Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tana Umaga tells it like it is

Sports autobiographies, and rugby versions especially, come and go at a great rate of knots in New Zealand but one that has made its mark is that of Tana Umaga, the recently-retired All Blacks captain.

Tana Umaga, Up Close, attracted a deal of post-release publicity for his disclosures on specific aspects of his career.

But it would be a great shame if this effort, written by Paul Thomas, was to escape the attention of those with an ounce of care about the game in New Zealand.

Having read the book, it is no surprise that those at the head of the game have not reacted as quickly as in the past over the failure of the All Blacks at the World Cup.

Umaga was not especially enamoured of the style of coaching contender Robbie Deans, who was tied up with the John Mitchell coaching era which ended in the 20003 World Cup disappointments.

Umaga said that it was tough at the time because players didn't know where they stood with the coaches.

"Despite being a senior player, I got no feedback at all - just, 'No, you're not in this week.' That was pretty typical of the Mitchell/Deans man-management style, which wasn't what I was used to," he said.

Being a non-Crusader also made life difficult in that Crusader dominated era.

"Mitchell and Deans had a core group of players whom they valued and listened to, and it didn't include me," he said.

Umaga's attitude was just to play harder and prove they needed him, which is pretty much the way he approached most aspects of his career.

But he had no sympathy for the pair when they lost their places after the 2003 World Cup.

"I didn't feel sorry for them because I remembered the contemptuous way they cast aside experienced and valuable players. I'm a big believer in karma and that was certainly a case of what goes around, comes around," he said.

Umaga also left no doubts about his feelings with the coaching panel of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith.

Their set-up was the best he had come across, he said.

Umaga said he supported the concept of conditioning.

"We needed to be innovative because the way we've gone about it for the last four World Cups hasn't worked, but, for whatever reason, the rationale for the rotation system and the conditioning programme hasn't been accepted by some critics.

"Criticism is one thing, but some people seem to be itching for the opportunity to say, 'I told you so', which is a sad indictment," he said.

Umaga was also strong on the point that the transition from Super 14 to All Blacks is tough on players, especially mentally.

While his book was produced before this year's World Cup debacle the points he makes about the state of the game are interesting and concisely put.

Adding lustre to his story is the Samoan connection and its place in the New Zealand game. It is a healthy reminder of the changing face of sport in this country.

Umaga may be off coaching in France but it is very difficult to imagine that his connection with top level rugby in New Zealand is finishing. A coaching career is not beyond the realms of possibility and if it proves half as interesting as his book then All Blacks rugby will still have plenty to offer.

Tana Umaga - Up Close with Paul Thomas. Hodder Moa. Price $49.99

Stewart leaves no stone unturned

Sir Jackie Stewart has been a survivor, when many of his closest friends among the motor racing fraternity were not.

It has taken him a long time to commit the thoughts about his career to paper, and at times it must have been an emotional exercise to complete.

Young men with lifetimes ahead of them, crashed throughout the heydays of motor sport, but even from his earliest days as a champion grand prix driver, Stewart was unhappy with the lack of safety provisions on the world's motor racing circuit.

In but one of several eye-opening features of his recently released book Winning Is Not Everything, Stewart outlines the antagonism he struck, not only from race track owners and promoters but from within the driving ranks.

It took rare fortitude to keep up the battle but a whole new generation of drivers can thank Stewart and those few who supported his stance for the greater safety among grands prix in the modern era.

How typical that those who stood to profit most from the efforts of the drivers should show the greatest resistance to understanding the need for some effort to be made towards driver safety.

That Stewart showed the resilience to emerge from the controversial era with life and reputation intact is hardly surprising when this book is viewed in its entirety.

The first point Stewart makes is about his dyslexia, which went unobserved until his son was tested for it. Perhaps because he included it first, he makes it one of the most crucial aspects of his life.

The problem led to him suffering from not only his school classmates, but also from his teachers, when he was unable to read. Clearly it became a driving force as he sought to establish himself in the world, initially as a trapshooter who just failed to make Britain's 1960 Olympic Games team, but latterly as a driver.

His subsequent success and a mixture of lucky breaks and considered thinking saw him claim the world drivers' championship three times. He later became a successful team owner and a media figure, especially in United States coverage of motorsport, and businessman.

The tale he has provided, which also includes a DVD of career highlights, is an enthralling story, chockful of the sort of attention to detail that clearly marked his driving career, and anecdote and name-dropping that demonstrates an engaging personality.

Stewart's has clearly been a life fully lived, representing as it does a triumph over the odds which denied him many friends at a time in life when those friendships should be one of the most satisfying parts of his life.

But in taking the lessons from those losses and applying them to the sport that nurtured him, Stewart has created an example of selflessness and fortitude that exceeds his achievements on the track.

Any professional sportsman, or person who claims to have an understanding of sport, must surely benefit from reading this story of professionalism at the cutting edge of competition.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

New Zealand's 1937 tour of England (Part 3)

1937 (Part Three) Lack of consistent play was the difference

The New Zealanders, having completed their tour of England, were put on a boat for five weeks and returned home via Australia, where they were quickly expected to adjust to local conditions and offer strong competition to three State sides.

Lynn McConnell concludes his three-part series on New Zealand’s 1937 tour as seen through the eyes of Merv Wallace and the late Bill Carson.

After completing their duties in England and packing everything up for the journey home, half of the side decided to take the option to travel across France and to join the ship at Toulon.

After a one-day match in Colombo, the side's next game was in Adelaide. When the ship arrived there they were met by Don Bradman, Clarrie Grimmett, Victor Richardson and Eric Tindill. The New Zealand wicketkeeper had caught an earlier ship with his wife, who had been in England, and waited for them in South Australia.

