Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Zealand's 1937 tour of England

1937 (Part One) A tour undone by selection inadequacies

Lynn McConnell looks, in three parts, at New Zealand's 1937 cricket tour of Britain through the eyes of players Merv Wallace and the late Bill Carson.

After the tour was over, Merv Wallace, who was one of the younger players in the touring team and who topped the averages and aggregate with 1641 runs at 41.02 in England, penned a series of articles for the New Zealand Observer. Bill Carson’s correspondence home from the tour has also provided some interesting sidelights. This was most notably in relation to the frustration he suffered from not being able to match the exceptional form in New Zealand that had seen him selected for the tour in the first place.

New Zealand in 1937 left Wellington on March 27 and returned on November 26. The journey was literally a voyage taking six weeks to get to England, and even longer coming back due to three games being played in Australia. It had originally been intended that the team would come back the same way it had gone to England, across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal. However, it was decided to play some games in Australia on the way back in an effort to lift the profitability of the tour.

Given that New Zealand had hardly played any Test cricket since its previous tour in 1931, and would be without some of the key players from that tour, it was going to be a tough venture. Stewie Dempster, Bill Merritt and Ken James had all returned to England during the mid-1930s and found themselves cast into selectorial oblivion due to the New Zealand Cricket Council's policy of the time of not selecting players who returned to play in England.

The side was not helped by the selection policy of the day that offered little chance for 'country' players, those who lived outside the four main centres. Martin Donnelly, who scored 1414 runs in England, got through the system and Norman Gallichan too, but the fact that Tom Pritchard was not selected, despite a special trial having been arranged for him to be looked at, was a big blow for the side.

The selector who saw Pritchard bowl never left the train which pulled up alongside the net left with the comment, "We've got half a dozen bowlers like that in Wellington."

It is one of the great quotes of New Zealand cricket history. Pritchard in a distinguished post-war career would end with 818 first-class wickets at 23.30! He was certainly to be missed and it can only be wondered how much different the tour might have been had he partnered the bowling success of the tour, Jack Cowie. Cowie took 114 wickets in England at 19.95.

Recent research has provided more background of that tour which was captained by M L 'Curly' Page and managed by Tom Lowry, an enormous figure in New Zealand cricket history. This was largely as the result of his celebrated time with Somerset in county cricket, and due to his leadership of the first two New Zealand teams to England in 1927 and 1931.

There was no doubt that he was also a controversial manager, who played occasionally as reserve wicketkeeper to Eric Tindill, and who sometimes usurped the captaincy from the appointed vice-captain Giff Vivian.

The New Zealanders travelled to England on the Arawa and had the company of the Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage who was travelling to England for the coronation of King George VI.

By comparison to the wardrobe of gear provided for teams every time they leave on tour nowadays, the team members of 1937 had very little to carry when they left New Zealand.

"No gear of any kind was supplied to us before leaving. In England, several firms came to light, one London firm giving each of us a pair of cricketing flannels. Others gave us bats, pads etc. This helped to reduce the cost of maintaining an outfit, which otherwise would have been heavy," Wallace recalled.

It appears that Carson had 'ricked' his ankle before leaving New Zealand and he was prevented from taking part in many of the deck exercises the team used on the voyage to England. It is now clear from his correspondence that his injury was not taken seriously enough by Lowry until the end of the tour.

It was only at that stage that Lowry accompanied Carson to a Harley Street specialist to have the injury assessed and a programme of treatment advised.

"…On Wednesday," Carson wrote home on September 25, by which time the team was due to head home, "I went along to a specialist with T Lowry to let him see my ankle. It hasn't been hurting me but I just don't think it is right yet. He said that on the inside of the foot there are two small bones which take a muscle equally between them. One of the bones of mine has been pulled away by the rick I gave it and consequently the muscle is now straining only on one so causing pain. Also the [unreadable word] of the tissues has caused the blood to congeal at that part. I have been getting it massaged and electrically treated so that it will become looser. He has given me exercises to so as to strengthen the muscles," Carson wrote.

Just what effect this sort of injury had on Carson's ability to bat can only be wondered.

