I love New Zealand. The country is beautiful, they excel at sport and they’re all thoroughly decent chaps. Just look at how they handled their 2019 World Cup defeat. If that amount of bad luck had befallen England in the final, I wouldn’t ever stop moaning about it! Yet New Zealand led by the epitome of a gentleman, Kane Williamson, took it all with good grace and humility, an example to all.
My first encounter with the ‘Black Caps’ was when they toured England in 1986. The visitors buoyed from back to back series wins over Australia had a growing reputation for punching above their weight, never better showcased than when they held the all-conquering West Indians to a 1-1 series draw in 1986/87.
In Martin Crowe they had a highly talented young batsman who in 1985 had been awarded the prestigious honour of being one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year. They had the solid opening pair of Wright and Edgar, the dependable keeping and batting of Ian Smith and in Richard Hadlee they possessed a man who would have been one of the five cricketers of the year every year were that allowed. One of the all-time greats, in the mid-80s he was in the sort of purple patch that would make Prince blush.
He had taken 9-52 at The Gabba in the previous winter (15 wkts in the match) and carried that form with him to England, a country that knew all about his talents as he had already been terrorising the county circuit for nearly a decade with Nottinghamshire. His 19 wickets in the three-match series in 1986 at a shade over 20 went a long way to handing the tourists their first ever series win in England. Not bad for a country who only won their first Test on these shores 3 years previously.
It’s true that England weren’t as strong an opposition as they could be, 12 months previous they had looked world beaters against Australia but subsequent heavy defeats in the Caribbean and at home to India had cost the captain David Gower his job and when new skipper Mike Gatting led his team to a draw with India in the Third Test it ended a run of 7 consecutive Test defeats.
Talk of “rebuilding” and “looking to the future” was rife and England, as was there wont in the 80s, went through countless players, giving them a single Test to prove themselves and then showing them the trap door if they failed in a constant Russian roulette merry go round. As they searched for the “new Ian Botham” (whilst the “old” one sat out a ban for cannabis use that would keep him out of all but the last Test of the summer) 11 new Test caps were given out in 1986.
One of the new caps, wicket-keeper Bruce French was at the centre of one of the more bizarre stories of that summer at Lord’s. Struck on the head whilst batting he was unable to keep wicket before lunch on the second day, so Bill Athey stepped in for a couple of overs leading up to the break. At lunch an SOS was put out and 45-year-old former England ‘keeper Bob Taylor, working as a PR officer for sponsors Cornhill Insurance at the Test, donned the gloves. With the game going into day three England drafted in Hampshire gloveman Bobby Parks to take over the reins. On the final day Bruce French returned and became England’s fourth wicket-keeper of the match!
Even though the visitors had been the better side the First Test was drawn. However, they weren’t to be denied. A win in the Second Test at Trent Bridge was enough to clinch the series. At the Oval, even with the returning Ian Botham, who had taken a wicket with his first ball back to equal the world record for the number of Test Match wickets, the weather won the day and the match was drawn.
The New Zealanders had won the series and Botham who did break the world record later in the game at The Oval wouldn’t hold it for long because a certain RJ Hadlee would surpass him in India in 1988. A fitting accolade at the time for one of the finest fast bowlers of any era.
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