Wallace said of the arrival in Adelaide: "We were all very interested in meeting Bradman, He drove some of the team into Adelaide in his car, and afterwards we saw a good deal of him. He is a fine chap and appears to be very comfortably situated in Adelaide. The main thing that struck me about him was his small and slight physique. The South Australian team as a whole were a very small side.

"We had several free days in Adelaide before our match, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, varying our sight-seeing with some golf and tennis. I am sure that if fewer matches had been played on the English tour, and we had had more opportunities of relaxation, the team would have done better, and this applies to any cricket tour. Personally I think it would be better to concentrate on week-end games, leaving the middle of the week free."

Carson also enjoyed the break and noted: "Amongst the party at golf was Don Bradman. He is an unassuming little chap and has the funniest voice one could wish to hear. He is a very good golfer and has a three-handicap. That night we attended a billiard evening at his boss's place – a man called Hodgetts. Jack Lamason, our crack player beat Bradman 100-22."

In the match against South Australia, New Zealand showed the effects of not having had a lot of cricket in the previous six weeks and was all out, largely as a result of its choice of shots, for 154. The home team's innings was famous for the dismissal of Bradman, in his only game against New Zealand, for 11 runs, caught by Tindill from Cowie's bowling on the second morning of the game.

"This in a sense was the worst catch of the tour. We lost our chance of seeing the prince of batsmen in action, and deprived the New Zealand Cricket Council of a huge sum of gate money. The crowd was streaming into the ground to see Bradman, but after he had gone there was very little further interest," Wallace said.

South Australia scored 330, and 180 behind, New Zealand was all out for 186, the four-day game ending in three days.

The next game, against Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, provided some excitement for the New Zealanders, especially newcomer Cyril Parsloe who had joined the tour in Adelaide as Jack Dunning was unable to play that leg of the tour. New Zealand batted first and was all out for 210, facing some fiery fast bowling on the fastest pitch it struck on the tour. Hadlee hitting two sixes back over fast bowler Ernie McCormick's head.

Victoria was then dismissed for 141, Parsloe taking 5-47. "He, too, made the ball fly a bit and some of their batsmen did not relish this sort of stuff," Wallace said of Parsloe's efforts in comparison to McCormick. New Zealand left Victoria 293 to win, a target it achieved with five wickets down.

The last match of the tour, against New South Wales, saw another disappointing start. New Zealand was all out for 195. But if NSW had visions of an easy response, Jack Cowie had different ideas. He clean bowled Arthur Chipperfield and Stan McCabe while Parsloe had Albert Cheatham and Jack Fingleton at which stage it was 20-4 wickets. However, it recovered and scored 274. New Zealand was all out a second time for 214 which left NSW 136 to win.

It did it with eight wickets to the good, but not without what might generously be called some luck.

"Eventually they got the runs comfortably enough, but Chipperfield, who had a big hand in getting them, should have been given out when he was 30, as he slipped and fell on his wicket in trying to hit a full toss from Parsloe. Vivian had to appeal four times before the umpire answered, then to our amazement he gave Chipperfield not out," Wallace said.

"This was not the only bad decision against us in Australia, and I formed the opinion that the umpiring there was not consistently good. One learns to take the bad with the good, but a decision of lbw against me against South Australia had me completely baffled, as I had played the ball quite firmly with my bat before it hit my pads and went out towards point. I actually started to run and could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that the umpire had his hand up in response to the automatic appeal of the bowler. The bowler afterwards apologised to me, and several others of their players commented on the bad decision," he said.

Sadly the thoughts of some in Australia that a tour to New Zealand in 1939-40 might be the start of regular reciprocal tours never eventuated due to the outbreak of the Second World War, a conflict that was to claim the lives of both Carson and another player on the tour Sonny Moloney.

In making an overall assessment of the tour Wallace made some pertinent points.

"Their cricket is not much better than ours, the main difference being in the greater amount of first-class cricket they get," Wallace said of the English.

In both instances, more cricket and reciprocal tours, it was to be the mid-1970s before the situation was improved with immediate benefit to New Zealand cricket. New Zealand's domestic competition was almost doubled thanks to the sponsorship of Shell and Australia agreed to more regular contact at international level.

"I would like to say this, that we in New Zealand have, in my opinion, no cause whatever to be ashamed of the standard of our cricket. We are not nearly so far behind what are termed the first-class cricket countries, Australia and England, as many people imagine.

"The difference between their cricket and ours is that they are steadier than we are, but this would be remedied if we had more big games. I am satisfied that if New Zealand cricketers got the keen match practice that overseas players get, and we were able to cultivate the same steadiness that they possess, we would give anyone a good go.

"I am not exaggerating when I say that our batsmen were not beaten by any bowling we struck either in England or Australia. There were times, of course, when owing to the state of the wicket certain bowlers were for brief periods practically unplayable.

"I recall in particular, [Arthur] Wellard, of Somerset, who gave Wally Hadlee and me a nightmare half-hour before the dew dried from the wicket, after which he was comparatively innocuous, whereas beforehand good length balls had been either moving off the track or coming up hard, so that Hadlee and I in the early stages were both hit hard by rising balls.

"My impression of the main difference between our opponents and us, in batting, was that they were disinclined to take risks, whereas times without number our batsmen would run into the forties or thereabouts and then go out trying to make shots. It wasn't a case of being beaten by the bowling.

"As far as opposing batsmen were concerned, Joe Hardstaff, who was out here with Errol Holmes's side, was the best bat we played against. He is a delightful player to watch being a model of style and execution and keeps the score moving steadily."

The tour resulted in English critics acknowledging that three-day Test matches were unworthy of a side that had travelled so far to play, but it was to be another 21 years before New Zealand was accorded five-day Test matches in England. That tour is another story however.

