'Spongy' Oval pitch spawns rivalry

Last updated 13:07 04/03/2013
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ALL ENGLAND: George Parr's XI in 1864 was the first cricket team to visit New Zealand.

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On Wednesday the English cricket team begins a test match against the Black Caps in Dunedin. Gavin Bertram  looks back to the first visit to the city by an English team, in 1864.

Cricket historian Don Neely believes there is a cracking book in the story of Shadrach Jones.

The British-born doctor and entrepreneur came to Dunedin in 1861, where he quickly built a hotel and theatre empire, but it was the decision to bring George Parr's All England XI to Dunedin in February 1864 that Jones is probably most famous for.

International cricket tours were in their infancy: Parr captained an English team on the first international tour in 1859, to the United States for five matches.

In 1864, with England touring to Australia, Jones identified an opportunity to add New Zealand to the itinerary, and devised the Dunedin Cricketing Festival. He paid the then huge amount of [PndStlg]3500 to cover the All England XI's expenses, and arranged for them to play five matches in Dunedin and Christchurch in February 1864.

Dunedin Cricket Club, formed in 1862, supported Jones's venture. Their home, the Southern Recreation Ground - now known as the Kensington Oval - was developed into a suitable venue for the Dunedin Cricketing Festival.

Greg Ryan's 2004 book The Making of New Zealand Cricket 1832-1914 notes 600 yards of seven- foot-high paling fence and a 375-foot-long grandstand were constructed.

"On completion, opinion was expressed that the facilities were as good as those in Melbourne."

The visit of the All England XI was much anticipated, and expectations of the local sides' chances were circumspect. Where The Press was scornful, the Otago Witness implored cricketers to dedicate themselves to the coming task.

"Constant handling of bat and ball, vigorous exertion in active fielding, and utter abandonment of petty jealousies, are the requisites essential to achieve the much coveted success."

Such was the fear of the visitors, the New Zealand sides were allowed 22 players rather than 11.

Before visiting Dunedin, Parr's side played five matches in Australia, winning four and drawing against Victoria.

Team member Billy Caffyn wrote in his autobiography that several of the English suffered from sea sickness crossing the Tasman. They arrived in Port Chalmers on January 31, 1864, to much fanfare - buildings adorned with flags and banners, and the firing of a salute. The cricketers were escorted into Dunedin by seven carriages, a brass band, and various officials.

"We have come a long way to meet you, not in untoward strife, I trust, but in true friendship, " Parr said in a formal address.

"I believe that we are all brothers in loyalty, in language, in religion, and in our love of the fine old English game."

In the first match of the tournament, an Otago XXII meet Parr's side, which included bowler Robert Tinley, all-rounder George Tarrant, and 22-year-old amateur Edward Grace - brother of cricket colossus W G Grace.

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Grace noted in his diary that the Oval pitch was spongy, due to being built on a swamp, but "very good" considering it had only been laid three months before.

On February 2, an Otago XXII featuring the Grace's cousin, William Rees, batted first, gathering a mere 71 runs. There were seven ducks, and only James Redfearn reached double figures (he got 11). English bowler Thomas Hayward got 15 wickets for 34 runs.

Parr's XI only managed 99 in their first innings, with Grace and Thomas Lockyer each reaching 24. Redfearn was again the best of the "Otagonians", taking four wickets for six runs.

Hayward picked up nine wickets for 36 runs as Otago stumbled to 83 all out in their second innings - this time with nine ducks. The 56 runs needed by England were knocked off for only one wicket.

On being presented a bat for his high score of 26, Grace said: "I hope that in years to come there will regularly be an 11 to visit New Zealand, and to show you how cricket is played in the old country".

All England then drew with a combined Otago/Canterbury side, and won against Canterbury and George Anderson's XI at Hagley Park, and Otago again at the Oval.

Parr's team left Dunedin on February 20, winning their eight games in Australia.

Mr Jones, the entrepreneur who brought them here, took a big hit on the venture. He had to sell his business interests to pay his debts, and left Dunedin in 1865.

FAST FACTS

What: England v New Zealand

Where: University Oval

When: March 6-10

TIME-HONOURED CONTEST

Other notable visits to Dunedin by English cricket teams:

James Lillywhite's XI, March 1877

Just weeks before playing the first test match in Australia, James Lillywhite's XI drew with an Otago 22 at the Dunedin Oval.

Alfred Shaw's XI, January 1882

Shaw's lengthy tour of 1881-82 spanned the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. At the Caledonian Ground his team beat Otago by 10 wickets.

Lord Hawke's XI, February 1903

Amateur cricketer Martin Hawke brought a side to New Zealand for 18 matches in 1902-03, heavily beating Otago and South Island teams at Carisbrook. Marylebone Cricket Club, January 1907

The fathers of modern cricket first visited New Zealand in 1907, winning and losing matches against New Zealand. The MCC also twice beat Otago.

Marylebone Cricket Club, January 1936

On their fourth visit to Dunedin, the MCC beat Otago, before drawing a first class match against New Zealand at Carisbrook. England, March 1955

In the first official cricket test to be played in Dunedin, England beat New Zealand by eight wickets. The second test in Auckland resulted in New Zealand's lowest test score of 26. England XI, February 1978

Directly following New Zealand's first test win over England, in Wellington, Botham, Boycott, and co beat Otago by six wickets. England XI, January 1984

In a three-day match at the University Oval, an Otago side including Ken Rutherford, Warren Lees, Andrew Jones, and Stephen Boock drew with a talented English side. England, February 2002

In the fifth one-day international of England's 2002 tour, Nathan Astle's pyrotechnics at Carisbrook decided both the day and the series. England XI, February 2008

The last time the England cricket team visited Dunedin, they drew with both a New Zealand Invitation XI and a Major Association XI at the University Oval.

- D Scene

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