Friday, May 25, 2012

New Zealand's Wisden Cricketers of the Year - winning is a habit

A Crowe cover-drive: poetry
Since the end of the 1979/80 summer and a series victory against the West Indies at home, New Zealand has continued to record any number of firsts. They went 12 years unbeaten at home in a test series following what was a spiteful series marred by some of the worst acts seen on a cricketing field. The actions of Windies legends Colin Croft, Michael Holding and future ICC Match Referee Clive Lloyd sully my memories of the start of an era of West Indian dominance. How severe would Lloyd have been in his official capacity on players who shoulder charged an umpire, kicked stumps out of the ground when a decision didn’t go their way, or kept their charges in the changing rooms as a protest for 12 minutes after play was due to resume?

However the true measure of New Zealand’s success is that there are now fewer firsts and more repeat performances – through the 1980s and ‘90s New Zealand moved forward as never before. The West Indies series is a piece of modern cricketing history - not because of the New Zealand victory but for the Windies loss. It would be the last series loss for the Caribbean kings in 15 years as their fearsome pace quartet and explosive batting intimidated and dominated the international cricketing landscape - Fire in Babylon has enabled many to relive the Calypso cricketing carnage.

I grew up in what is undoubtedly New Zealand's most successful era; a period highlighted by a first series victory against England in the United Kingdom and our first taste of ICC silverware with victory in the ICC Knock Out tournament in Kenya to usher in a new hope for the 21st century. 

Over the past 30 years New Zealand has displayed a competitiveness and respectability unrivalled in decades past. The paradox is that as a young cricketer I wanted to bowl like Marshall and bat like King Viv - later it was Ambrose and Richie Richardson. I was the exception when we picked players in backyard battles - dibs on Crowe and Hadlee were the cause of many a playground spat. My choice of idols shouldn’t be seen as a slight on the quality of the Kiwi greats - people tend to be drawn to the extremes of traits they don't possess - I'm introverted and cautious.

Richard Hadlee – Wisden 1982
As the most influential cricketer of his era and New Zealand’s finest ever player, I discussed Hadlee in a previous blog dedicated solely to his talents - genius deserves singularity.

Jeremy Coney – 1984
Batting – Tests: 52 Innings: 85, Not outs: 14, Runs: 2668, High score: 174*, Average: 37.57, 100s: 3, 50s: 16

To spectators in New Zealand Coney is in some ways a mystery. Until the last few seasons his cricket record was more promising than impressive. Now, after several spine-tingling finishes, his efforts have brought recognition as well as success. Unlike many of his contemporaries he regards international cricket as an experience unparalleled in joy and excitement.
          Wisden 1984

After 52 years and 29 tests of trying New Zealand finally tasted victory against the might of England at Headingly in the second test of their 1983 tour. Though they eventually lost the four test series 3-1, it was a victory that will forever remain in the hearts of all those involved. Though he struggled with the bat, Coney took two valuable wickets in each innings – as with much of his career he was seldom the star but he loved test cricket and was wholehearted in his endeavours.

Throughout the ’83 tour Coney showed a grit and determination that belied his statistics – it is hard to put a number on courage at the crease and pride in one’s country. He impressed many in the English game with his continued efforts regardless of the difficulty of the situation. 

Of the 12 players I’ve reviewed, Coney had the least spectacular numbers when named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year but in a year when the World Cup was played at the spiritual home of cricket he obviously impressed editor John Woodcock – the prize is one coveted by every cricketer and it can never be taken away.

Jeremy Vernon Coney was one of those rare cricketers who thrived on the competition and pressure of test cricket; a level that took him outside the comfort zone of the New Zealand first class scene. A poor man’s Chanderpaul, Coney was at his best when the odds were heavily stacked against him and his countrymen. Early in his career Coney saw occupation of the crease as the way to benefit his side. Once he got his legs at the highest level he developed his attacking game quickly, though he was never the vision of a coaching manual illustration.

Coney bowled what seemed innocuous little swingers (think Nathan Astle but slower and delivered from a far greater height) but his overs were often invaluable to tie up an end or break a partnership with his golden arm. As a slipper, with hands like buckets, he was fantastic, and with Richard Hadlee in the side he got plenty of practise.

Invigorated by a challenge, the lanky Kiwi captain had a test average that dwarfed his efforts at first class level. With an average over 37 Coney was a model of consistency in an era where there were few easy tests – Zimbabwe and Bangladesh had yet to be awarded test status, Sri Lanka was in the early throes at international level and one doesn’t get to play against their own. Most disappointing would be that he only went past 100 on three occasions at the highest level though he was dismissed in the 90s on another three occasions. 