In the final outcome, it could only be wondered how different things might have been with different selection. What if Tom Pritchard been selected to support Jack Cowie? What if Paul Whitelaw had been included and if leg-spinner Bernie Griffiths had been allowed to tour instead of being mysteriously left out due to alleged problems with his teeth? Having been selected he failed a medical test, but would later never experience any problems with his teeth whatsoever.

It was one of those tours and, unfortunately, it was to be some years before New Zealand’s selectors learnt their lesson.

New Zealand's 1937 tour of England (Part Two)

1937 (Part Two) A win over England slips through New Zealand's fingers

Part Two: A win over England slips through New Zealand’s fingers

New Zealanders remember the occasion in 1978 when finally a Test victory was achieved over England, but members of the 1937 side would often recall how close they came in the second Test at Manchester when poor catching let them down.

Lynn McConnell continues his look at the 1937 tour of England through the eyes of players Merv Wallace and the late Bill Carson, in this second of three parts.

It is hard to believe the build-up the side was presented with for the match. A game against second-class opposition would hardly be seen as the ideal build-up for a Test match nowadays. But that was what the team did, not only playing Scotland, but also a two-day game against a Scottish XI to follow.

In the second Test, England won the toss again and this time made no mistakes in the top-order as it scored 240 for one wicket. But the next eight wickets fell for 118 runs, as Norman Gallichan tied up Hammond, bowling two maidens to him and then clean bowling him in the third over.

New Zealand had a poor start with the first wicket falling at 19 but Vivian and Hadlee restored the situation. Vivian made 58 while Hadlee scored 93 and was only denied a century when slipping on the wet ground and breaking his wicket. New Zealand's innings ended at 281

England lost Hutton, Hammond and Charlie Barnett for 37 runs. The next morning the rout continued as England found itself 75-7. But four dropped chances off Freddie Brown saw him go on to score 57 and England reach 187.

"This was where we had lost our matches. The chances in the slips were hard, but Englishman or Australians would have held them. It was heartbreaking to see the match slip through our fingers," Wallace said.

Needing 265 to win the game, New Zealand struggled and was all out for 134. Tom Goddard taking 6-29. Most of the New Zealand team didn't see the end of the innings. They had to leave to catch a train, and were joined by the others once the game was completed.

The disappointment of the Test loss was not evident when the side batted first against Surrey and scored 495. Donnelly made the highest score of the tour to that date with 144. Page made 90 while Wallace hit 69 and Moloney 51.

"Donnelly gave a chance or two, but nevertheless played a most meritorious innings. When in form, as he was at this stage of the tour, he is a brilliant batsman, and a beautiful player to watch, as he hits the ball very hard," Wallace said.

Having reduced Surrey to 147-7, the tail-order carried them through to 270. New Zealand declared at 198-5. Then an outstanding response, considering it was without its three best bowlers, Cowie, who had gone down with the 'flu and Dunning and Roberts who were not playing, saw Surrey dismissed for 274. New Zealand had an outright victory to savour. Vivian took 3-45, Moloney 3-67, Page 2-36 and Gallichan 2-57.

The next match was to provide an unhappy pair for Eric Tindill. It was played against Glamorgan at Swansea's St Helen's Ground, where Tindill had been part of the 1935-36 All Black team that was beaten by Swansea which played two schoolboys, Haydn Tanner and Willie Davies at scrumhalf and flyhalf.

"A big crowd turned out to watch us, but we were not at our best. The travelling had been heavy and to play a test, then travel half the night and be expected to take the field fresh next morning [fielding twice in succession made it harder] was nothing short of absurd," Wallace said.

Carson added that a bit of Welsh subterfuge was added to the mix. "They put one across us but even then I daresay we would have been beaten. The wicket was one which crumbles very quickly. On Saturday it had worn patches in it so on the Sunday the groundsman watered and rolled it. Consequently on the Monday it was as good as it could be. But when we had to bat on Tuesday it just crumbled away again. The umpires told Page that if it had have been a county game they would never have let the game go on."

Going into the final innings, New Zealand were 442 runs behind, but on reaching 71-3 by stumps on day two, the lasted only 40 minutes on the third morning when all out for 110, a loss by 332 runs. A draw followed against Warwickshire but in the final match before the third Test against Essex, Jack Dunning took a six-wicket bag and Hadlee scored his first century of the tour as New Zealand claimed a four-wicket win.

Carson was beginning to bowl by this stage of the tour and in the next match, against Warwickshire, he opened the bowling. The game was drawn while in the next Essex was beaten by four wickets.

An unofficial match was played against Sir Julien Cahn's side before the Test which featured all the international players Cahn had attracted to England to work in his various enterprises. But with Bill Carson and Eric Tindill unbeaten on 54 and 48 respectively, New Zealand took a nine-wicket win, the first defeat for Cahn's team for some time.

England made four changes for the third Test with Denis Compton making his debut. New Zealand won the toss for only the second time in first-class matches on the tour. It scored 30 runs after a rain delay but at lunch the heavens opened and there was no more play for the rest of the day. On the second day, New Zealand reached 249. England declared at lunch on day three at 254-7. New Zealand made 187, which was too many for England to score in less than an hour left of play.

The rest of the tour became something of an anti-climax with the main work completed. Wallace broke his thumb during the second innings of the Test and Page and Hadlee also suffered injuries that needed treatment while the team beat Combined Services by nine wickets. A draw was played out against Hampshire and then in a tight finish against Kent, the last pair were at the wicket when five runs were still required.

Cowie had Doug Wright in all sorts of trouble and when he finally hit the ball onto his wickets, the bails were not dislodged and they recovered to score the winning runs. In the next match, against Sussex, Lowry captained the side and New Zealand scored 546. Having scored 151 when batting first Sussex was then removed for 163 in its second innings, giving New Zealand the win over what was regarded as one of the strongest county sides, by an innings and 237 runs.

A match against an All-England XI selected by Sir Pelham Warner was played at Folkestone with the All-England side scoring 464. New Zealand was 20-2 but a fifth-wicket stand of 233 between Jack Kerr and Sonny Moloney, who scored 112 and 140 respectively, allowed New Zealand to reach 431. All-England declared at 186-9 and, at stumps, which were taken early because New Zealand had to catch a train, it was 182-2.

Lowry's uneven selection policy had its inevitable outcome when a row broke out before the All-England match. Lowry was clearly a larger than life figure but not especially supported by all of the side. Carson noted, "Gallichan was left out for the third game in succession and Lamason for the third time in four games. There was a proper bust up about it and both had a piece of Lowry. However, nothing could be done and I must say that neither Lamason, Weir nor Gallichan have had a fair spin.

"In London I was left out of the seventh first-class game in the last nine. The policy of this team is to play one team all the time even if some are out of form. Lamason who was in great form was also left out. He and I are now known as the grounds staff of the side."

An easy win followed against Minor Counties before the last match in England, against H D Leveson-Gower’s XI at Scarborough. There was one more duty, a three-day match against Ireland.

Wallace summed it up in one paragraph. "The match was against Gentlemen of Ireland at the Rathmines ground and was marked by sensational cricket. They were out for 79, and, feeling very happy, we then went in and were dismissed for 64. In they went again and Cowie simply paralysed them, taking six wickets for three runs. Their whole side was out for 30, and we got the 46 for a win the same day, the first of a three-day match, with the loss of only two wickets. This was the first time for many years that a first-class cricket match anywhere had finished in one day."

The delight of two days off proved momentary however, as Irish officials asked Lowry to help them meet their commitment to paying spectators who had paid to watch the second and third days. Lowry agreed and in the two days, New Zealand still managed a win by an innings.

The side then had 13 days off before sailing for home, via Australia.

New Zealand's 1937 tour of England

1937 (Part One) A tour undone by selection inadequacies

Lynn McConnell looks, in three parts, at New Zealand's 1937 cricket tour of Britain through the eyes of players Merv Wallace and the late Bill Carson.

After the tour was over, Merv Wallace, who was one of the younger players in the touring team and who topped the averages and aggregate with 1641 runs at 41.02 in England, penned a series of articles for the New Zealand Observer. Bill Carson’s correspondence home from the tour has also provided some interesting sidelights. This was most notably in relation to the frustration he suffered from not being able to match the exceptional form in New Zealand that had seen him selected for the tour in the first place.

New Zealand in 1937 left Wellington on March 27 and returned on November 26. The journey was literally a voyage taking six weeks to get to England, and even longer coming back due to three games being played in Australia. It had originally been intended that the team would come back the same way it had gone to England, across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal. However, it was decided to play some games in Australia on the way back in an effort to lift the profitability of the tour.

Given that New Zealand had hardly played any Test cricket since its previous tour in 1931, and would be without some of the key players from that tour, it was going to be a tough venture. Stewie Dempster, Bill Merritt and Ken James had all returned to England during the mid-1930s and found themselves cast into selectorial oblivion due to the New Zealand Cricket Council's policy of the time of not selecting players who returned to play in England.

The side was not helped by the selection policy of the day that offered little chance for 'country' players, those who lived outside the four main centres. Martin Donnelly, who scored 1414 runs in England, got through the system and Norman Gallichan too, but the fact that Tom Pritchard was not selected, despite a special trial having been arranged for him to be looked at, was a big blow for the side.

The selector who saw Pritchard bowl never left the train which pulled up alongside the net left with the comment, "We've got half a dozen bowlers like that in Wellington."

It is one of the great quotes of New Zealand cricket history. Pritchard in a distinguished post-war career would end with 818 first-class wickets at 23.30! He was certainly to be missed and it can only be wondered how much different the tour might have been had he partnered the bowling success of the tour, Jack Cowie. Cowie took 114 wickets in England at 19.95.

Recent research has provided more background of that tour which was captained by M L 'Curly' Page and managed by Tom Lowry, an enormous figure in New Zealand cricket history. This was largely as the result of his celebrated time with Somerset in county cricket, and due to his leadership of the first two New Zealand teams to England in 1927 and 1931.

There was no doubt that he was also a controversial manager, who played occasionally as reserve wicketkeeper to Eric Tindill, and who sometimes usurped the captaincy from the appointed vice-captain Giff Vivian.

The New Zealanders travelled to England on the Arawa and had the company of the Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage who was travelling to England for the coronation of King George VI.

By comparison to the wardrobe of gear provided for teams every time they leave on tour nowadays, the team members of 1937 had very little to carry when they left New Zealand.

"No gear of any kind was supplied to us before leaving. In England, several firms came to light, one London firm giving each of us a pair of cricketing flannels. Others gave us bats, pads etc. This helped to reduce the cost of maintaining an outfit, which otherwise would have been heavy," Wallace recalled.

It appears that Carson had 'ricked' his ankle before leaving New Zealand and he was prevented from taking part in many of the deck exercises the team used on the voyage to England. It is now clear from his correspondence that his injury was not taken seriously enough by Lowry until the end of the tour.

It was only at that stage that Lowry accompanied Carson to a Harley Street specialist to have the injury assessed and a programme of treatment advised.

"…On Wednesday," Carson wrote home on September 25, by which time the team was due to head home, "I went along to a specialist with T Lowry to let him see my ankle. It hasn't been hurting me but I just don't think it is right yet. He said that on the inside of the foot there are two small bones which take a muscle equally between them. One of the bones of mine has been pulled away by the rick I gave it and consequently the muscle is now straining only on one so causing pain. Also the [unreadable word] of the tissues has caused the blood to congeal at that part. I have been getting it massaged and electrically treated so that it will become looser. He has given me exercises to so as to strengthen the muscles," Carson wrote.

