Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 11 February

Musings from beyond the boundary – cricketing thoughts through the eyes of Trevor Auger, an Auckland Cricket Society and Supporters Club Member.

Sad news on Saturday with the passing of Bevan Congdon, one of New Zealand’s most noteworthy cricketers and a hero for many a Kiwi schoolboy in the early 1970s.

Congdon made his test debut at the Basin Reserve in January 1965, a promising start scoring 42 and 30 as Pakistan narrowly avoided defeat. He played his last test at Lord’s in 1978, by which time he was drawing the curtain on his fourth tour of England.

In between times he had shared with Glenn Turner the record for the most test centuries by a New Zealander, he had taken 59 test wickets with his canny medium-paced seamers, and taking the gloves as a substitute ‘keeper in the test at Lahore in 1965, he stumped Pervez Sajjad off Barry Sinclair. This was a most unusual dismissal as it was the only occasion when Sinclair bowled in test cricket (he finished with 2/32).

His first test century came against England at Lancaster Park in 1965/66 but it was a long wait until the next one. In the meantime, following Graham Dowling’s finger injury he had captained New Zealand against Sam Trimble’s 1969/70 Australian tourists, a team which would be called Australia A in today’s nomenclature.

His first match in charge was at Eden Park and he scored 59 and 83 against an attack including Alan Thomson, Dave Renneberg, Graeme Watson, Greg Chappell and Terry Jenner, test players all. For good measure he also dismissed Greg Chappell for a sumptuous 94 in the first innings, and in the second innings he took all three Australian wickets to fall as the match ended in a draw.

Another injury forced Dowling out of the 1972 West Indies tour almost before it began and once again Congdon stepped up to take the reins. He would go on to lead his country in 17 tests. By all accounts he was a tough captain, on his own team as much as on his opponents. He set high standards and he ensured that he led by example.

His batting in the Caribbean was a revelation. After a quiet first test he scored 119 and 42 not out against Trinidad and then 166 not out and 82 in the Second Test. In the Third Test in Barbados he made 126, and then 103 against Guyana, before adding an unbeaten 61 in New Zealand’s only innings in the Fourth Test. Garry Sobers bowled him for 58 in the last Test of the series, in which he averaged 88.5.

Just for good measure he was also second in the test bowling averages, with 13 wickets. Congdon’s bowling became more and more important as his career evolved, beginning in the sub-continent in 1969 where he played an important role on the slower pitches in Pakistan in particular, supporting the spinners and picking up important wickets. He took just five wickets in his first 23 test matches but he added another 54 victims in his remaining 38 outings.

An unobtrusive home series against Pakistan followed, but then came the memorable 1973 tour of England when Congdon’s consecutive 176 at Trent Bridge and 175 at Lord’s won him high praise from the local critics and a place amongst Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year.

Australia provided the next challenge – they had only played one previous test match in New Zealand, a two day affair at Wellington in 1946 which had ended up ignominiously for New Zealand. Things didn’t start so well in 1973/74 either, with Australia batting first and declaring at 511/6. Step up Bevan Congdon, who top-scored with 132, adding 229 for the fourth wicket with Brian Hastings.

The test was drawn and the teams moved on to Christchurch and New Zealand’s famous first victory over Australia. This was the only test win under Congdon’s captaincy but it was one of the most important in our history. This time the telling contribution came with the ball. As Australia were dismissed for 223 after being sent in (only the third time Congdon had won the toss in 14 tests) he took 3/33 – the wickets of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Kerry O’Keeffe.

In the next test at Eden Park he went one better, taking 4/46 to clean up the Australian tail, as Australia were all out for 221. Unfortunately he failed twice with the bat, along with several of his team-mates, and Australia recovered to square the series.

A year later England visited and put New Zealand to the sword at Eden Park, scoring 593/6 decl. Congdon, who had just turned 37, bowled 30 (8-ball) overs dismissing both Mike Denness and Keith Fletcher, who had enjoyed a partnership of 266 for the fourth wicket.

These were also the formative years of the One Day game and at the Basin Reserve Congdon scored only the second ODI hundred by a New Zealander (following Ken Wadsworth’s 104 against Australia a year previous). This was New Zealand’s only century in an ODI at the Basin until this season’s efforts by Kane Williamson and Martin Guptill.

