Randwick_racecourse_1920
Trams carrying race day crowds at Randwick Racecourse, January 1920. From State Records NSW on Flickr.

About six kilometres from Sydney’s CBD lies the suburban setting of Randwick, a residential area known for more-or-less one thing: the races.

But it’s more than that. Before amalgamations led to Randwick, Petersham and Marrickville forming one club (at the behest of Cricket NSW), Randwick had a highly successful and illustrious First Grade cricket club. Over a period spanning 147 Sheffield Shield matches from 1964, only on one occasion did NSW take the field without a Randwick player in their midst.

In the early days Stork Hendry and Ernie Toshack took the field for Randwick, and later the likes of Mike Whitney and John Benaud followed suit. Few clubs can match Randwick man-for-man. In November 1914, Randwick district welcomed into the world a future Test cricketer: but he’d never play for Randwick club, and didn’t play for Australia.

Instead, Douglas Linford Freeman went on to become New Zealand’s youngest ever debutant. In that instant, he carved himself a place in the history of this country’s cricket, despite his final tally of two Tests, two runs, and one wicket.


 

Born to Dr Daniel and Winifred Freeman, Douglas didn’t stay long in Australia – it was reported in late December, less than two months after the birth of his son, that Freeman senior had been appointed as an agricultural instructor to the Southland Education Board.

This was before the Great War, an event which re-crafted so much of the world’s social context. For New Zealand and Australia, the Trans-Tasman divide meant little – the two countries were, despite this nation’s decision not to join the Commonwealth, two parts of a whole. It took non-Civil war to remould individual identities. So the trip from Sydney to Southland was less dramatic than it might have been at another stage.

By the time the young Freeman reached secondary school age, he was in the township of Nelson – a far more significant location in 1930 than it is today. Attending Nelson College, a school founded in 1856, Freeman began to make waves with ball in hand. He attended the College from 1931-33, and his entire top-flight cricketing career took place in that time.

As early as 1930-31, he was noted taking wickets for the College in senior club cricket – at the time, Freeman was just 16. It led to selection for Newman Shield matches – albeit aided by circumstance – the following summer. In March 1932, he continued his development with a quite remarkable eight-for in a club match, and added something with bat in hand as well. But he went even better the following weekend:

 

“D. Freeman, the young college slow break bowler, put up an outstanding performance in Saturday’s cricket by taking all ten of Athletic’s wickets in the second innings at a cost of 132 runs.”
– Evening Post , 22nd March, 1932

 

It was just a shame it came in a loss. Regardless, it was enough to get his name into the New Zealand Herald.

 

“During the past cricket season D.L. Freeman, of the Nelson College senior team, obtained what was probably a New Zealand record for bowling. Against Athletic Freeman took 18 wickets – 8 for 64 in the first innings and 10 for 132 in the second. The ball used in the match was subsequently mounted on three silver wickets and suitably engraved, and a few days ago Mr. C.H. Broad, principal of the college, handed the souvenir to Freeman, congratulating him on his performance.” 
– New Zealand Herald, 13th April, 1932

 

So it came as something less than a surprise when Freeman was selected for the Nelson representative side the following summer, being part of Nelson’s challenge for the Hawke Cup. With bowlers like Jack Newman and Herb McGirr alongside him, Freeman was part of a very impressive attack. Added to that, he was made an Emergency reserve for the Country side in the Wellington cricket region Country vs Town match – and ended up playing after McGirr withdrew.

Once Nelson got through the Elimination Match process, they got to a Challenge Match against South Auckland (what we’d today call Waikato), and Freeman coupled four wickets in the first innings with 5-29 in the second to bring the Hawke Cup home.

That match, held in early January 1933, led to selection on January 13th to play for Wellington the Plunket Shield game against Auckland, starting a week later. It was among a very youthful Wellington side, and Freeman was given much praise in the media, with hints at the ability to toss up a googly. Freeman – opening the bowling – picked up a four-for on debut, including the wicket of Ces Dacre, backing it up with a five wicket haul in the second innings. This time Jackie Mills and Paul Whitelaw were among his victims, two of Auckland (and New Zealand’s) best top-order batsmen. It earned him a one-day match for Wellington against the touring MCC side; his three wickets being those of Eddie Paynter, Walter Hammond and Les Ames.


 

NZ v England 1933
The 1933 New Zealand side ahead of the first Test against England in Christchurch. Freeman is the blurred figure in the back row, 4th from left. NZ Cricket Museum collection, nzcricketmuseum.co.nz

So out of almost nowhere, an 18 year-old Freeman headed to Christchurch: he was named in the New Zealand side to play the first Test. Curly Page was the young man’s skipper, and the senior head would be required – the opposition boasted the likes of Hammond, Paynter, Ames, Douglas Jardine and Herbert Sutcliffe.

But Freeman struggled. The talent he shown at the level below was less refined than required at Test standard, and while batsmen were sometimes “puzzled” by the 6ft 3in leg-spinner’s deliveries, he struggled to find the right length, and sprayed too much down leg. Selectors showed faith in their young spinner, keeping him in the side for the second Test. Unfortunately, his wicketless first Test was only bettered by one: Herbert Sutcliffe played a poor stroke to a long-hop, spooning the ball to cover.

And with that, his career effectively drew to a close. He played one further First Class match, an uneventful Plunket Shield match against Auckland, but moved abroad in 1935. He spent two decades in Fiji, working for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Freeman kept in touch with cricket, representing Fiji against the New Zealand Forces in 1942, batting in the top-order and taking a four-for in the Forces’ second innings (including the wicket of future Test cricketer Ces Burke). In 1953-54, he returned to New Zealand as manager and player for the Fijian side which toured – his involvement would have been even more if not for injury.


 

A few years later, Freeman returned ‘home’ – to Sydney. Cricket faded for Freeman then, with golf becoming his main pastime. He spent another 20 years working for same employer, and then settled into retirement with wife Betty.

Freeman passed away in 1994, less than three years before Daniel Vettori undercut him as this country’s youngest Test debutant. In 2001, his numbered Test cap was donated by his widow to Nelson College, and remains on display in the College museum.

Although his First Class career lasted 16 days of cricket, Freeman’s career poses a question: if he’d played in the era of Vettori, rather than his own, with the ability to further develop his cricket that would have involved, what could Doug Freeman have been?

Not many high school students are Test class leggies, so Freeman must have had a special something.

 


This piece was written by Devon Mace, who describes himself as a “student, cricket historian, and perennially injured rubbish leg-spinner.” If you’re interested in reading Devon’s other work (which we highly recommend), visit Mind The Windows for cricket and @DVMace09 on Twitter for general ramblings.