Unless you play cricket for St Albans, where a cup is named in his honour, most New Zealanders won’t know the name, Donald McKay Sandman. Like so many of the players who represented our country before we gained Test status, Don’s efforts have largely been forgotten, left to pages in scorebooks that are seldom flipped through. But Don Sandman should be remembered as one of our cricket pioneers, as one of the best there never was.
Don’s rise to cricketing prominence was rapid; he played a few games in the lower grades at St Albans before a breakthrough season in 1909-10. His 63 scalps at 9.8 runs per wicket that summer saw him picked to debut for Canterbury against Australia in February 1910. Although he didn’t set the world alight, the Canterbury influence on cricket at the time saw him, controversially, selected to debut for New Zealand just a month later, also against Australia.
Sandman’s New Zealand and Canterbury career spanned both sides of World War One, where he also served his country. Don starred in the 1913-14 side that toured Australia, taking wickets, scoring runs and becoming a fan-favourite with the Aussies. But what makes Sandman particularly interesting is the parallel with another New Zealand-born leg spinner, Clarrie Grimmett.
Grimmett is most famous in Australia, where he fashioned an exceptional Test record after leaving New Zealand. In New Zealand, he sat behind Sandman in the pecking order, exemplified by his selection as a non-travelling reserve for the 1913-14 Australia tour, where Don starred. Don even had the upper hand in their one First Class meeting, claiming Clarrie’s wicket in the first innings of the 1914 meeting between Dan Reese’s Canterbury XI and Wellington.
There’s one further twist to the story: before Don returned to New Zealand after World War One his name was put forward to join the Australian Forces cricket side. Eventually, the Australians decided it best not to include a New Zealander in their team, and Don returned home. Had the Australians pursued him, maybe Clarrie would’ve once again found Don between him and a representative cap…