Wallace commented at tour's end: "Since I returned a number of people have put up to me the question: 'Why did Bill Carson not do better in England?' My answer is that, while admittedly Bill did not make the big scores he had been hitting up in such phenomenal style in New Zealand, he played many very sound and useful knocks, but he was exceedingly unlucky in that frequently, when apparently just settling down, he would lift a ball the merest trifle and go out to some freakish catch."

Carson might have had maritime blood running through his family, (his father was the harbourmaster at Gisborne) but he didn't quite enjoy the start of the voyage. He wrote home that the Arawa broke down for 24 hours and had to hove to so temporary repairs could be made soon after leaving New Zealand. He was seasick for four days.

And being confined to the ship for so long also had its drawbacks: "We rise at present at 8.15am – although next week I believe we have to get up at 7.45am to exercise," he wrote. Have breakfast at 9am and sit on a deck chair on top of the hatch on the top deck at the back of the buildings behind the bridge till 1.15pm, when we go down and eat again. We then trot up stairs as fast as possible to get our chairs. Occasionally we break the spell by having a game of deck quoits and deck tennis. The latter game I don't play yet as my ankle is not yet right. At 6.30pm we go down again and this time we put on our dinner suits for tea. Afterwards we attend the programmes arranged."

But once he had his sea legs things improved. "I am enjoying the trip beautifully now. Haven't felt a bit sick since I got over the first four days…The ankle has not got better yet. I can walk and never feel it. But as soon as I run it is a wee bit sore, or when I bend it sideways the ligaments become sore."

However, the injury and its effects were not immediately obvious after arrival in England. Merv Wallace commented on Carson's form in the opening game against Surrey at The Oval. Carson was 60 not out in New Zealand's 141 for five wickets in reply to Surrey's 149. "Carson hooked and square cut in bold style." He went on to finish with 85.

After the first loss of the tour, against Glamorgan, a match which New Zealand had played at Cardiff Arms Park, the day after completing a match at Lord's, Wallace noted his first unease with the nature of the itinerary.

"The strenuous character of our tour is shown by the fact that before leaving for the ground on that third day we had packed and left our baggage for 'Fergie' [scorer and baggageman] to forward, and immediately after the match, when everyone was dog tired, we boarded a train for Oxford, reaching there about 10pm and starting a match against the University eleven next morning. This sort of thing went on right through the tour. We started one match immediately after another, with train travelling sandwiched in between. In the long run it was no wonder the players began to feel stale and weary."

The Oxford side included RCM Kimpton, an Australian, who took toll of the New Zealand slow bowlers. However, Jack Cowie was a different story as Carson related: "This match showed that Cowie was going to be a real menace in England. He took six for 51, four of them clean-bowled in exhilarating style. He dismissed Kimpton, Walford and Grover in one great over."

The next match was a win over Cambridge which represented the first time a New Zealand team had won a first-class match in two days. Cambridge scored 102 after deciding to bat first. "Dunning, who was in great form at this period, bowled to a leg field and took six wickets, Carson helping with two fine catches at short leg. At the close of play we had lost four for 46. I was still in at stumps, with 10 not out, and owing to rain showers, which interrupted play, had been in and out to the crease about three times in half an hour.

"Next day we raised our total to 135. Fraser, a left-hander bowling round the wicket, did considerable execution. I managed to hold my end up for 71, and had a merry lash at the finish when Jack Cowie was in with me. He held his end up most unselfishly for one run while I went for the bowling. (They added 41 runs for the last wicket)

"The Cambridge second innings realised 128. There were three for 104 at lunch, but after that Moloney struck a patch and at one stage took five wickets for three runs with slow leg spinners. His average in this innings, five for 23, put him at the top of the bowling averages and he was thus top in both batting and bowling. We needed 96 to win and got them with the loss of two wickets, Page making 53. This was an outright win in a first-class match, the first time a New Zealand team has won a first-class match in two days."

But they were soon back to reality as they lost to Lancashire by eight wickets.

In the drawn game against Northamptonshire, Carson played more to his potential and noted: "The match was played on a beautiful wicket. Donnelly managed to get 89 and then was caught in slips. He is the only person I have ever seen who flicks at the off ball and gets away with it. Wallace batted well again. He is now in great form. In the first innings I was bowled for the first time in England. I played forward instead of back and the ball broke back and bowled me.

