1937 (Part Three) Lack of consistent play was the difference
The New Zealanders, having completed their tour of England, were put on a boat for five weeks and returned home via Australia, where they were quickly expected to adjust to local conditions and offer strong competition to three State sides.
Lynn McConnell concludes his three-part series on New Zealand’s 1937 tour as seen through the eyes of Merv Wallace and the late Bill Carson.
After completing their duties in England and packing everything up for the journey home, half of the side decided to take the option to travel across France and to join the ship at Toulon.
After a one-day match in Colombo, the side's next game was in Adelaide. When the ship arrived there they were met by Don Bradman, Clarrie Grimmett, Victor Richardson and Eric Tindill. The New Zealand wicketkeeper had caught an earlier ship with his wife, who had been in England, and waited for them in South Australia.
Wallace said of the arrival in Adelaide: "We were all very interested in meeting Bradman, He drove some of the team into Adelaide in his car, and afterwards we saw a good deal of him. He is a fine chap and appears to be very comfortably situated in Adelaide. The main thing that struck me about him was his small and slight physique. The South Australian team as a whole were a very small side.
"We had several free days in Adelaide before our match, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, varying our sight-seeing with some golf and tennis. I am sure that if fewer matches had been played on the English tour, and we had had more opportunities of relaxation, the team would have done better, and this applies to any cricket tour. Personally I think it would be better to concentrate on week-end games, leaving the middle of the week free."
Carson also enjoyed the break and noted: "Amongst the party at golf was Don Bradman. He is an unassuming little chap and has the funniest voice one could wish to hear. He is a very good golfer and has a three-handicap. That night we attended a billiard evening at his boss's place – a man called Hodgetts. Jack Lamason, our crack player beat Bradman 100-22."
In the match against South Australia, New Zealand showed the effects of not having had a lot of cricket in the previous six weeks and was all out, largely as a result of its choice of shots, for 154. The home team's innings was famous for the dismissal of Bradman, in his only game against New Zealand, for 11 runs, caught by Tindill from Cowie's bowling on the second morning of the game.
"This in a sense was the worst catch of the tour. We lost our chance of seeing the prince of batsmen in action, and deprived the New Zealand Cricket Council of a huge sum of gate money. The crowd was streaming into the ground to see Bradman, but after he had gone there was very little further interest," Wallace said.
South Australia scored 330, and 180 behind, New Zealand was all out for 186, the four-day game ending in three days.
The next game, against Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, provided some excitement for the New Zealanders, especially newcomer Cyril Parsloe who had joined the tour in Adelaide as Jack Dunning was unable to play that leg of the tour. New Zealand batted first and was all out for 210, facing some fiery fast bowling on the fastest pitch it struck on the tour. Hadlee hitting two sixes back over fast bowler Ernie McCormick's head.
Victoria was then dismissed for 141, Parsloe taking 5-47. "He, too, made the ball fly a bit and some of their batsmen did not relish this sort of stuff," Wallace said of Parsloe's efforts in comparison to McCormick. New Zealand left Victoria 293 to win, a target it achieved with five wickets down.
The last match of the tour, against New South Wales, saw another disappointing start. New Zealand was all out for 195. But if NSW had visions of an easy response, Jack Cowie had different ideas. He clean bowled Arthur Chipperfield and Stan McCabe while Parsloe had Albert Cheatham and Jack Fingleton at which stage it was 20-4 wickets. However, it recovered and scored 274. New Zealand was all out a second time for 214 which left NSW 136 to win.
It did it with eight wickets to the good, but not without what might generously be called some luck.
"Eventually they got the runs comfortably enough, but Chipperfield, who had a big hand in getting them, should have been given out when he was 30, as he slipped and fell on his wicket in trying to hit a full toss from Parsloe. Vivian had to appeal four times before the umpire answered, then to our amazement he gave Chipperfield not out," Wallace said.
"This was not the only bad decision against us in Australia, and I formed the opinion that the umpiring there was not consistently good. One learns to take the bad with the good, but a decision of lbw against me against South Australia had me completely baffled, as I had played the ball quite firmly with my bat before it hit my pads and went out towards point. I actually started to run and could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that the umpire had his hand up in response to the automatic appeal of the bowler. The bowler afterwards apologised to me, and several others of their players commented on the bad decision," he said.
Sadly the thoughts of some in Australia that a tour to New Zealand in 1939-40 might be the start of regular reciprocal tours never eventuated due to the outbreak of the Second World War, a conflict that was to claim the lives of both Carson and another player on the tour Sonny Moloney.
In making an overall assessment of the tour Wallace made some pertinent points.
"Their cricket is not much better than ours, the main difference being in the greater amount of first-class cricket they get," Wallace said of the English.
In both instances, more cricket and reciprocal tours, it was to be the mid-1970s before the situation was improved with immediate benefit to New Zealand cricket. New Zealand's domestic competition was almost doubled thanks to the sponsorship of Shell and Australia agreed to more regular contact at international level.
"I would like to say this, that we in New Zealand have, in my opinion, no cause whatever to be ashamed of the standard of our cricket. We are not nearly so far behind what are termed the first-class cricket countries, Australia and England, as many people imagine.
"The difference between their cricket and ours is that they are steadier than we are, but this would be remedied if we had more big games. I am satisfied that if New Zealand cricketers got the keen match practice that overseas players get, and we were able to cultivate the same steadiness that they possess, we would give anyone a good go.
"I am not exaggerating when I say that our batsmen were not beaten by any bowling we struck either in England or Australia. There were times, of course, when owing to the state of the wicket certain bowlers were for brief periods practically unplayable.
"I recall in particular, [Arthur] Wellard, of Somerset, who gave Wally Hadlee and me a nightmare half-hour before the dew dried from the wicket, after which he was comparatively innocuous, whereas beforehand good length balls had been either moving off the track or coming up hard, so that Hadlee and I in the early stages were both hit hard by rising balls.
"My impression of the main difference between our opponents and us, in batting, was that they were disinclined to take risks, whereas times without number our batsmen would run into the forties or thereabouts and then go out trying to make shots. It wasn't a case of being beaten by the bowling.
"As far as opposing batsmen were concerned, Joe Hardstaff, who was out here with Errol Holmes's side, was the best bat we played against. He is a delightful player to watch being a model of style and execution and keeps the score moving steadily."
The tour resulted in English critics acknowledging that three-day Test matches were unworthy of a side that had travelled so far to play, but it was to be another 21 years before New Zealand was accorded five-day Test matches in England. That tour is another story however.
In the final outcome, it could only be wondered how different things might have been with different selection. What if Tom Pritchard been selected to support Jack Cowie? What if Paul Whitelaw had been included and if leg-spinner Bernie Griffiths had been allowed to tour instead of being mysteriously left out due to alleged problems with his teeth? Having been selected he failed a medical test, but would later never experience any problems with his teeth whatsoever.
It was one of those tours and, unfortunately, it was to be some years before New Zealand’s selectors learnt their lesson.