A whole hearted cricketer, Coney will be remembered most for his captaincy. Besides a childish silence with Hadlee in one test Coney was regarded as a captain who created harmony in the dressing room and made the best of limited resources. His side were often a disparate lot; Hadlee, and latterly Crowe, were fully paid professionals while others were hard working amateurs who played only a short first class season at home.

Coney made his first class debut as an 18 year old for a New Zealand XI against Auckland though he played all of his 17 years in Plunket Shield cricket for Wellington. In 165 matches he amassed close to 8000 runs at 35 and sniped 111 wickets – his figures at all levels were not magical but he was someone everyone wanted in their side.

The Mantis’ test career didn’t kick off in the traditional manner. He replaced an injured Glenn Turner in Australia in 1973/4 and arrived with a heavily taped bat from his Onslow Club in Wellington – today he’d have had half a dozen bats and enough kit to fill two coffins. Coney made his debut as a raw 21 year old in the second test in Sydney in early 1974 and frustrated the Australians with a pedestrian 45 in over two hours.

Three tests later, following New Zealand’s first test victory against the Aussies in Christchurch, he was dropped after scoring just 123 runs in seven innings. What followed was a five year international hiatus before re-joining the test side for the 1979/80 home series against Pakistan. 

Coney didn’t score his first test hundred until his 44th innings against the touring English in 1983/4 – it had been a lengthy wait but once he finally dropped the stigma he made sure he made it count. His 174 not out in an eight hour stay during the first test at The Basin enabled New Zealand to salvage a draw when a devastating loss beckoned. The draw meant the Kiwis were able to win the series on the back of an innings victory at Christchurch; their first against their English foes, and New Zealand were set for a period of unparalleled success.

After assuming the captaincy in Pakistan in 1984/5 Coney took the reins as skipper for 15 of his 52 tests including series victories against Australia, home and away, in the same season and a historic first series win in England. 

In the fourth and final test of the 1984/5 West Indies tour Coney fractured an arm after a barrage from Marshall and Garner at the notoriously difficult Sabina Park; a graveyard for touring batsmen. I remember it being played ad nauseum on the six o’clock news bulletin - there were only two channels in New Zealand at the time! But far from being angered by the intimidation of the Windies quicks I wanted to go outside, bowl quick and bounce people. Then at night I’d dream of hooking and pulling the Windies quartet instead of ducking and weaving, and doing it all in a Richie Richardson style wide brimmed floppy! My love affair with West Indies cricket was born out of the brutality that ended Coney’s tour.

Ever the man for a crisis, Coney showed his cricketing intelligence and fighting spirit in the third test of the 1985/6 Pakistan series at Carisbrook. New Zealand was in dire straits at 4-23 when Coney strode to the crease with the 278 victory target seemingly out of reach. Leading 1-0 in the series New Zealand required at least a draw to win the series and when Lance Cairns was taken off the field on a stretcher, and straight to hospital with a suspected hairline fracture to the skull after being felled by a bouncer, Ewen Chatfield stumbled nervously to the wicket. New Zealand was nine down and 50 runs were still required; playing for time was out of the question. Coney, on his way to an impressive 111 not out, worked with and coerced Chatfield through to 21 not out off 84 deliveries and had every true blue Kiwi sports fan believing more and more by the minute. When the final run was struck for an unlikely victory the look on the faces of all those at the ground was surreal – a touch of disbelief mixed with the realisation they had witnessed something truly remarkable

To provide some context for those outside our shores, Chatfield’s abilities with the willow were only slightly better than New Zealand’s modern great Chris Martin. His test average was just eight and he had nearly died at the crease on debut when he was struck by a Peter Lever bouncer - his heart stopped, he swallowed his tongue and needed to be resuscitated!

Coney led New Zealand to their first test series victory (2-1) against Australia, in Australia, in the early part on the 1985/6 summer. It was only their third series victory on foreign shores, having previously overcome Pakistan and new boys Sri Lanka. He followed it up by helping his band of merry men to a return series victory later in the same summer when Australia visited our cooler climes. In his three innings in the series Coney led from the front with successive scores of 101 not out, 98 and 93 – at times he singlehandedly led the Kiwis forward and deserved three back to back tons. He completed a rare treble as captain when New Zealand won their first series victory in England – the series is covered in detail in my previous piece on Sir Richard Hadlee.

He bowed out of international cricket after a five wicket victory in the third test against the Windies in Christchurch to secure a draw in the 1986/7 series when most sides were swept aside by the mighty Calypso Kings.