"In the second innings I struck true form for the first time for a long while. The first night I was 52 not out. Next morning we were only batting till 12.15 which meant I had to get 48 runs in 45 mins. At 12.10 I was 86 and unfortunately in attempting to drive a ball I mistimed it and was caught easily. However, I am now in great form and it shouldn't be long before I get a lot of runs."

After the Northampton game, Wallace commented: "The 'gate' at this and several other matches was distressingly small and personally I don't think these matches against second-rate county sides are worth playing as the return does not pay the travelling expenses. It would be better to give the side a rest and allow it to concentrate on the more important games, where a bigger gate would give a better financial return, particularly if the touring team could do justice to itself, instead of being fagged and listless through too much travelling."

New Zealand lost its next match to Derbyshire by 202 runs.

At Worcester, Carson saw Dad Weir in full flight but it wasn't enough to prevent a 136-run defeat. "Weir made a furious 134 not out. He batted as though inspired. Lowry, 44, played the rock. Weir absolutely put new life in the side. He hit the bowling as he wished and we may have got the odd 100 we wanted if Gallichan had been content to stay instead of going for a hit as he had scored 27 and was never in trouble."

The major problem that had been troubling the batting effort of the side was the lack of a consistently successful opening partnership. So far the opening partnerships had been: Page and Kerr (Surrey - 5), Kerr and Hadlee (MCC 41), Kerr and Hadlee (Glamorgan 31-14), Kerr and Tindill (Oxford Univ 17-37), Page and Hadlee (Cambridge Univ 0-37), Page and Hadlee (Lancashire 25-1), Kerr and Tindill (Northamptonshire 42-35), Kerr and Moloney (Derbyshire 18-17), Kerr and Hadlee (Worcestershire 6-0).

After the Worcester game Page and Lowry experimented by using Vivian as an opener with Hadlee and the side had their best starts of the tour. They scored 49 and 134 and drew the match with Middlesex. However, they could not stave off defeat by an innings and 74 runs against Lancashire.

The side then played Nottingham where Harold Larwood was in the side. But he only bowled one over at full pace and then left the field as the result of an ongoing foot injury.

"He showed us his foot which has been dreadfully mutilated by an operation. I should think he will never be the same bowler again. He still has his beautiful style but cannot sustain the pace as he used to," Wallace wrote.

Carson was surprised at the lack of size of Larwood, and commented: "How he ever bowled fast when one looks at him is a miracle. He only bowled one over but his action was marvellous."

The first Test saw Wallace included after showing that despite having his broken finger still bandaged he was able to hold a bat while Giff Vivian, who had suffered a severe strain in a two-day game with Norfolk, also passed a fitness test. Although by today's standards the fitness test was interesting. They did them by themselves. "We both decided that we would play if required," Wallace recorded.

New Zealand got off to a great start at Lord's when England captain Robins won the toss and batted first. "We got a great start as Cowie bowled Hutton for a duck and Parks followed shortly afterwards, two wickets being down for 33. We were overjoyed and could hardly believe our luck in getting their two opening batsmen out so cheaply, but then Hardstaff and Hammond got their backs to the wall and we simply could not shift them," Wallace said.

They weren't removed until 276 runs had been scored.

"Cowie was very dangerous at first and had Hammond in obvious difficulties. He could not connect with some balls, and others hit him on the pads. Cowie brings the ball back into a right-hand batsman and this, plus the slight slope on the Lord's wicket, made him very difficult to play. Unfortunately, Cowie could not go on bowling all the time and except for Vivian and Roberts the other bowlers were less effective," Wallace said.

With Paynter finding runs against New Zealand again, England was able to score 424, Cowie ending with 4-118 and Roberts 4-101. New Zealand's response started poorly with Vivian lbw to Alf Gover for five and Jack Kerr had a ball from Hammond fly off the shoulder of his bat and into his chin. He had to have the wound stitched and when he came back he got through to 31 before he was out. While Hadlee scored 34 and Wallace 52, New Zealand were in trouble at 176-7 and struggling to avoid the follow-on.

But Moloney and Roberts got together and could claim to have held up royalty as the King arrived to be presented to the teams. However, at the scheduled time, New Zealand was struggling to reach the follow-on, and realising this the King didn't want to break the concentration of the pair and insisted they continue until safety had been reached, which it was. It was just as well the King waited. Almost immediately after the resumption, Moloney was out when returning a catch to Hedley Verity to be out for 64. Roberts was unbeaten on 66 when New Zealand's innings ended at 295.