Just what effect this sort of injury had on Carson's ability to bat can only be wondered.

Wallace commented at tour's end: "Since I returned a number of people have put up to me the question: 'Why did Bill Carson not do better in England?' My answer is that, while admittedly Bill did not make the big scores he had been hitting up in such phenomenal style in New Zealand, he played many very sound and useful knocks, but he was exceedingly unlucky in that frequently, when apparently just settling down, he would lift a ball the merest trifle and go out to some freakish catch."

Carson might have had maritime blood running through his family, (his father was the harbourmaster at Gisborne) but he didn't quite enjoy the start of the voyage. He wrote home that the Arawa broke down for 24 hours and had to hove to so temporary repairs could be made soon after leaving New Zealand. He was seasick for four days.

And being confined to the ship for so long also had its drawbacks: "We rise at present at 8.15am – although next week I believe we have to get up at 7.45am to exercise," he wrote. Have breakfast at 9am and sit on a deck chair on top of the hatch on the top deck at the back of the buildings behind the bridge till 1.15pm, when we go down and eat again. We then trot up stairs as fast as possible to get our chairs. Occasionally we break the spell by having a game of deck quoits and deck tennis. The latter game I don't play yet as my ankle is not yet right. At 6.30pm we go down again and this time we put on our dinner suits for tea. Afterwards we attend the programmes arranged."

But once he had his sea legs things improved. "I am enjoying the trip beautifully now. Haven't felt a bit sick since I got over the first four days…The ankle has not got better yet. I can walk and never feel it. But as soon as I run it is a wee bit sore, or when I bend it sideways the ligaments become sore."

However, the injury and its effects were not immediately obvious after arrival in England. Merv Wallace commented on Carson's form in the opening game against Surrey at The Oval. Carson was 60 not out in New Zealand's 141 for five wickets in reply to Surrey's 149. "Carson hooked and square cut in bold style." He went on to finish with 85.

After the first loss of the tour, against Glamorgan, a match which New Zealand had played at Cardiff Arms Park, the day after completing a match at Lord's, Wallace noted his first unease with the nature of the itinerary.

"The strenuous character of our tour is shown by the fact that before leaving for the ground on that third day we had packed and left our baggage for 'Fergie' [scorer and baggageman] to forward, and immediately after the match, when everyone was dog tired, we boarded a train for Oxford, reaching there about 10pm and starting a match against the University eleven next morning. This sort of thing went on right through the tour. We started one match immediately after another, with train travelling sandwiched in between. In the long run it was no wonder the players began to feel stale and weary."

The Oxford side included RCM Kimpton, an Australian, who took toll of the New Zealand slow bowlers. However, Jack Cowie was a different story as Carson related: "This match showed that Cowie was going to be a real menace in England. He took six for 51, four of them clean-bowled in exhilarating style. He dismissed Kimpton, Walford and Grover in one great over."

The next match was a win over Cambridge which represented the first time a New Zealand team had won a first-class match in two days. Cambridge scored 102 after deciding to bat first. "Dunning, who was in great form at this period, bowled to a leg field and took six wickets, Carson helping with two fine catches at short leg. At the close of play we had lost four for 46. I was still in at stumps, with 10 not out, and owing to rain showers, which interrupted play, had been in and out to the crease about three times in half an hour.

"Next day we raised our total to 135. Fraser, a left-hander bowling round the wicket, did considerable execution. I managed to hold my end up for 71, and had a merry lash at the finish when Jack Cowie was in with me. He held his end up most unselfishly for one run while I went for the bowling. (They added 41 runs for the last wicket)

"The Cambridge second innings realised 128. There were three for 104 at lunch, but after that Moloney struck a patch and at one stage took five wickets for three runs with slow leg spinners. His average in this innings, five for 23, put him at the top of the bowling averages and he was thus top in both batting and bowling. We needed 96 to win and got them with the loss of two wickets, Page making 53. This was an outright win in a first-class match, the first time a New Zealand team has won a first-class match in two days."

But they were soon back to reality as they lost to Lancashire by eight wickets.

In the drawn game against Northamptonshire, Carson played more to his potential and noted: "The match was played on a beautiful wicket. Donnelly managed to get 89 and then was caught in slips. He is the only person I have ever seen who flicks at the off ball and gets away with it. Wallace batted well again. He is now in great form. In the first innings I was bowled for the first time in England. I played forward instead of back and the ball broke back and bowled me.

"In the second innings I struck true form for the first time for a long while. The first night I was 52 not out. Next morning we were only batting till 12.15 which meant I had to get 48 runs in 45 mins. At 12.10 I was 86 and unfortunately in attempting to drive a ball I mistimed it and was caught easily. However, I am now in great form and it shouldn't be long before I get a lot of runs."

After the Northampton game, Wallace commented: "The 'gate' at this and several other matches was distressingly small and personally I don't think these matches against second-rate county sides are worth playing as the return does not pay the travelling expenses. It would be better to give the side a rest and allow it to concentrate on the more important games, where a bigger gate would give a better financial return, particularly if the touring team could do justice to itself, instead of being fagged and listless through too much travelling."

New Zealand lost its next match to Derbyshire by 202 runs.

At Worcester, Carson saw Dad Weir in full flight but it wasn't enough to prevent a 136-run defeat. "Weir made a furious 134 not out. He batted as though inspired. Lowry, 44, played the rock. Weir absolutely put new life in the side. He hit the bowling as he wished and we may have got the odd 100 we wanted if Gallichan had been content to stay instead of going for a hit as he had scored 27 and was never in trouble."

The major problem that had been troubling the batting effort of the side was the lack of a consistently successful opening partnership. So far the opening partnerships had been: Page and Kerr (Surrey - 5), Kerr and Hadlee (MCC 41), Kerr and Hadlee (Glamorgan 31-14), Kerr and Tindill (Oxford Univ 17-37), Page and Hadlee (Cambridge Univ 0-37), Page and Hadlee (Lancashire 25-1), Kerr and Tindill (Northamptonshire 42-35), Kerr and Moloney (Derbyshire 18-17), Kerr and Hadlee (Worcestershire 6-0).

After the Worcester game Page and Lowry experimented by using Vivian as an opener with Hadlee and the side had their best starts of the tour. They scored 49 and 134 and drew the match with Middlesex. However, they could not stave off defeat by an innings and 74 runs against Lancashire.

The side then played Nottingham where Harold Larwood was in the side. But he only bowled one over at full pace and then left the field as the result of an ongoing foot injury.

"He showed us his foot which has been dreadfully mutilated by an operation. I should think he will never be the same bowler again. He still has his beautiful style but cannot sustain the pace as he used to," Wallace wrote.

Carson was surprised at the lack of size of Larwood, and commented: "How he ever bowled fast when one looks at him is a miracle. He only bowled one over but his action was marvellous."

The first Test saw Wallace included after showing that despite having his broken finger still bandaged he was able to hold a bat while Giff Vivian, who had suffered a severe strain in a two-day game with Norfolk, also passed a fitness test. Although by today's standards the fitness test was interesting. They did them by themselves. "We both decided that we would play if required," Wallace recorded.

New Zealand got off to a great start at Lord's when England captain Robins won the toss and batted first. "We got a great start as Cowie bowled Hutton for a duck and Parks followed shortly afterwards, two wickets being down for 33. We were overjoyed and could hardly believe our luck in getting their two opening batsmen out so cheaply, but then Hardstaff and Hammond got their backs to the wall and we simply could not shift them," Wallace said.

They weren't removed until 276 runs had been scored.

"Cowie was very dangerous at first and had Hammond in obvious difficulties. He could not connect with some balls, and others hit him on the pads. Cowie brings the ball back into a right-hand batsman and this, plus the slight slope on the Lord's wicket, made him very difficult to play. Unfortunately, Cowie could not go on bowling all the time and except for Vivian and Roberts the other bowlers were less effective," Wallace said.

With Paynter finding runs against New Zealand again, England was able to score 424, Cowie ending with 4-118 and Roberts 4-101. New Zealand's response started poorly with Vivian lbw to Alf Gover for five and Jack Kerr had a ball from Hammond fly off the shoulder of his bat and into his chin. He had to have the wound stitched and when he came back he got through to 31 before he was out. While Hadlee scored 34 and Wallace 52, New Zealand were in trouble at 176-7 and struggling to avoid the follow-on.

But Moloney and Roberts got together and could claim to have held up royalty as the King arrived to be presented to the teams. However, at the scheduled time, New Zealand was struggling to reach the follow-on, and realising this the King didn't want to break the concentration of the pair and insisted they continue until safety had been reached, which it was. It was just as well the King waited. Almost immediately after the resumption, Moloney was out when returning a catch to Hedley Verity to be out for 64. Roberts was unbeaten on 66 when New Zealand's innings ended at 295.

Wallace observed of New Zealand’s situation. "Our modest showing at one stage is partly accounted for by staleness which was beginning to assert itself. When one has had too much cricket it is difficult to concentrate and without that concentration big scores cannot be put up. Personally, I was now feeling the benefit of the rest caused by my broken finger and I was 'seeing them well', as the saying goes."

New Zealand again started well in England's second innings with Hutton and Parks both out by the time the score had reached 19. Hardstaff came to light again, however, with 64 and England declared at 226-4. An interesting feature of Robins' innings was the splitting of his bat. Rather than get another, the New Zealanders were treated to the sight of him exchanging bats with his partner whenever he was required to face. "In a test match this seemed hardly the thing," Wallace noted.

New Zealand got to 15 when disaster struck in its second innings with three wickets falling without a run being scored. But Kerr and Page steadied the ship while Wallace completed a second half-century in the game to scored 56 before being trapped leg before wicket by Parks, the same method of dismissal as in the first innings.

The game was drawn although the impetus was all with England. "If our slip fielding had been more reliable we would have fared better, and we were certainly unlucky in not getting a good opening partnership in either innings. It makes a tremendous difference to the later batsmen if the opening pair have managed to make runs or take the sting out of the bowling," Wallace said.

There was no rest as it was straight onto the train that evening and down to Taunton to play Somerset the next day. But it was to be a successful jaunt as New Zealand had its first win over a first-class county side.

Somerset batted first and made 254, the last 80 by the 10th wicket pair. Tindill and Hadlee opened for New Zealand and the side made 404. Wallace scored his first century of the tour. In their second innings Somerset made 316, leaving New Zealand 176 to win, a target it achieved for the loss of three wickets. "At Taunton we had our first county win. Wallace scored his first century. He has looked like getting one from the start and is batting better than I have ever seen him do in NZ. Lamason came to light. He had a terrible run even worse than me but his last three knocks have been 71, 38 not out and 59," Carson said.

A draw with Gloucesterhire followed. They then played a Leicestershire side, captained by Stewie Dempster, which scored 557-44 declared.

"The next day Kerr scored his first century in England. It was a good innings and everyone was very pleased to see him get it as he is one of the best fellows in the team…Donnelly scored 55 not out. He is the most improved player in the side. He is batting exceptionally well," Carson said.

The game was rain abandoned and the side travelled to Leeds to play Yorkshire. But due to a bus driver getting lost they didn't make the ground until 11.15am for the 11.30am start.

Yorkshire scored 364, Hutton scoring 135 to which New Zealand replied with 223. Yorkshire declared at lunch on the third day at 207-6. "Donnelly was the only one to get going in our second innings, and should have had a century but tried to hook Bowes too close to him and he was clean-bowled for 97. This was one of Donnelly's best efforts on the tour, as we badly needed runs. Even then we were not out of the wood, and it was only a great stand by Tindill and Cowie, who defied the Yorkshire attack for twenty minutes, that let us out with a draw," Wallace recalled.

In the two-day match with Durham that followed, Moloney was most successful with his slow leg-spinners. "His success with slow leg-spinners showed the dislike of English batsmen for this style of bowling. They won't use their feet to the spin bowlers and it is no wonder they are so often at sea against Grimmett and O'Reilly," said Wallace.

Carson's woes continued: "It is terribly disappointing to me but I am trying not to let it spoil my trip. I am not batting badly or anything like that, but each time I get going which is seldom, some unlucky thing happens and I am out."

An amusing incident occurred as the side travelled from Sunderland to Glasgow, via Edinburgh. The side was split up on the Edinburgh to Glasgow run, as baggagemaster extraordinaire Bill Ferguson was in the front of the train with Hadlee and Donnelly, while the rest were at the back. With so many stations on the run through Glasgow those at the back of the train did not know when they were supposed to get off. They were well past where they were supposed to get off when the conductor found them, and they had to complete the journey back to their hotel in a tram. A win over Scotland was achieved with Wallace completing his 1000 runs on the tour.

Because several players were keen to have a break during another game against a Scottish side at Dunfermline, New Zealand Press Association journalist WH Bickley, was called into action, and scored six not out in New Zealand’s innings victory.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lovelock's death revisited, and clarified

It says something of the flawed sports psyche of New Zealanders that any time the name Jack Lovelock is mentioned, invariably the first comment made is "Did he jump or was it an accident?"

The question relates to Lovelock's death in 1949 at the Church Avenue subway station in Brooklyn where he died after falling into the path of an incoming train.

Lovelock, the 1936 Olympic Games 1500m champion and world record holder over the mile and 1500m during his athletics career, had moved to the United States at the end of World War Two after first traveling to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar from Dunedin in New Zealand's South Island.

But despite all his achievements on the athletics track, and in his medical career, this question of suicide had been, unfairly, an asterisk on his record in the minds of some.

Rather than accept the fact it had been ruled by the local coroner to be death by accident a sporting consipacy theory went into action, and among many other aspects of his career, the theory was fuelled by the novelised version of his life penned by New Zealand author James McNeish.

Recently, New Zealand medical man, and former old boy of Lovelock's Timaru Boys' High School, Dr Graeme Woodfield has undertaken considerable research on Lovelock's medical career and has also worked with several specialists in their fields to produce a book, Jack Lovelock - Athlete and Doctor (Trio Books).

After a brief run through (pardon the pun), Lovelock's athletic career, Woodfield gets into the medical side, investigating the vaccine with which Lovelock injected himself during his career, and then several incidents after his retirement from the track that affected the health of Lovelock.

The vaccine which has excited the conspiracists that Lovelock may have taken performance enhancing drugs turned out to be of placebo effect only for an arthritic complaint that Lovelock developed after having a cartilage removed.

But it was two riding accidents, one of which resulted in Lovelock being found unconscious up to two hours after he fell from his horse, and remaining unconscious for two days in hospital. He broke his collarbone, and after he was released from his hospital it was found that he had broken one of two bones that serve as the floor of the eye socket and is a very painful injury. This left him suffering double vision and later pictures of Lovelock show him wearing glasses with one cloudy lens covering the affected eye.

Another fall, although backed by only one account, was said to have occurred when he hit his head falling off an army truck and suffering a concussion. The cumulative effect of the injuries proved life changing for Lovelock who suffered periods of dizziness and also lost the balance which had been a hallmark of his athletic career.

Harold Coop, an Auckland opthamologist, contributed a chapter to the book on the sorts of effects that can result from the type of eye problems Lovelock experienced. Coop made the point that the problems must have been a frustration for Lovelock in his medical work. He also outlined the effects the problem can cause.

He said such patients needed to be careful in their orientation of space and judgment and body position because confused information could cause occasional attacks of severe vertigo.

Coop concluded his comments by saying: "They need to be very careful with uneven ground, moving situations like revolving and subway doors, machinery, stairs and escalators, and, above all, with moving traffic. If they move their body or their head wrongly, a car that looked distant might suddenly be a threat.

"On the day Jack Lovelock died he went to work in the usual way, even though he had the flu. However, his colleagues thought his toxic appearance was bad enough to tell him to go home to bed. He had apparently self-medicated with a new antihistamine drug.

"When he went home, via the subway, he fell under a train. His glasses, quite possibly of little help for a number of reasons, were found in his pocket. It is likely that Lovelock had coped with the steps, crowds and movement of this expedition many times before, by a variety of optical and body tricks now familiar to him, even though a sudden wrong movement in a crowd situation could always be a threat to him.

"But add to that the ever-present imbalance, an illness, and the possible effects of a drug, and it is not hard to imagine that at one vital moment he got it wrong, or felt suddenly dizzy near the edge of the platform."

This consideration alone deals a significant blow to the suicide theorists, and there are more included in the book.

Lovelock was a magnificent athlete, unafraid to use his body to attempt to gain an advantage over his rivals and his mind to increase his chances of success. That is how he best deserves to be remembered in New Zealand's sports history, not for all the wrong reasons that have surrounded him in recent rewritings of history.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Galatas 1941: Courage in Vain

It started out as a personal mission to understand what happened at the Cretan town of Galatas on the evening of May 25, 1941.