Jeremy Coney played international cricket in a highly competitive manner but he saw our great game for what is was – an opportunity to represent your country doing something your love. For Coney cricket wasn’t life and death – he strove to win but generally did it with a smile on his face – the essence of a man who is comfortable within himself and his lot in life.

His attitude was never better illustrated than in a World Series Cup match against India in 1980/1.  India was in trouble before Kapil Dev took the long handle to everything, as only an elite group can, scoring 75 off 51. After two huge sixes off his bowling Coney stood at the top of his mark, removed the white handkerchief from his pocket and waved it in feigned surrender.

In an interview in The Wisden Cricketer (Feb 28, 2010) Edward Craig quizzed Coney about his regrets in cricket; he replied he had “a slight regret but look, does it matter? No! Cricket is the greatest triviality in the world” – that accurately sums up the man and the cricketer.

Martin Crowe – 1985
Batting – Tests: 77 Innings: 131, Not outs: 11, Runs: 5444, High score: 299, Average: 54.36, 100s: 17, 50s: 18

I was up against a guy in form, and it was a fantastic experience in the sense that it frightened the death out of me. All of a sudden I would forget about technique, or just batting. It was total instinct, like fighting blow for blow. Looking back, it upset me that I lost control; at the same time, I had the technique and ability to get through it while I was taking blows and giving a few back. I'll need that experience again one day, especially against West Indies.
         Martin Crowe, on his battle with Andy Roberts in County Cricket, Wisden 1985

Prophetic words from a young man still finding his way in the upper echelons of our great game and an insight into the mind of a tortured genius.

Martin David Crowe joined Somerset in 1984 as a 21 year old to fill the shoes, or at least use his socks and put the shoes at the front door, of county favourite Sir Viv Richards who was on duty for the all-conquering West Indies on their tour to England. His debut season started poorly with five consecutive single figure scores in late May and Crowe admits to bouts of homesickness and doubt over his ability to compete as a professional on a daily basis.

He quashed those insecurities in the best way he knew how with four centuries in consecutive Championship matches on his way to over 700 runs at 140 plus in June - by the end of his first season Crowe had amassed a Championship tally of 1870 first-class runs. In addition, 44 wickets with his brisk, aggressive medium-fast bowling helped Crowe to one of the most memorable debut County seasons in many years. Somerset got a great return from the young Kiwi but Crowe and New Zealand were the true benefactors – the young maestro developed a maturity that would have taken years in Plunket Shield cricket and saw first-hand the professionalism spoken of by Turner and Hadlee.

Many, Crowe included, believe an innings against Championship leaders Leicestershire was the turning point in a very young career – it opened his eyes to his true talent and how best to use all his strengths, mental included, to succeed at the highest level. Against the silent aggression of the alpha quick, Andy Roberts, in a rampant mood, Crowe stop thinking and just started batting; trusting a developing technique, a quick cricketing mind and swift, precise footwork. He made 70 not out in a dismal first innings scorecard at Taunton and then showed his growth with a punishing 190 in the second innings when the fire had left the wicket. The lessons taught by Roberts would not be lost on the young pupil as he embarked on what was to be a prodigious career.

Nicknamed Hogan, as a batsman Crowe was technically proficient with an arsenal of strokes to combat any attack. What set him apart was an extraordinary cricket brain – he was one of the true thinkers and innovators in our great game and his talent allowed him to back it up. Crowe seemingly had unlimited time to see the ball and play his shots – a trait synonymous with only the very best test cricketers. But what I most remember of him growing up was one of the most beautiful and technically correct cover drives in world cricket – I spent hours trying to emulate it in the mirror.

After leaving Auckland Grammar School, where he also played in one of the better first XVs in the country, alongside Grant Fox, Crowe spent a year on the Lord’s ground staff in 1981 and then returned the following season to play League Cricket. He was slowly building on his cricket education – genius doesn’t happen by chance! That genius was fostered by his father, Dave, who played a handful of matches in New Zealand domestic cricket and his older brother Jeff, who captained his country. 

Unfortunately for everyone involved in New Zealand cricket, and I include fans in that, injuries curtailed his career going to the very top of the mountain. Crowe was undeniably a Kiwi great and a feared cricketer around the world but had his career not been so blighted by injury one can only imagine his ascension. A back injury early in his county career put a stop to his bowling whilst hamstring problems, most notably in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, and in the later part of his career his knees, meant we were often watching a hobbled master, if we saw him at all.

When he first donned the whites for Auckland in their Plunket Shield campaign in January 1990, a 17 year old Crowe was the youngest debutant in New Zealand first class cricket history. He struck 51 in that first innings against Canterbury - 247 matches and near on 20,000 runs later Crowe pulled the pin with a staggering first class average of over 56. In 18 years Crowe played for three New Zealand provinces; Auckland, Central Districts and Wellington, as well as a short stint with Somerset.

By the time he embarked on his county career Crowe had already played 13 tests - he was still only 21, but had 2 years of test cricket under his belt. After a strong debut season in 1984 Crowe returned to lead Somerset in 1987 after Botham, Garner and Richards had left in a cloud of controversy – he was on a hiding to nothing. The English media was hard for him to deal with and the Somerset dressing room didn’t offer much solace. Though he played a handful of matches in 1988, Crowe played out his domestic career in New Zealand.

Crowe made his test debut against a brutal Australian side as a headstrong 19 year old and developed one of New Zealand’s best test records over the next 14 years. Barring a string of injuries he would have played more often than he did and the mind boggles as to what he could have achieved. In 71 test matches Crowe amassed 17 test centuries – he scored  a test ton against each nation bar South Africa, managing a top score of 83 against the Proteas on their reintroduction to world cricket after an enforced break because of apartheid.

As a 19 year old in just his eighth test match, Crowe struck his maiden century against England at The Basin on their 1983/4 tour to our shores. Up against an attack that included Willis and Botham Crowe announced his arrival to those who doubted his mettle. However his achievement was overshadowed by another maiden hundred for one of his peers – Jeremy Coney struck 174 not out to ensure New Zealand escaped with a deserved draw. 

Though he played just 7 tests against the Windies, all whilst he Calypso Kings were at the height of their powers, Crowe was one of the few whose average matched that of the rest of his career. In seven tests he struck three centuries, showed boundless guts and demonstrated a technique that was well equipped for the rigours of the thorough examination of the Windies’ pace quartet. His second 100 was a memorable 188 at Georgetown in the 1984/85 series against an attack including Garner, Holding and Marshall. He used what he had learned against Roberts a year earlier at Taunton to kick on against a fearsome Windies attack, batting for a shade under 10 hours - his longest innings to date.

Two years later in the 1986/ 7 home series Crowe added another two century knocks, back to back in the first two tests, against a bowling line-up that had added young tearaway Courtney Walsh. Off the back of some superb batting New Zealand managed to draw the three test series 1-1. Crowe showed he was able to occupy the crease as the four quicks tired but launched an array of brutal hooks and pulls to help regain momentum when the opportunity arose.

Though he was later to narrowly miss out on a career defining triple hundred, Crowe’s coup de grace, like Hadlee’s, was the first test of the 1985/6 Australian series - New Zealand’s largest victory against their trans-Tasman rivals. His second score of 188 was equal parts concentration and aggression and helped New Zealand capitalise on the record-breaking efforts of Sir Richard. It enabled one of New Zealand’s greatest sides to start their tour with a defining success and led them to their first series victory against Australia, in the early part of the 1985/86 summer.

Another Crowe hundred in the return series later in the summer enabled New Zealand to sneak a draw when a loss looked the most likely result. Crowe’s 137 in the second test in Christchurch was something of a dual effort when he left the field after being struck in the jaw by a Bruce Reid bouncer. When Crowe returned he attacked with ruthless ferocity and took the initiative away from the Aussies. A Kiwi victory in the following test meant they had won back to back series against Border’s side. A superb batsman, Crowe’s efforts with the willow complemented Sir Richard Hadlee's bowling to help raise the profile of New Zealand cricket.

Crowe replaced John Wright as captain for the 1990/1 tour to Pakistan, suffering the ignominy of a first up innings defeat and a 3-0 series whitewash. He led his side in 16 of his 72 tests though many of the players struggled to buy into his theories on the game – the 1992 Cricket World Cup aside.

21 years after his 299 against Sri Lanka at The Basin in 1991/2, Crowe’s partnership with the enigmatic Andrew Jones still sits at number three as the highest test partnership for any wicket – at the time it broke new ground; Crowe’s near miss is still the highest individual test score by a New Zealander. As a school boy still learning the game I spent the best part of five full days ensconced on the couch watching two of my childhood heroes, the unorthodox and late blooming Andrew Jones and the batting ultimate, Crowe – I remember throwing my figurative, and some actual, toys when he was dismissed by Ranatunga, trying to run the ball to third man for a single. It was a meek, and disappointing, end to a knock for the ages.

Over 10 hours Crowe treated all to a fantastic display of batsmanship at The Basin. Much was made in the New Zealand media of his bat smashing antics as he left the ground but when missing out on a milestone so close you could touch it, is it not simply human nature? Players are human and fallible - not role models of virtue setting an example for impressionable youngsters. I had spent the early parts of the match watching the diminutive Sri Lankan dynamo, Aravinda de Silva destroy an inexperienced New Zealand bowling attack – I was ready to give up any burgeoning opportunities with the ball.

