Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Deserving Congdon story in print

Bevan Congdon has a special place in New Zealand cricket history as the common denominator through the age of advancement from Saturday afternoon amateurs to a more professional, in outlook at least, unit.

From the time he was first selected in the summer of 1964-65 through until his last tour of England in 1978, Congdon was the one player to have provided the bridge from the construction phase to the near completion of the task of New Zealand's climb into the top bracket of world sides.

Some like John Reid and Bert Sutcliffe, who provided major contributions, ended their time after the tour of India, Pakistan and England in 1965. Others like Barry Sinclair, Graham Dowling, Gary Bartlett, Dick Motz and Jack Alabaster got halfway through the process while others like Bruce Taylor, Bob Cunis and Richard Collinge had phases of being in and out of the side with availabilities and injuries.

Then the likes of Glenn Turner, Hedley Howarth, Ken Wadsworth and Dayle Hadlee came in for the second half of the journey with Richard Hadlee an even later addition to the cause.

But sailing through it all was Congdon, growing in stature and confidence, playing within his limits, and occasionally extending them as on the 1973 tour of England with his successive Test centuries.

Those formative days cannot be under-stated. Years of being an afterthought on the end of tours of Australia by English and West Indian teams meant New Zealand's best players were starved by comparison to other countries.

There were the days in the  late 1950s and 1960s when four home series were played against Australian B sides with a tour to Australia to play state sides in 1967. There were also the first involvement in limited overs competitions in the fledgling Australian state competition where New Zealand's rising stature became apparent.

Congdon proved an essential part in New Zealand acquiring the knowledge that would stand them in such good stead within a generation.

It took time but eventually things came together for him. There was the run flow going off the chart in the West Indies on the benign pitches that failed to produce a result in five Tests in 1972 and there was the captaincy of the side in the first Test victory over Australia at Lancaster Park in 1974. The captaincy had been moved on to Mark Burgess by 1978 but Congdon was there when victory was achieved over England for the first time in Wellington at the old Basin Reserve.

His bowling was often under-appreciated but it grew in stature during his career and two wickets for 14 at the end of England's first innings helped ensure that while New Zealand suffered a collapse, they still had enough runs in the bank to apply pressure for win.

Undemonstrative, in public at least, but renowned for a certain trait of grittiness, being the subject of an autobiography was never really in the Congdon make-up. Although there could have been plenty of stimulus had he so chosen.

R.T. Brittenden, who saw all of Congdon's career, wrote of him in 'The Finest Years', "When he came into first-class cricket, it was as a boldly-attacking batsman, with a firm liking for the cut and the pull. He did well enough to win test status in four years. But he became outstandingly good only because of his firm resolve to improve. It was not enough to make a good score now and then. He is a perfectionist."

No bad thing that through an era when being a perfectionist wasn't always the most endearing characteristic of those who didn't understand the requirements along the road to success.

He still sits within the top 10 run scorers for New Zealand in Tests, in ninth on 3448, one behind Kane Williamson and one ahead of John R. Reid. That's the sort of quality we're talking with seven Test centuries and an average of 32.22 which says something of the tough times in the early stages of his 62-Test career.

His contribution has not been overlooked and Bill Francis has written an extended essay making a small book of Congdon's career looking at what contributed to his emergence from what we now know as the Tasman region of New Zealand and what sustained him through a distinguished playing career.

'A Singular Man' has been published by The Cricketers' Trust, which has been established by the professional players of the day and the New Zealand Cricket Players' Association, with the support of boutique cricket publisher Ron Cardwell in the publication.

It is a worthy addition to a growing resource which acknowledges the era which was the necessary forerunner to New Zealand's emergence on the world scene in the 1980s, especially, and beyond.

A Singular Man by Bill Francis. Published by The Cricketers' Trust.

No comments: