Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Walter Hadlee's diary a reminder of days of yore

The Skipper's Diary, Walter Hadlee, compiled by Sir Richard Hadlee, published by The Cricket Publishing Company. Book and DVD only available online www.theskippersdiary1949.com

Few cricket tours have resulted in quite as much literary treatment as that of the 1949 cricket tour of England and northern Europe.

Autobiographies of Walter Hadlee (Innings of a Lifetime), Bert Sutcliffe (Between Overs), John Reid (Sword of Willow and A Cricketing Life), Merv Wallace (A Cricket Master) and the tour book by NZPA correspondent Alan Mitchell, Cricket Companions, all helped ensure the place of the tour in New Zealand's cricket history.

While confined to three-day Test matches the tour was only ever going to produce Test victories if the New Zealanders collapsed.

They didn't because the side was one of the most skilled batting combinations to represent the country and while the first Test win over England would wait another 29 years, the foundation of New Zealand's cricket future was laid by Walter Hadlee's side on their first post-World War Two visit to England.

Blessed with batsmen of the quality of Martin Donnelly (2287 runs), Bert Sutcliffe (2627), Merv Wallace (1722), John Reid (1488), Verdun Scott (1572) and Hadlee himself (1439), the side proved highly competitive and attractive to the English public who were still getting over hosting Bradman's great Australian side a year earlier.

Hadlee Snr had toured England in 1937 along with Donnelly and Wallace, and fast bowler Jack Cowie, so was well aware of what lay ahead of the side. His diary is a fascinating look into a bygone era, an era never to be seen again, yet a reminder of the sort of devotion to the game such a tour took.

These tours involved six weeks at sea, in each direction, so three months of the year were gone already. The players were amateurs and times were tight. They were paid a basic allowance and due to their success in quickly surpassing expected gate takings they were paid a bonus.

All of it is described in Hadlee's diary, a fascinating record that has been well worth the reproduction in what is an outstanding publishing format and only available through website sales.

This reviewer did not expect to get as much enjoyment as he did out of the book which provides not only reasonable match coverage but a look at the goings on of a group of men thrown together to play international sport.

As captain, Hadlee was required to take issue with some of them at times with the resulting details coming through in his diaried comments.

But what is also obvious is the demanding social requirements of the side. Remember this was the time when Sundays were a day off and there were activities aplenty laid on to take advantage of that spare time. It wasn't all beer and skittles, or golf.

It is also obvious that as an accountant, apparently reasonably well-placed, Hadlee wasn't averse to using his contacts to his own and to the benefit of his clients back at home. What better time to hit up New Zealand's Minister of Finance about the import duty on a car bought in England and shipped home on the same boat as the team returned on, that when Walter Nash visited the side during the tour?

Numerous other business initiatives were taken by Hadlee during the course of the tour, many of them on the mornings before play started in the various towns around England. There were also the many visits to factories and warehouses were the team were able to take advantage of opportunities.

It was little wonder Hadlee required some extra storage room on the boat on the way home. There was none of that cursed extra baggage you have to pay so much for when flying home.

One interesting comment during the second game against Glamorgan resulted from his meeting Cliff Prosser, the secretary of the Swansea Rugby Club. "He told me he saw Rhys T. Gabe pull Bob Deans back from the goal line after Deans had scored a try against Wales at Cardiff in 1905 – it was a disallowed try. He hopes Gabe will publicly announce this before it is too late."

What makes the 'diary' even more compelling is the publication of the tour report and financial returns and the reflections of the players in the years after the tour, clearly taken from correspondence between Hadlee and his team.

His own summation towards the end of the book was prescient.

"It was important to learn lessons from this tour and share the knowledge for future teams and players. All the bowlers needed to learn that direction was as important as length. Length is not effective without direction and direction is hopeless without length.

"By having the emphasis on direction as well as length I was able to set some very good fields – the bowlers were asked to bowl to those fields and as a result the fieldsmen became keener and that helped team spirit. It meant that everyone was involved in the play.

"The batsmen learning the art of concentration had to be maintained. Some of our most successful efforts were due to the intense concentration in a crisis.

"I will never forget this experience and all the players will remain great friends for life," he said.

However, his subsequent career as a cricket administrator may be viewed, there can be little doubt that Walter Hadlee's legacy to the New Zealand game is significant and the publication of his diary is probably the most graphic demonstration of that. It is a commendable exercise and one that further strengthens the historical connection with New Zealand's cricket.

1 comment:

Lawrie Colliver said...

Great review mate. Loved the book, quite expensive but worth getting
Amazing historical document on a famous tour