New Zealand’s 1994 tour of England was dismal at best – a 1-0 series loss in the three test series and only one county win in a dozen first class matches. Dion Nash added his name to the Lord’s honours board but there were very few positives – Crowe was one. He often played with a noticeable limp from recent knee surgery but his class was undeniable. In 16 first class innings on tour Crowe topped both aggregates and averages with over 650 runs at a touch under 47 – including three 100s and three 50s. In six test innings he stroked two centuries on his way to a series high 380 runs at over 60. Crowe’s 142 in the second test at Lord’s showed New Zealand what a loss he was going to be and reminded all those in their bacon and egg ties that they were seeing one of the game’s finest craftsmen. He had previously got his name on the board with 106 in the first test of the 1986 tour – that was Crowe’s fifth test century and announced himself to English watchers as a player of world class ability. But for Crowe’s efforts the series could conceivably have been lost in a whitewash.

The England series was the beginning of the end – injuries were rapidly removing Crowe’s reliability at the highest level. He had struggled in the years post the 1992 Cricket World Cup and was a shadow of his former self. By the time he went to South Africa in 1994/5 he was on his way out but like many before him he was blind to the signs. When your life has been defined by cricket it must be hard to have the clarity of thought to understand when to call time. In both South Africa and India Crowe was little more than a passenger in the field but he could never be dropped.

Crowe finally bowed out during the tour of India in 1995/6, a series NZ lost 1-0 – it would have been worse but for the tour being scheduled during the Monsoon season. Continued nagging injuries to his knees proved too much for Crowe – the fluidity of his footwork was now mortal and his running was more club than great. It is always sad to see the ability of a great player lessened by factors beyond his control. An aggregate of just 50 in his three innings during the test series didn’t provide the fairytale farewell all cricketers; legend or journeyman, long for.

Crowe retired as New Zealand’s highest runs scorer though he was subsequently passed by Stephen Fleming – one of the few New Zealand cricketers to show glimpses of Crowe’s captaincy insight and cricket understanding.

At test level Crowe was a true craftsman; in the ODI arena his influence was borne out in the 1992 Cricket World Cup. One of my enduring memories was his dominance in the tournament hosted jointly in New Zealand and Australia – both as a batsmen and a captain. He transformed a team with a number of stars at the backend of their careers, nonsensically marketed as the Young Guns, into the most dynamic side in the tournament.

Crowe changed how limited overs’ cricket was played with more thought given to bowling plans and fields than had been seen before at international level. He set the cat among the pigeons, or the Kiwi amongst the Kangaroos, by using Dipak Patel, an offspinner, to open the bowling and disrupt the mindset of batsmen who were seldom at the crease when spinners entered the attack – it set the scene and the others jumped on board. Patel was backed by a bowling line-up of innocuous medium pacers who simply bowled to the captain’s strategy. Ever the innovator, Crowe promoted Mark Greatbatch to the top of the order to attack the bowling without restriction – much as Kaluwitharana and Jayasuriya later did for Sri Lanka.

The scene was set when the Kiwis defeated tournament favourites Australia at Eden Park in the opening match thanks to a dominant century by the skipper. New Zealand didn’t taste defeat until their eighth and final pool game against Pakistan. In a Pakistan repeat in the semi-final at Eden Park Crowe top-scored in a powerful Kiwi total but he tore his hamstring, finishing his innings with a runner. 262 should have been enough and though his side did an admirable job, with captain Crowe unable to field they looked a less inspired and assured side. Inzamam played an innings of genius for such a young man; his display of hitting was otherworldly.  Crowe’s master plan relied on him pulling the strings and Wright, though competent, simply didn’t have the same understanding of the strategy. Had Crowe remained on the field many assert New Zealand would have disposed of Pakistan and been at evens to beat England’s baby blue Dad’s Army in pursuit of their first taste of international success.

Crowe was named Man of the Series, at the end of the round robin, and led both averages and aggregates for the tournament. In nine innings has stroked 456 runs, at an average of 114, having only been dismissed on four occasions.

Post his playing days Crowe has continued to be an influential figure in our great game, both domestically and internationally. He developed Cricket Max, a forerunner to the T20 era, has worked as a commentator and producer on SkyTV and was the Director of Cricket for the Royal Challengers Bangalore when the IPL was launched. He attempted to make a comeback as a player in the 2011/12 season for Auckland’s Cornwall Cricket Club at 49 but again his body gave out and it amounted to little more than media headlines – more’s the pity – Crowe would have shown young club cricketers an example of application and true batsmanship that few will ever see.

