The years 1985 and 1986 can be termed a golden era in New Zealand cricket history.
In roughly 18 months starting from February 1985 the Kiwis recorded a 2-0 home success against Pakistan, defeated Allan Border’s young Australians both home-and-away and then created history by winning 1-0 in England, their first-ever series success there. They did lose 2-0 in the Caribbean, but given the strength of the Windies cricket at the time, there was no disgrace in it.
Interestingly, this team included just two-star players – Sir Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe. Most of the others were players with average ability. But they raised the level of their game as the belief in their own ability grew alongside the growing success of the team. Many players were just semi-professionals in cricket and they were involved in other jobs as well.
As New Zealand is aiming to become the first official Test champions, I thought that this would be an ideal time to pay a tribute to some of these unsung heroes. I will start with the batters.
Dunedin, February 14, 1985. The final day of the series started with history beckoning the home side. They started the day at 4-114 needing 278 for victory. But by mid-afternoon, all seemed lost for the home side, as their batters looked hapless against the pace of a young Wasim Akram. The scoreboard read 8 for 228 but actually, it was worse than that.
At one end, experienced Coney was batting beautifully, playing probably the innings of his life, but joining him was the number 11 Ewen Chatfield, a real rabbit with the bat. Lance Cairns had earlier retired with a head injury, and even if he would come out to bat, no one was expecting anything from him, certainly not against Akram.
The next 100 mins or so saw a fascinating battle between bat and ball, as Coney and Chatfield deified the young but talented Pak pace attack to take the Kiwis to a two-wicket win. Coney remained 111*, but quite remarkably he didn’t try to rotate the strike, he showed full faith in the batting ability of his Wellington teammate. This victory was an important turning point in Kiwi cricket history, and it was important for Coney as well.
This innings showed his graduation from a support player to a key performer. And after Geoff Howarth ended his international career later in the season, Coney appeared as the natural successor to him.
He led the Kiwis to success in three consecutive series. While his contribution in away success in Australia and England wasn’t great, he had a memorable time against Allan Border’s Australia at home in early 1986. With scores of 101*, 98 and 93 in the series, he ended up with an average of 146.00.
He was also a useful slow-medium bowler. His most memorable bowling effort came at Headingley in 1983 where he took 2-21 and 2-30. His dismissals of Allan Lamb and Ian Botham late on the third day helped greatly in NZ’s historic success.
Bruce Edgar and John Wright
The Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes opening partnership is generally regarded as the best opening pair of the 1980s. In fact, they are one of the most successful opening pair in Test history. In comparison, the achievements of the Edgar-Wright opening pair of New Zealand is fairly modest, both in terms of statistics and in terms of entertainment value. Both were rather unspectacular left-handers. But, in their own way, they served Kiwi cricket with some distinction.
Edgar’s top score of 161 came against Aus at Christchurch in early 1982. The Kiwi seamers had restricted the opposition to only 210 on the opening day, but then the tourists hit back with two wickets late on the day. It was Edgar’s patient 161 on the next day that helped the Kiwis take a match-wining lead.
But, for most Aus TV viewers at the time, the most lasting memory of Edgar was his 102* for a losing cause at MCG on 1st Feb 1981 in the ‘underarm’ match. He watched the final ball drama from the non-striker’s end.
He was also a chartered accountant and left international cricket at the age of 30.
In 1977, John Wright got a contract from Derbyshire in county cricket following a successful trial period. His involvement in country cricket as a professional helped him enjoy a long career as a cricketer. He made his Test debut against England in early 1978, but successes were slow to come for him at the highest level. It took him three years to record his first Test hundred. But, he matured with time and ended his career with more than 5000 Test runs at a highly respectable average of 37.82. He hit 12 Test tons for the Kiwis.
His finest batting effort came against a hostile WI pace attack at Wellington in Feb. 1987. The Windies took a first-innings lead of 117, but then a gritty 138 from Wright saved the Test for the home side. For 465 minutes he frustrated Joel Garnar, Malcolm Marshall, Micheal Holding and Courtney Walsh, scoring runs at a Tavaresque strike rate of 29.67.
Wright captained New Zealand for 14 Tests finishing with an even (3-3) record.
John Fulton Reid
While he is not as famous his more illustrious namesake – no blood relations between the two – he enjoyed a highly successful Test career between 1979 and 1986. According to his teammate John Wright, he was “a quiet achiever”. Sadly, he only played 19 Tests for the Kiwis. He never considered cricket his main priority – he was involved with geography teaching in a high school.
His Test career may be short in numbers; but not in interesting facts. His Test average of 46.28 is highly impressive. Even more impressive is his 100/50 ratio of 6/8. In terms of innings, he was the fastest to 1000 Test runs among the Kiwis. But, there is an anomaly as well – his first-innings average is 68.41 and it’s only 12.09 in the second.
He played a big part in NZ’s 2-0 success over Pakistan in 1985 with 148 at Wellington was followed by 158* at Auckland. But, then in the Dunedin Test, he, like everyone else in the team, found the pace of Wasim Akram difficult to handle. Earlier in the season, he had shown excellent technique against Abdul Qadir and company during a difficult tour to the sub-continent.
At Gabba, in late 1985, the 284 run third stand between Reid and Crowe (Martin) consolidated the Kiwi supremacy after the brilliance of Sir Richard Hadlee with the ball. But, he struggled in his final series against the Aussies at home in early 1986. Interestingly, he faced his cousin Bruce during the series.
The good thing for New Zealand was that they soon found a suitable replacement for the number 3 slot in Andrew Jones.
Reid died of cancer on December 2020.
In Part 2, I will look at the bowlers plus a hugely popular wicketkeeper.