Looking at the details which follow this article, one could easily be led to believe that cricket is a comparatively recent novelty for New Zealand. The first official Test with England did not take place until January 1930, but Test cricket is merely the climax wherever it is played to much pioneer work. Cricket has flourished in New Zealand as a pastime for many years. Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist, wrote that in 1835 he saw a game of cricket played close to a mission station. It was first mentioned in a newspaper in 1841, and the first match fully recorded was played at Nelson in March 1844.
In 1860 inter-provincial cricket was started, but in later years cricket took second place in popularity to Rugby football, in which game the Maoris excelled. For over a hundred years a few real cricket enthusiasts in New Zealand have always encouraged the game in every way, particularly by engaging professional coaches and inviting overseas teams to visit the two islands. Of the many English and Australian coaches who have been to New Zealand, no man left a more wonderful reputation behind him than the late Albert Relf. It has been said of him that he not only made Auckland cricket but he made New Zealand cricket.
Those fortunate enough to have played cricket in New Zealand as well as in Australia liken the grounds of Australia to those of England. There are no Australian shirt-front wickets and the main grounds might be English county grounds. Who can ever forget the lovely surroundings of the Nelson ground or the natural arena at New Plymouth?
When I was in New Zealand in 1929-30 the opinion of the governing body was that the standard of cricket could be improved only by the best New Zealand cricketers playing against the best of other countries. The second England side which toured Australia, captained by George Parr, went to New Zealand in February 1864, and from 1877 to 1914 there were fifteen official and unofficial Australian visits and seven English visits. After the first World War and between 1919 and 1939, M.C.C. sent five sides to New Zealand: Archie MacLaren's in 1922-23, those captained by me in 1929-30, and by Errol Holmes in 1935-36, while a short tour of the principal centres was made at the conclusion of the M.C.C. tours of Australia by D. R. Jardine's 1932-33 team and G. O. Allen's 1936-37 team. During the period 1920-28, New Zealand enjoyed visits from five strong Australian teams, and in 1931-32 H. B. Cameron led a team from South Africa. All received a hearty welcome.
Since the second World War, New Zealand cricketers have been fortunate in gaining further knowledge of the game by facing first a representative team from Australia under W. A. Brown, and a year later W. R. Hammond's 1946-47 M.C.C. team at the end of their Australian programme flew from Sydney for four matches, including one Test which was ruined by the weather. With the help of this experience I am optimistic that the 1949 New Zealand team will do well in England. To players used only to week-end cricket, apart from a few Plunket Shield matches, a tour of continuous three-day fixtures, including four Tests, may prove strenuous, but it should do much to cultivate hidden talent and to create real team work as well as team spirit. We know what previous New Zealand sides have accomplished, particularly when captained by so brilliant a leader as Tom Lowry.
At the present time there is a great progressive spirit pervading cricket in New Zealand, but, as in 1914, so in the recent war many of the possibles and probables donned khaki, Navy blue or Air Force blue, and the game suffered accordingly. I hear regularly from my brother, Frank, who has been headmaster of the Collegiate School, Wanganui, since 1935 and is coming home on leave with the special intention of seeing the Tests. He tells me there are several promising young players and many should do well. It would appear that the batting and fielding are there, but until the bowlers receive the opportunity of continuous cricket their strength is problematical.
By the time these words appear in print we shall have received definite information whether Martin Donnelly, a grand left-hander, can spare himself from business to take part in the tour. His presence would make the side very attractive and greatly increase the batting strength. Only 19 when he toured England in 1937, he gained a big reputation, which he confirmed immediately after the war at Oxford as well as in English representative cricket. Much is expected from another left-hander, B. Sutcliffe. An opening batsman, he has established himself already out there. On his first appearance against M.C.C., in March 1947, he scored 197 and 128 for Otago at Dunedin and fielded magnificently. Since then he has returned to his native Auckland, and only last January, for that province against Canterbury in the Plunket Shield, he and D. Taylor accomplished a feat without precedent in first-class cricket by making two double-century opening stands, 220 and 286. Sutcliffe again claimed a century in each innings, 141 and 135, and Taylor made 143 in the second innings. The 286 beat the previous best Plunket Shield opening partnership by C. S. Dempster and W. Dusting in 1932.
One recalls the sparkling cricket played in England by Dempster, and others who left their mark were M. L. Page, a resolute captain, W. E. Merritt, one of the most skilful spin bowlers among the hundreds who have come from overseas, and K. C. James, a magnificent wicket-keeper. Whatever may be the outcome of this tour, the players will benefit enormously from the experience gained and will take back with them a vast store of practical knowledge which must benefit the whole of New Zealand cricket. By their hearty enjoyment in playing the game I feel sure that they will leave behind them a memory which will place them in years to come in the category of those attractive sides who have toured England.
No article on New Zealand cricket would be complete without acknowledging the enthusiasm of Mr. Arthur Sims, Mr. Dan Reese, Sir Arthur Donnelly, K.B.E., Endel Wanklyn, the present Chairman of the Management Committee, and E. E. Luttrell, Honorary Secretary, all of whom have played a leading part in administering New Zealand cricket during recent years.
To the 1949 New Zealand team I wish as happy and as memorable a tour as I enjoyed with my team in their country in 1929-30.