He is a long time mentor to Ross Taylor – every cricket fan in New Zealand is desperate that even a modicum of his talent and cricketing brain rubs off on the current Kiwi skipper.

Chris Cairns -2000
Batting – Tests: 62, Innings: 104, Not outs: 5, Runs: 3320, High score: 158, Average: 33.53, 100s: 5, 50s: 22
Bowling – Balls: 11698, Runs: 6410, Wickets: 218, Best bowling: 7/27, Average: 29.40, Economy: 3.28, Strike rate: 53.6, 5 wickets (innings): 13, 10 wickets (match): 1

1999 was a golden year for Christopher Lance Cairns. He was able to carry over his purple patch of form from the Cricket World Cup into New Zealand’s successful tour of England and establish himself as the game’s pre-eminent all-rounder.

In the third of his four World Cup tournaments Cairns bludgeoned 182 runs at 36.40, and took 12 wickets at 27. Only Geoff Allott was better - his 20 wickets setting a tournament record shared with the incomparable Shane Warne. As in 1992, New Zealand was knocked out in the semi-finals by Pakistan. Cairns struck a powerful 44 not out, at a run a ball, to add respectability to the New Zealand total before Saeed Anwar destroyed the Kiwi attack with an unbeaten hundred – Cairns took the only wicket to fall. Many Kiwis ignore the final outcome and only remember Cairns’ powerful 60 to get his side across the line in the round robin stages against eventual champions Australia.

That hitting power proved to be vital in New Zealand’s tour of England. In the four test series Cairns amassed183 runs at 30.50 and topped the Kiwi wicket haul with 19 scalps at 21.26. England took the honours in the first test, and home supporters, and likely some of the players, saw an English series victory as a certainty – history agreed. However New Zealand was now coached by rugged Australian taskmaster Steve Rixon and they had started to grow a backbone during his tenure. The Kiwis showed a resilience unseen in New Zealand cricketing circles for many years and a belief in their individual and collective abilities – at the core of that was a swashbuckling Chris Cairns.

New Zealand coasted to a nine wicket victory in the second test at Edgbaston, thanks in no small part to Cairns’ 6-77 in England’s disappointing first innings total of 186, and Kiwi fortunes looked on the improve with the series level with two to play. The third test produced no result due to unseasonal English summer rain and whilst England had dominated most sessions New Zealand went into the fourth test at The Oval with an opportunity to create their own slice of history. 

Led by Cairns, a resurgent Black Caps side produced an unlikely 83 run victory and a 2-1 series win – the scenes in the changing rooms at the home of Surrey Cricket paralleled those of the 1986 side who won New Zealand’s first series in England. Cairns paved the way with 5-31 in England’s first innings of 153 in reply to a modest Kiwi total; however, the defining moment of the series came in New Zealand’s second innings with the Kiwis staggering at 6-39. When Cairns was caught and bowled by Alan Mullally 25 overs and 110 runs later to leave his side at 8-149, he had powered his way to a 93-ball 80.  The balance of power had been tipped in New Zealand’s favour by an innings reminiscent of Botham’s Ashes heroics in 1981. Cairns was especially harsh on Tufnell, hoisting him for four enormous sixes – each blow deflated England as it lifted the New Zealanders in the away dressing room. Only a return catch that defied belief from the oft clumsy Mullally stopped what would have been a career-defining hundred. It was apt that Cairns claimed his only second innings wicket dismissing Mullally to close out the victory. Conversely, the loss rooted England to the bottom of the test rankings, in the wake of both Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

Chris Cairns was as close as New Zealand has come to reproducing Richard Hadlee – not as close as a nation might like but a fantastic allrounder nonetheless. Growing up as the son of a cult hero was a lot to live up to but it didn’t take long for the ‘son of Lance’ moniker to die down – as his career flourished Lance became known as ‘Chris’ dad”.

After making his debut for Northern Districts as an 18 year old, Cairns scored his maiden first class century before his next birthday celebration. In the New Zealand offseason he joined Nottinghamshire, an experience that proved the catalyst for his ascension to the test side. He made his international debut the following summer against Australia at Perth - whilst they came away with a victory Cairns picked up the first of many injuries – it proved an omen for the years of injury and subsequent heartache that followed. Of the 119 matches played during Cairns’ test career, he played in only 62 of them.

Cairns’ career at Notts spanned the next 20 years, as international commitments allowed, as he pushed his body through cricket’s daily rigours in both hemispheres. At home he made his name in the north before moving to a Canterbury side that conquered all before them in a lengthy period of red and black dominance. In 217 first class matches Cairns amassed nearly 11,000 runs at a shade over 35, and bowled his way to 647 wickets.

In 215 ODIs Cairns approached 5,000 runs at close to 30 (at a strike rate of 85) coupled with 201 wickets at 33. While he played in T20 cricket both domestically and internationally at the backend of his career, it’s very likely had he been born 15 or 20 years later he would have been able to write his own cheque in the global game’s shortest form.

Though he could hit the ball with the same might as his father had wielded Excalibur, Chris played in a far more orthodox manner. As a fast medium bowler he could bowl any delivery and had one of the game’s premier slower balls. When on song he could destroy even the greatest of batting line-ups though injury and impatience meant the large hauls were intermingled with expensive spells with minimal return. For all his obvious talent he only took 10 wickets in an innings once with a test bowling average touching on 30.

Cairns was a fantastic cricketer with all the natural talent but his performances never quite matched the potential – not consistently anyway. The frustration for many was that he showed sublime glimpses and left Kiwi cricket followers always preparing themselves for his transformation into an unstoppable force. Unfortunately for both Cairns and New Zealand cricket it never quite happened. For all that, the New Zealand game was richer for his presence and like any number of Kiwi greats he lifted his side to unlikely victories given the mediocre resources at their disposal.

In the 1995/6 home series, Cairns smashed his maiden test century against minnows Zimbabwe with a vigour seldom seen at Eden Park. His 120 came off just 96 balls in two minutes over two hours and included nine huge sixes. Had something similar been witnessed in the IPL Danny Morrison may have spontaneously combusted as he shrieked of the many DLF maximums – instead, 40 fans at Eden Park golf clapped. Cairns’ 100 came off 86 balls; three short of the test record, second fastest by a New Zealander and ninth quickest in test history. Ironically, only Wally Hammond had hit more sixes in an innings, 10, against Cairns’ forefathers in 1932/3.

A seasoned professional but a young man with a strong will, Cairns had a run in with coach Glenn Turner in the West Indies - it lead him to quit the 1995/6 tour part-way through and return home.  The “he said, he said” isn’t worth debating - there was wrong on both sides but there is never an excuse for an international cricketer to leave a tour in the manner Cairns did.

Never one to overly concern himself with personal milestones, Cairns went into the second test against India with a very different mind-set. He had embarked on the 1999/2000 tour to the subcontinent on 130 test wickets, the same number his dad Lance had when he finished his New Zealand career. Chris went wicketless in India’s first innings but when he bowled Ramesh at the top of India’s second innings he finally surpassed his dad.

It wasn’t the wicket that was memorable; it was the next delivery to Dravid that will live on in the minds of cricket followers in New Zealand. As a tribute to “the old man” Chris ran in with arms waving in all directions and bowled the ball to Dravid off the wrong foot. “The Wall” did well not to fall over in hysterics – many of the Kiwis did. It is something that I will remember as long as I watch cricket – one of those occasions when sentiment and cricketing love shine through the sterile professionalism that has invaded the enjoyment of our great game.

With ball in hand Cairns could be just as devastating as he was with the willow, but ever-present niggles and injury mean we seldom saw him at him devastating best. Cairns was almost unplayable for much of the West Indies tour to our shores in 1999/2000.  In the two tests (it is a stretch to call anything less than three tests a series) Cairns captured 17 of the 40 Windies’ wickets to fall, including an unforgettable 7-27 at Hamilton in a second innings total of 97 – New Zealand never looked back on their way to a significant nine wicket victory.

In the first Boxing Day test at The Basin Cairns was again to the fore with 5-44 against a Windies side on a downward slide. Combined with a dominant 214 by debutant Mathew Sinclair, New Zealand won the second test by an innings and whitewashed a West Indian team that bore no resemblance to the once proud Calypso Kings. I will never forget the raptures of a sold out Basin Reserve as Cairns ensured Sinclair’s knock would not be the only high point of a fantastic new tradition; for now at least.

The 2000 ICC Knock Out tournament final in Kenya was a red letter day for Cairns and New Zealand Cricket – it was our first taste of ICC silverware. In two short matches Cairns changed the mood of a proud cricketing public. Cairns hadn’t played in the semi-final due to a recurring knee problem and was in doubt for the final until the team was named at the toss – mind can still beat matter when history beckons. Cairns’ 102, at a strike rate of 90, was the centrepiece of a well paced pursuit of India’s 264 – I will never forget him almost spearing Adam Parore with a heartfelt embrace and his subsequent run to a delighted New Zealand team. Cairns had finally done something no other Kiwi had achieved.

