Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tom Pritchard: What a difference he might have made

It is ironic in a week in which New Zealand has lost an icon of rugby in Sir Colin Meads that the death has also occurred of a man who was capable of achieving that same status in our cricket ranks.

I refer to Tom Pritchard, who died today aged 100.

He should have toured England in 1937 with the New Zealand cricket team and would have been in his element had he made himself available for the 1949 side.

Instead, Pritchard, through opportunities provided by a certain German corporal, a No.11 on most team's batting lists by the name of Hitler, A., threw in his lot in county cricket with Warwickshire.

So well did he do that any check of New Zealand's Cricket Almanack will show him sitting fourth on the all-time list of New Zealand bowlers with 818 wickets in his career: Richard Hadlee, Clarrie Grimmett and Sid Smith were those ahead of him.

Pritchard was looked at for the 1937 tour, by a selector who took a train ride to a pre-arranged net alongside the railway line in Palmerston North only to comment afterwards that there were five or six bowlers that were better in Wellington?

Ah, such were the barriers in front of country cricketers in those days. Suffice to say that one country cricketer who did tour, Martin Donnelly, was never in any doubt that Pritchard would have made a difference on the tour.

But if he bore a grudge, Pritchard kept it to himself and played out his career in the thrilling days of county cricket in post-war Britain. He remained for years after until returning to New Zealand to indulge himself in his love of horse racing.

It was at the Levin Racecourse early one morning that I had been coaxed by local sports nut Bernie McCone to come to trackwork to meet Pritchard. It was well worth the effort and I was immediately struck by his bearing and spirit. A few years later it was my great privilege to spend the morning with him at his home preparing a feature for The Evening Post. A more delightful host it could not be possible to imagine.

There's something to be said for those people who have been there and done that when they look at modern trends in a game like cricket. Pritchard was a great supporter of the New Zealand game but like so many his contribution is more likely to be referred to in the history books rather than the coaching manuals New Zealand Cricket might have put together for young players based on the experience and wisdom that men like Tom Pritchard would have been only too willing to dispense.

Why are we as a nation so committed to reinventing the wheel as every new management regime believes it has the answer to the game's issues?

Knowledge has always been power and with Tom Pritchard's death a significant resource has been lost to the game.

But he was an inspirational man to meet and he truly made his mark in his craft. Fortunately his life story has been captured in Paul Williams' book, Tom Pritchard, Greatness Denied.

Vale Tom Pritchard.

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