Highs and lows, 1945–60
Post-war test cricket began disastrously for New Zealand in March 1946 with scores of 42 and 54 in a one-off test against Australia. Australia won by an innings, and there would be no more tests against Australia until 1973.
New Zealand and South Africa played a dramatic game on Boxing Day 1953 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. At 3 a.m. news came that the fiancée of the New Zealand fast bowler Bob Blair had died in the Tangiwai rail disaster. He was not expected to play.
As the game progressed, the New Zealand batsmen were repeatedly hit by the South African speedster Neil Adcock. Bert Sutcliffe’s ear lobe was split and he was taken to hospital. He returned to play, head swathed in bandages, and when the ninth wicket fell, to the crowd’s amazement, Blair appeared. Sutcliffe launched a fierce attack – three sixes in an over – and the pair added 33 runs in 10 minutes.
The nation’s credibility was restored with a successful tour of England in 1949. All four three-day tests were drawn. Left-handed batters Bert Sutcliffe and Martin Donnelly provided the New Zealand’s team’s highlights. Sutcliffe’s aggregate of 2,627 runs on tour was second only to Australian cricketer Don Bradman’s famous 2,960 in 1930. Donnelly became the first New Zealander to score a test double century – 206 at Lord’s Cricket Ground. (A century is 100 or more runs in a single innings.)
The 1950s saw more lows. There were defeats at home by England in 1951, 1955 and 1958; by the West Indies in 1952 and 1956; and by South Africa in 1953. In March 1955, facing a deficit of 46 in the second test against England, the New Zealand team was dismissed for 26 runs, the lowest total test innings of any team ever.
There were also crushing defeats overseas. In 1953–54 South Africa defeated New Zealand with four victories. From October 1955 to January 1956 New Zealand embarked on an arduous tour of Pakistan and India where they lost four of the eight tests and suffered debilitating stomach disorders. On the 1958 tour of England, New Zealand lost four tests and only reached 200 in one innings.
However, on 13 March 1956, after 45 tests and 26 years of earnest and occasionally humiliating endeavours, history was made in the fourth test against the West Indies at Eden Park when New Zealand won by 190 runs. It was the country’s first cricket test victory.
Respectability in the 1960s and 1970s
During the 1960s and 1970s New Zealand played 83 test matches, winning nine, losing 37 and drawing 37. There were fewer embarrassing defeats; many of the draws were deserved; and New Zealand cricket gained international respect. There were some fine performances.
- In a shared series (two tests each) in South Africa in 1961–62, New Zealand gained its first overseas test victories. On tour the captain and right-hand batsman John Reid set a record aggregate for a touring batsman with 1,915 runs and seven centuries.
- An arduous tour covered England, India and Pakistan in 1969. In England, Dick Motz became the first New Zealand bowler to capture 100 test wickets. The test series in India was drawn 1–1. The win in the second test at Nagpur was New Zealand’s first on the subcontinent. They also defeated Pakistan 1–0, New Zealand’s first test series win on overseas soil.
- There were five drawn tests in the West Indies in 1972. Glenn Turner scored the most runs for New Zealand in a series (672). When he scored 223 not out in the first test he became the only New Zealand batsman to bat through a test innings on two occasions.
- In the first test in England in 1973 New Zealand faced the huge total of 479 to win. Playing a heroic ‘captain’s knock’ of 176, Bevan Congdon took New Zealand to within 39 runs of victory.
- In March 1974 Glenn Turner’s 101 and 110 not out steered New Zealand to their first test win over Australia – by five wickets.
On 15 February 1978, after playing 48 tests against England, the New Zealand cricket team ‘climbed its Everest’. It finally beat England by 72 runs at the Basin Reserve. Richard Hadlee captured seven wickets for 23 runs in the second innings.
Players of the 1960s and 1970s
There were some fine cricketers during these years. Batsmen John Reid and Graham Dowling scored well in the 1960s. Bevan Congdon, Mark Burgess and, above all, the consummate professional Glenn Turner scored well in the 1970s.
Successful bowlers included the spinner Hedley Howarth and the fast men Dick Motz, Bruce Taylor, Dick Collinge and Richard Hadlee – who proved to be one of the great bowlers of all time. When Hadlee retired he had taken the most wickets (431), the most five-wicket bags (36), and the most ten-wicket bags (9) in test cricket. He was an aggressive and enterprising left-handed batsman.