Friday, 5 November 2010

"I stayed on the loo all night." Fifty-five years ago playing against India in India was difficult !

I was introduced to cricket at  Mornington Primary School in Dunedin, New Zealand when I was about 7 years of age by Alex Moir, who was a member of that marathon New Zealand cricket tour of India, in 1955-56.. Another member of that team, Bert Sutcliffe was a neighbour.. Then there was Noel McGregor and Jack Alabaster who I watched play regularly at Carisbrook, a short walk from my home. These four Otago cricketers were members of the New Zealand cricket team to tour Pakistan and India in 1955-56 which was not only the first tour of India by a New Zealand tea, but arguably the toughest ever.
Today I have been watching the NZ cricket team playing in India, and they are doing very well. The 1955-56 team  played 16 arduous matches over many months and that tour became legent in the annals of NZ cricket.

Alex Moir was happy to talk cricket to us at lunchtimes at school shortly after his return from the cricket tour of India and he regailed us with tales of Maharajas, elephants and poverty.  He also spoke of the warm hospitality, the gentlemanly approach to cricket. the heat and strange food, which proved a handicap to several of the players who suffered from stomach trouble, dengue fever and other illnesses.

It was New Zealand's first trip to the sub-continent and fast bowler Tony MacGibbon found it especially hard as Indian and Pakistan pitches did little to encourage his bowling. He wasn't helped by treatment for a stomach illness that was completely the opposite of what he needed. "It was very difficult for us. They were doing their best for us and were extremely hospitable."

But the food preparation, particularly when out of the main centres was the problem and all the New Zealanders struggled at various times. "At one stage I went to sleep with a couple of pillows behind me while I stayed on the loo all night," said MacGibbon.

By the time the tour finished and he had picked up 14 wickets in eight Test matches, at an average of 58, he learned he had dengue fever. "In the second innings of the last Test I had felt not quite right and had a splitting headache while I was batting. I was then picked to play against Combined Universities at Nagpur and was sitting beside John Reid waiting to bat. I remember saying to him, 'God, it's got cold.' And he looked at me and said it was 93 degrees," recalled MacGibbon.

Gary Sutcliffe used to play cricket with me at our local park, and occasionally, his Dad, Bert Sutcliffe would join us for a few hits.

My neighbour Sutcliffe, the left-hander, after a comparatively disappointing time in Pakistan, ran into excellent form in India, particularly in the Tests, and his 230 not out at New Delhi constituted an individual record for New Zealand (photo right).When I lived in Delhi between 2000 and 2006 I was frequently reminded that Bert Sutcliffe still held the world record for the highest score in a test match in New Delhi. Well done Bert !

Matches--Played 16, Won 3, Lost 6, Drawn 7

So as the New Zealand cricket team play in excellent conditions, live in fine accomodation, and eat specially prepared food, think of those pioneering NZ cricketers who did NZ proud in 1955-56 in our country's first ever tour of India.
As much as I salute Bert Sutcliffe, John Reid and the rest of the 1955 team, I salute the wonderful play today, 6 November 2010, Jesse Ryder, playing his first Test in 14 months, and Kane Williamson, playing his first Test, batted with the assurance of gnarled pros of the old era to help New Zealand clamber out of trouble to a position where they have an outside chance of a first-innings lead. The prospect of New Zealand being asked to bat again had loomed large at lunch, after they lost both Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in the space of six runs when they were less than halfway to the follow-on mark.

Thank you Alex Moir for introducing me to cricket, and to Bert Sutcliffe, Noel McGregor and Jack Alabaster for inspiring me to play and follow this noble game.

And thank you Jesse Ryder,( pictured above) Kane Williamson, Brendan McCallum and Ross Taylor, for showing me that Kiwis of today, can stand tall and play cricket as hard as ever, against India.


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