Cairns’ struck his highest test score, 158 at over 90, against South Africa late in the 2003/4 season. It included seven towering sizes, though even mishits would have cleared the postage stamp boundaries at our premier rugby stadium, and marked New Zealand’s first test victory against the Proteas in the Land of the Long White Cloud at the thirteenth attempt. As with all Cairns’ heroics it both delighted and saddened New Zealand fans in equal measure – when he’s good, he’s very good, but it was a rare glimpse of a talent that should have produced more. New Zealand’s joy was short-lived; they lost the third test and had to settle for a series draw.

Cairns signed off his test career in the final test at Trent Bridge on New Zealand’s tour of England in 2004. It was a fitting venue for his farewell, having gained so much of his cricketing education at the home of Nottinghamshire cricket. After New Zealand’s previous visit in 1999 had produced a 2-1 series victory, a more mature Kiwi side set out thinking they were in with a chance of another historic result. It was anything but, a 3-0 series whitewash marking the infighting between Fleming (and reportedly a number of others) and Bracewell and proving a fair summary of the abilities of both sides.

In the first test of the series Cairns went past Sir Viv Richards to claim the record for most sixes in test cricket.  His 82 off 47 balls in two minutes over an hour included four huge sixes and illustrated the unbridalled violence of Cairns’ hitting power. However he again fell short of 100, caught trying to hit another ball out of the ground and was last man out.

By the time the fourth test arrived, Cairns had found his bowling rhythm, taking 5-79 in the first innings and following it up with a further four in England’s second knock. But like so many Kiwi greats before him Cairns bowed out with a loss – not just in the test but the series; whitewashed in his swansong. Given the enigmatic nature of his career it would have seemed more apt for New Zealand to have ended with a drawn series including a miraculous victory and a desperate loss – another fairy tale with a nightmare ending.

Cairns continued to play international limited overs’ cricket through the 2005/6 season before finishing with a T20 stint at Notts until the end of the 2008 season. Most in this part of the world wished he had called time on his cricketing endeavours then but instead he embarked on a cash grab in the ill-fated Indian Cricket League (ICL). Given the competition was unsanctioned by the BCCI it should have provided warning enough for players not to get involved - Cairns no doubt regrets his oversight.  His ICL contract was terminated in late 2008 under a cloud – the line between fiction and fact seemed a thin one and there is nothing new of value I can add.

Likewise the Twitter libel suit against Lalit Modi has had far more coverage than it’s due.

My one hope is that Cairns’ legacy will not be tarnished because of his choice of the letter C – P would have fitted him far better. 

There are a couple of others with connections to New Zealand but I thought it might be drawing an overly long bow to include them as New Zealand recipients of the Wisden honour.
  • Sydney Smith (1915) was born in the West Indies and represented both West Indies and MCC (England) in series against one another. He also played for New Zealand in the days before their admittance to Test cricket. His Wisden nomination though, followed a season playing in England and came after two tours of West Indies on behalf of MCC.
  • Andrew Caddick (2001) was born in Christchurch, New Zealand; the home of Sir Richard Hadlee, and his action is as close to Paddles as has been seen in the international game. He was part of the New Zealand squad for the 1987/8 Youth World Cup in Australia, but with little interest shown in him, and with two English parents, he moved to play league cricket and the rest is history. Crowe did ask him to come home in 1992 but he wasn’t interested and went on to destroy his countrymen in 1999.

And that is that; or is it? New Zealand has produced 12 fantastic recipients of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year; from Roger Blunt in 1928 through to the larger than life Chris Cairns in 2000 and the Kiwi legends that went in between. There has now been a 12 year hiatus since New Zealand’s last entry in the little yellow book. Will the 150th edition in 2013 see a new Kiwi great take his spot amongst the pinnacle of world cricketing talent?

Check out the final part: Who looks good in yellow? for the possibilities – I’ll post it in the next few days.

I’d love to hear your recollections of these great players, and some of the stories passed down through generations – post a comment below or send me a tweet @aotearoaxi. If my research is wrong, let me know – this blog is primarily for me to develop a stronger understanding of where New Zealand cricket has come from, and the players who have shaped our great game. If you enjoyed it, sign up for email alerts for future pieces from a cricketing Buddha.

If you enjoyed this, have a read of my previous pieces on New Zealand’s Wisden Cricketers of the Year:

Part 1: The trailblazers
Part 2: The first continue

Part 3: Sir Richard Hadlee

1 comment:

  1. I remember that when I was a child, I heard of Jeremy Coney all the time, he was such a good player, I would have loved to watching him playing, but I did not have the chance


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