Initially, the action involving C and D Companies of New Zealand's 23 Battalion was triggered by reading W B 'Sandy' Thomas' book Dare to be Free, an account of his capture at Galatas and his escape and return to play a leading part in New Zealand's World War Two war effort.

Having read the book, the thought lay dormant until an interview, on a totally unrelated subject - the 1937 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand, with Jack Griffiths, an All Black who served in World War Two as aide-de-camp to the commander of the NZ Division, General Freyberg. Having talked rugby I took the chance to ask Griffiths about Freyberg, and about 'the charge' on Crete. Initially, my thought was about the charge of 28 (Maori) Battalion at 42nd Street, as the location was known. But Griffiths said, "Ah you mean, Galatas!" Something made me delay in correcting him. He then talked about it and the memory of Thomas' book stirred, although it took some time to remember where I had come across this incident.

Eventually I found the story I had been seeking and I resolved to look further into what happened on that famous day. The result was four years of research whenever the opportunity arose.

In brief, what happened was that when disposing forces to defend Crete from the pending parachute attack, the drivers, Petrol Company men and artillery men whose materials of work had been discarded in the evacutation of Greece, were herded together and told they were to defend the hilltop town of Galatas.

This was just outside the main city of the western end of Crete, Canea (pronounced Hania), and Maleme Aerodrome, about 17km to the west along the attractive northern coast of Crete. Galatas occupied a hilltop position which not only overlooked the coast but also a large inland valley in which was housed the island's prison.

Under the command of Colonel Howard Kippenberger, the scratch group of New Zealanders did a superb job in holding off the crack German paratroopers for five days after the May 20 aerial invasion of Crete. But on May 25, the Luftwaffe mounted a horrible assault on Galatas and eventually the supporting ground forces, supplemented by Germany's Mountain Regiment, secured the town.

However, Kippenberger rallied the retreating New Zealand forces and also used the C and D Company men from 23 Battalion who had been sent up from reserve, to mount a bayonet charge to regain the town. It was a fearsome assault, largely fought at the point of the bayonet by the New Zealanders who walked into German machine gun fire.

In 20 minutes it was all over. The town was back in New Zealand hands. It was a bloody assault, regarded by Freyberg as one of the finest feats of small arm warfare by New Zealand forces during the war. Some non-New Zealand observers have rated it as the greatest bayonet charge in history.

My research involved finding survivors of the charge, most of whom had never told their families of their participation. In the spirit of knowledge now being passed on to a generation more interested in hearing the tales of warfare, all who were approached provided their memories willingly. I also located an unused description of the activities of one of the participants, Clive Hulme, who was to win the Victoria Cross for his feats on Crete. A controversial and unpopular soldier, Hulme was nonetheless ruthless and his interview, held in the Hocken Library of Otago University in Dunedin, is an eye-opening account of his time on Crete.

I also located the story of another of the participants, W N 'Bill' Carson, a double New Zealand sports representative in rugby and cricket - a rare feat. A Military Cross winner, who was to die of wounds when on a ship returning to New Zealand, he was a lieutenant in charge of a group of drivers who performed a series of raids around and about Galatas during the five days after the invasion and who took part in the charge on Galatas. This part of his story had never been told before. Carson had always fascinated me as I had written of him in previous books, McKechnie - Double All Black, the New Zealand Cricket Encyclopedia and in an entry for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Another key support came from retired Supreme Court judge, Sir John White, who was an assistant to Freyberg throughout the war and who had voluminous files on his experiences. He very kindly allowed me to quote from his experiences in the retreat from Greece.

The end result was the publication of the book by Reeds of New Zealand.

Review comments:

The Press (Christchurch)

"This could well be the last word on New Zealand's involvement in the World War 2 Battle of Crete. Much has been written on the subject, but probably no other account has captured so successfully the views and voices of ordinary Kiwi blokes showing extraordinary courage."

The New Zealand Herald (1) (Auckland)

"McConnell has thrown everything into recounting the six days, including making a private visit to Galatas at the same time of year the bloody battles took place, and to join in the townsfolk's annual street party in celebration of the defenders of their village. McConnell maintains he is not a war historian. I think he just became a very good one."

The New Zealand Herald (2) (Auckland)

"McConnell, has done a magnificent job of explaining what happened, largely using the words of those who were involved...It is a terrible story, but a magnificent one."

The Southland Times (Invercargill)

"The town still broods over that fateful event when one of the most savage battles ever undertaken by New Zealanders resulted in a victory, but within an overall defeat. This is a hard read, but truthful, and deserves wide readership, especially by our younger generations."

The Otago Daily Times (Dunedin)

"Galatas 1941 is a well-researched account of a crucial stage of the battle for Crete. The author has recreated an enthralling blow-by-blow description of events between May 21 and 25, 1941, when Galatas, situated amid the olive groves in northeastern Crete [sic], was lost and regained, in an action which made possible the eventual withdrawl of Allied forces."

The Northern Advocate (Whangarei)

"All the details of a savage battle are here as told by the soldiers who fought the actions. All the blood and gore of senseless battle is perhaps unnecessarily well set out by the author...This book is a classic of its kind, but is not one for a general reader."

Wairarapa Times-Age (Masterton)

"Galatas 1941 is perhaps too personal to be read as purely military history but most of it is stirring stuff told in a lively manner."

Waikato Times (Hamilton)

"It is no judgment on this author that I found this book an agony to read. War can never ever again be a noble sacrifice nor an adequate basis for national pride."

The Dominion-Post (Wellington)

"This is McConnell's first military history, and at 224 pages of text his work promises a solid and satisfying read. Wisely, he eschews a dry academic analysis of the tactics. Instead, he has produced a lively insight into the emotions of the soldiers defending the village on those dark days of May 1941.

"McConnell has a delightful way of bringing the narrative forward with reminiscence, and the unadorned words of his subjects carry a strength that spans the years."