Remarkably, Congdon still has the highest ODI batting average for New Zealand amongst players who batted on at least ten occasions – 54.71 from 12 matches.

The following summer India were the tourists and in the First Test at Eden Park Congdon scored 54. He then bowled 26.7 overs to take his test-best 5/65, and then in the second innings scored another 54 batting at number 3, a true testimony to his fitness and stamina. New Zealand had two more innings in the series and Congdon passed 50 in both of those as well.

A year later against Australia at Lancaster Park New Zealand were set a fourth innings target of 350 to win. Congdon, playing his 100th test innings, was unbeaten at the end on 107, his final test hundred, as New Zealand hung on for the draw at 293/8. The next highest score was Mark Burgess’s 39.

Forty years ago this weekend New Zealand beat England for the first time and in that famous match at the Basin Reserve Congdon scored an important 44 in the first innings, ultimately the third highest score in the match on either side. He celebrated his fortieth birthday on the second day of the match by taking 2/14 off 17 and a half eight-ball overs, with 11 maidens. He went on to bowl 63 and a half overs in the series, and 30 of these were not scored from.

The 1978 English tour was his swansong and while his test series was a quiet one he still finished the tour with 556 runs at an average approaching 35, and 23 wickets at just over 27. The last of his 23 first class hundreds came against a Warwickshire attack headed by the English opening bowlers Bob Willis and David Brown.

At the end of the 1972 Caribbean tour, Don Cameron wrote of Congdon’s achievements that they “established him as a great man, and almost as a great cricketer”.  Nothing through the balance of his distinguished career detracted from that fine assessment. In Wisden, Dick Brittenden’s conclusion was that Congdon “is simply a cricketer’s cricketer”.

Five years ago at a function at the Basin Reserve Bevan Congdon introduced himself to me in a manner that suggested I would not know who he was. I could only tell him what an honour and privilege it was to meet him. He will be remembered as one of New Zealand’s most determined, most courageous, most accomplished, and most admired cricketers.

Looking ahead now to what we all hope will be the start of another distinguished career under the Black Cap, congratulations to Mark Chapman who has been called up to the national T20 side.

Chapman has earned his place not just through the weight of runs that he’s scored through the Burger King Super Smash and Ford Trophy campaigns but through the way he has scored those runs. He times the ball superbly and the measure of his deceptive power is the speed at which he accumulates his runs.

In T20 cricket he has a strike rate of 130 in 52 matches. In the fifty over format he scores at almost a run a ball and in 30 innings he has already scored four centuries and another eight fifties. Throw in his athletic fielding and he looks an excellent prospect to continue the successful international career which he began as a 19-year-old for Hong Kong.

T20 is an unforgiving format, particularly for a new middle order batsman, but everything I’ve heard about the former King’s College Head Boy suggests that he has the temperament and the level-headedness to accompany his undoubted cricketing skill.

The sorry weather has upset an important weekend of domestic cricket, and removed any chance of the Hearts recovering top spot in the Women’s T20 Competition for this season. A pair of losses in the Friday double-header saw the Auckland team slip one win behind the Wellington Blaze, and that gap remained after Saturday’s game.

On Sunday the Hearts were to take on the fifth-placed Northern Spirit in the final round while the Blaze confronted the resurgent (and third-placed) Canterbury Magicians. There was still a possibility of a winner’s medal for the Aucklanders, but the weather put paid to that with all games being abandoned.

Still, a second place in the T20 competition to follow the successful Hallyburton Johnstone Shield campaign is a very good result. Skipper Maddy Green finished as the competition’s third highest run-getter and she was helped along magnificently though this last round of matches by the returning Sara McGlashan.

Amongst the bowlers, Anna Peterson took the most wickets in the competition, alongside the Blaze’s Lucy Doolan. Bella Armstrong, Arlene Kelly and Holly Huddleston all joined Peterson amongst the country’s top six wicket-takers.

Next Saturday will see the Aces playing for a place in the Ford Trophy Final. Let’s hope the weather is rather better for that, and for the Friday night T20 extravaganza against Australia!