Guillen made history for NZ, without realising it

POINT WELL MADE: Sam Guillen is one of few cricketers who have played for two countries. He represented the West Indies and New Zealand in the 1950s.
POINT WELL MADE: Sam Guillen is one of few cricketers who have played for two countries. He represented the West Indies and New Zealand in the 1950s.

March 13, 1956 will always go down as a special day in New Zealand sporting history.

After 26 years and 45 matches of trying, it was the day New Zealand first won a cricket test match, but one of the men right at the centre had no idea of its importance.

Wicketkeeper Sam Guillen stumped the West Indies' Alf Valentine to end the biggest drought in test cricket's history and spark wild (for the era) celebrations.

But Guillen wasn't a student of the New Zealand game, having only lived here for 3 1/2 years, and didn't realise the win's significance.

Born in Port of Spain in 1924, Guillen was a through and through Trinidadian but moved to New Zealand after touring here with the West Indies side in 1952.

So when Harry Cave beat Valentine's bat, and Guillen whipped off the bails, it sparked huge cheers from the Eden Park crowd and Guillen's team-mates. But the man himself was largely oblivious, at first at least.

"I'll tell you a funny story about that," the 87-year-old said from his Harewood home this week.

"I knew that every time Valentine played forward he left his crease. So I told [Don] Beard, `Look, pass him and he's out. Legside, offside it doesn't matter, pass him and he's out,' I said.

"Well he bowled two overs to him and couldn't pass him. Cave came on and after about four or five balls to him he passed him."

Guillen, an accomplished keeper with quick hands, did the rest and New Zealand had won their first test.

"I didn't know," Guillen said.

"I was surprised. I thought New Zealand had won test matches before. I heard the talk going around and I wondered what was going on. Then, of course, the papers had it printed and then I knew."

Despite the win being one of New Zealand Cricket's highlights, Guillen later gave away the stump he took from the win to a national selector.

"I said to him, `That might get stolen', but they'll never be able to take away my memories."

Sadly, he is one of just three survivors of that team, along with Jack Alabaster and John R Reid.

Guillen, the second eldest of eight, is a member of another small club. Only 14 players have played test cricket for two countries.

Guillen moved to New Zealand as a 32-year-old in 1956 but the shift only happened by chance.

The West Indian team were staying at the Warner's Hotel in Christchurch when a man approached Guillen, recognising him as a touring cricketer.

That man was Maurice Cookson. Guillen sorted Cookson out with tickets to the first test of the series, at Lancaster Park, which the Windies won by five wickets.

Cookson and Guillen crossed paths later in the tour too, and a throwaway comment from the West Indian changed his life.

"I just said to him, `You've got a lovely country' and it all started from there," Guillen said.

Cookson told him he could stay but Guillen laughed and replied that he had to return to Trinidad.

"Then I said, `If you can find me a place to stay and get me a job, I'll come back'."

Cookson did better than that: he found Guillen a place to live and three jobs.

"Yes, he got me in a bit of trouble promising these people I'd work for them. So any other story you hear about why I came here is a real joke."

When Guillen found out he was coming to New Zealand, he only had an hour to get to the boat, so he packed furiously, said goodbye to his family and shifted his life.

Three and a half weeks later, he arrived in New Zealand and, apart from an 18-month stint back in the Caribbean, he's been here ever since. Through the link with Cookson, Guillen played cricket for West Christchurch-University before the club merged with Burnside then later he moved to St Albans.

Guillen remembers how cold he felt when he moved to New Zealand and tells a story of not being able to stop his teeth chattering – in December.

After turning away the Canterbury selectors three times because he didn't want to take someone else's spot, he eventually played at the end of the 1953 season until 1960 when he pulled the pin.

Performing for Canterbury eventually led to Walter Hadlee asking him if he would play for New Zealand.

"I remember what I said to him, I said: `I'd play any game for any team against anyone and then I was selected to play for New Zealand, which I really appreciated."

It's hardly surprising he was good enough to play for two countries; sport came naturally.

He was a keen amateur boxer and track cyclist in Trinidad but in New Zealand football was his other sport and he very nearly won a Chatham Cup with Western.

Playing in goal, against Onehunga in the 1954 final, Guillen's side lost 1-0 in extra time.

"We lost 1-0 but they didn't score," he said, in true goalkeeper fashion.

"The ball came in and our defender [Fred] Hayden went to go for the ball. I said `leave it, leave it, leave it,' but he didn't and he sliced it into the top corner."

Western won the cup the following year, but Guillen had moved on.

He was also a single-figure golfer.

Like many of his ilk, Guillen longs for the days when money wasn't as important to cricket as it is now and he calls Twenty20 "a bit of a joke".

But he only has to look down a few branches of the family tree to find a modern-day cricketer.

One of Guillen's grandchildren, Logan van Beek is a contracted by Canterbury Cricket and probably has quite different views to money in cricket and Twenty20 than his grandfather.

While Guillen would change plenty in the modern game, especially the support staff that travel with teams, he still loves the sport.

"Even that Twenty20, I still watch it because I just love cricket."