failures, however, the Imperial Cricket Council invited the NZCC delegates (along with their Indian and West Indian counterparts) to their 1926 meeting. They awarded full membership to “governing bodies of cricket in countries within the Empire to which cricket teams are sent, or which send teams to England”.
This had more to do with involving the colonies than cricketing merit, for while cricket in India or West Indies had advanced rapidly in the 1920s, the same was not true for New Zealand. Of course, they had a decent First-Class structure in place.
However, unlike the other two, the New Zealand Cricket Council was firmly in place (WICB was founded on May 31, 1926; BCCI would take another three years). They had not sent a team to England until then, which was to be rectified the summer after.
The New Zealanders were modest even on arrival. Tom Lowry, captain of the touring squad, told the British Sportsmen’s Club that his team consisted of “Britishers anxious to appear on the cricket map, and accordingly came Home not to beat the best sportsmen but to learn the rules as England taught them … [they] felt like a lot of schoolboys who had got into long trousers for the first time.”
And yet, despite the undertone, New Zealand punched well above weight on their tour, especially by their standards at that time. They won 7 First-Class matches, drew 14, and lost 5 in a wet summer. They raised their standards on a difficult tour.
In other words, New Zealand did exactly they are doing in world cricket even now – perform consistently against expectations.
For once, Wisden shed off their cautious tone: “With scarcely an exception they played an enterprising game and in most instances made their runs in a style which told of intelligent coaching,”
The only discipline that failed them on that tour was catching, a rare occurrence in New Zealand history. “The out cricket improved with constant practice, but catches were too often grounded,” summarised Wynne-Thomas.
James Parr, New Zealand High Commissioner, Sir James Parr, kept the tradition of humility alive: “The ties that held New Zealand and the home country together were ties of affection and loyalty which such visits helped to strengthen. Such ties were stronger than written constitutions or bonds of steel. The team had played good cricket and had also been missioners of Empire.”
Just over two years later, New Zealand became the fifth side to play Test cricket.