Wallace observed of New Zealand’s situation. "Our modest showing at one stage is partly accounted for by staleness which was beginning to assert itself. When one has had too much cricket it is difficult to concentrate and without that concentration big scores cannot be put up. Personally, I was now feeling the benefit of the rest caused by my broken finger and I was 'seeing them well', as the saying goes."

New Zealand again started well in England's second innings with Hutton and Parks both out by the time the score had reached 19. Hardstaff came to light again, however, with 64 and England declared at 226-4. An interesting feature of Robins' innings was the splitting of his bat. Rather than get another, the New Zealanders were treated to the sight of him exchanging bats with his partner whenever he was required to face. "In a test match this seemed hardly the thing," Wallace noted.

New Zealand got to 15 when disaster struck in its second innings with three wickets falling without a run being scored. But Kerr and Page steadied the ship while Wallace completed a second half-century in the game to scored 56 before being trapped leg before wicket by Parks, the same method of dismissal as in the first innings.

The game was drawn although the impetus was all with England. "If our slip fielding had been more reliable we would have fared better, and we were certainly unlucky in not getting a good opening partnership in either innings. It makes a tremendous difference to the later batsmen if the opening pair have managed to make runs or take the sting out of the bowling," Wallace said.

There was no rest as it was straight onto the train that evening and down to Taunton to play Somerset the next day. But it was to be a successful jaunt as New Zealand had its first win over a first-class county side.

Somerset batted first and made 254, the last 80 by the 10th wicket pair. Tindill and Hadlee opened for New Zealand and the side made 404. Wallace scored his first century of the tour. In their second innings Somerset made 316, leaving New Zealand 176 to win, a target it achieved for the loss of three wickets. "At Taunton we had our first county win. Wallace scored his first century. He has looked like getting one from the start and is batting better than I have ever seen him do in NZ. Lamason came to light. He had a terrible run even worse than me but his last three knocks have been 71, 38 not out and 59," Carson said.

A draw with Gloucesterhire followed. They then played a Leicestershire side, captained by Stewie Dempster, which scored 557-44 declared.

"The next day Kerr scored his first century in England. It was a good innings and everyone was very pleased to see him get it as he is one of the best fellows in the team…Donnelly scored 55 not out. He is the most improved player in the side. He is batting exceptionally well," Carson said.

The game was rain abandoned and the side travelled to Leeds to play Yorkshire. But due to a bus driver getting lost they didn't make the ground until 11.15am for the 11.30am start.

Yorkshire scored 364, Hutton scoring 135 to which New Zealand replied with 223. Yorkshire declared at lunch on the third day at 207-6. "Donnelly was the only one to get going in our second innings, and should have had a century but tried to hook Bowes too close to him and he was clean-bowled for 97. This was one of Donnelly's best efforts on the tour, as we badly needed runs. Even then we were not out of the wood, and it was only a great stand by Tindill and Cowie, who defied the Yorkshire attack for twenty minutes, that let us out with a draw," Wallace recalled.

In the two-day match with Durham that followed, Moloney was most successful with his slow leg-spinners. "His success with slow leg-spinners showed the dislike of English batsmen for this style of bowling. They won't use their feet to the spin bowlers and it is no wonder they are so often at sea against Grimmett and O'Reilly," said Wallace.

Carson's woes continued: "It is terribly disappointing to me but I am trying not to let it spoil my trip. I am not batting badly or anything like that, but each time I get going which is seldom, some unlucky thing happens and I am out."

An amusing incident occurred as the side travelled from Sunderland to Glasgow, via Edinburgh. The side was split up on the Edinburgh to Glasgow run, as baggagemaster extraordinaire Bill Ferguson was in the front of the train with Hadlee and Donnelly, while the rest were at the back. With so many stations on the run through Glasgow those at the back of the train did not know when they were supposed to get off. They were well past where they were supposed to get off when the conductor found them, and they had to complete the journey back to their hotel in a tram. A win over Scotland was achieved with Wallace completing his 1000 runs on the tour.

Because several players were keen to have a break during another game against a Scottish side at Dunfermline, New Zealand Press Association journalist WH Bickley, was called into action, and scored six not out in New Zealand’s innings victory.

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