Jack Alabaster - one of Southland's finest

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2014
Jack Alabaster
Fairfax NZ
OUTSTANDING: One of the greatest cricketers to come out of Southland, Jack Alabaster, in action.

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When it comes to narrowing down the finest in Southland's 150 years of playing representative cricket, the name Jack Alabaster well and truly stands out.

Alabaster played his first game for Southland as a 19-year-old in 1949, and his last in 1975 as a 45-year-old.

During that 26-year stretch the leg-spin bowler and handy middle- to lower-order batsman witnessed and often masterminded some of Southland's greatest cricket moments.

That included being part of two Hawke Cup wins and in some of the most famous games to be played in the province.

In 1956, Alabaster was part of the Southland team that took on the visiting West Indies team, which featured one of the greatest ever to play the game - Garfield Sobers.

The West Indies won the fixture, but Southland won some admirers among the tourists, and with their home crowd.

John Hill was certainly one who emerged with admirers.

After Southland were bowled out for 139 in the first innings, Hill became the talk of the town when he took eight for 55 to bowl the West Indies out for 153.

Southland made just 67 in their second turn at bat, leaving the West Indies just 54 to win, which they did with the loss of five wickets.

Days after playing for Southland against the West Indies, Alabaster suited up for New Zealand in the first test against the tourists in Dunedin.

Later in the series, Alabaster was part of the first New Zealand team to record a test victory, beating the Windies at Eden Park in Auckland.

"When the West Indies manager knew that I was in the New Zealand team to play the West Indies, he said there was a seat on the bus for me to Dunedin, which was very kind of them."

Alabaster also played for Southland against Australia in Invercargill twice in the space of seven years.

The first was in 1950 at Rugby Park in Invercargill, the second was at Queens Park in 1957.

It was a coup for Southland to get the powerful Australian team to visit.

The Southland Cricket Association stumped up with £200 to ensure the Australian team played here during their 1957 New Zealand tour, something The Southland Times described as major success.

"Yesterday at Queens Park they attracted the biggest crowd ever to watch a cricket match in Southland. In fact, it was probably twice as big a crowd at Queens Park or any other of the cricket grounds in Invercargill. It was a fine gesture from a sports-minded province. It was also a good response to the efforts of the Southland Cricket Association to get Southland included on the itinerary."

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Despite the buzz, Southland were outclassed in both the 1950 and 1957 games.

In 1957, Australia led by 153 with five wickets in hand before rain arrived.

In 1950, Australia won by an innings and 37 runs.

"They were much stronger than we were. They had a pretty good team, they were far too strong for provincial sides," Alabaster said.

Jim Gill, who was one of Alabaster's team-mates throughout much of his career, recalls preparing the ground at Rugby Park for the game against Australia in 1950 and showing up to lines running straight down the middle of the pitch.

Cricket shared the ground with several sports, including athletics, and the 100-yard track ran through the cricket pitch.

Gill and Alabaster were part of probably the most exciting eras in Southland cricket, given those West Indian and Australian visits, and they both say games against Fiji in 1962 and 1968 shouldn't be scoffed at either.

At the time, Fiji were on the rise as a cricketing nation.

Alabaster said while the international games were special moments, the Hawke Cup win over Taranaki in 1973 was a highlight.

"I have a memory of defending the Hawke Cup at Queens Park against Taranaki [in 1970]. It was one of the most unpleasant games I ever had. They were an unpleasant lot from Taranaki, their behaviour was barely adequate. I was really pleased when I went to New Plymouth and played Taranaki [in 1973] and I had great pleasure in making 70 not out and taking four for 20-odd against them to [win the Hawke Cup back]."

Alabaster won the Hawke Cup twice, in 1970 and 1973, in one of the stronger teams Southland has produced.

"It was a team built around [Robert] Jumbo Anderson; he was far too good for provincial cricket as a batsman, but we had a good bowling attack as well."

AT A GLANCE

JACK ALABASTER

- Attended Southland Boys' High School
- Played 21 tests for New Zealand between 1955 and 1972 as a right-arm leg spin bowler and handy lower-order batsman
- Is the oldest player to play ever test cricket for New Zealand playing his last test at the age of 41 years and 294 days
- Played for Southland from 1949 to 1975, winning the Hawke Cup on two occasions
- Played 143 first-class matches for Otago from 1955 and 1972 taking 500 first-class wickets

- The Southland Times

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