With the end of the cricket season, it’s time to put the bat and ball away, mould those mouth guards, and clean your boots ready for the rugby season.
Growing up, cricket was the sport of choice during the summer months. It was played in the backyard for hours on end, with many lost balls, broken windows, and grass-stained clothes: mum never being particularly impressed by the latter two. Someday, we were going to become BLACKCAPS but then the summer ended and it was time to get the rugby ball out. Immediately, being an All Black was the ultimate dream – something that most young New Zealanders dream of but few achieve.
Only seven men have been able to live the dream of being both a BLACKCAP and an All Black; George Dickinson, Charlie Oliver, Curly Page, Eric Tindill, Bill Carson, Brian McKechnie, and finally Jeff Wilson. Here, we look at the careers of three of our dual internationals.
Eric Tindill is the only dual international from this list to have played both Test cricket and Test rugby for New Zealand – although Martin Donnelly has the unique honour of playing Test cricket for New Zealand and Test rugby for England.
Tindill played 28 games for the national cricket team, including five Tests, debuting in 1937 before playing his last ten years later in 1947. Eric began his domestic career opening the batting for Wellington and was known as very sound left-handed batsman with the ability to score centuries, and was a more than competent wicketkeeper.
Tindill was chosen for his first tour of England with New Zealand in 1937 where he played every game as he was the only wicketkeeper taken on tour. He was playing cricket six days a week and had no time for rest, in his own words “it was a bit ridiculous that I was the only wicketkeeper on tour”.
His International figures as a batsman did not do him justice as he finished with a high score of 37* and an average of 9.12. However, his First-Class figures paint a better picture of who he was as a batsman: 3127 runs at 30.35, including six hundreds and a high score of 149. Not only was his batting a feature of his game, Tindill was sharp with the gloves as well: securing 119 victims in his 68 First-Class appearances through 87 catches and 32 stumpings.
Eric Tindill’s representative rugby career would also start for Wellington, facing an impressive first opponent in an All Blacks team getting ready to go on tour in 1932. Tindill was named at halfback which is where he played most of his rugby. Wellington won the match very convincingly 36-23, with Tindill being named as one of the stand outs and he even scored a try.
Tindill was noted as being a very skilled drop goal kicker and even said himself that he “scored more drop goals than tries”. He was chosen for the All Blacks tour of the United Kingdom and Canada in 1935-36 but at first-five and not his normal position of halfback. Much like the long and arduous cricket tour he would undertake the following year, this tour would take place over six months.
Tindill would play 17 games for the All Blacks with one sole Test against England – playing first five – which the All Blacks would lose 13-0. Tindill’s All Black career, just like many others of the era, would be cut short due to the break out of World War Two. Tindill would serve in the war, fighting for the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. But rugby remained a constant as he captained the Force’s rugby team in matches against South Africa and England. Once back from the war, Tindill would not play for the All Blacks again but did return to the national cricket side.
It is safe to say that once his playing days were over, Tindill was never far from the sports he loved. Even though he wasn’t playing either sport his international career hadn’t finished as Tindill went onto become an international rugby referee. His first game with the whistle was in 1950 when the All Blacks played the touring Lions. He would referee the first two Tests of the series, played in Dunedin and Christchurch. His third and final match as a referee would be in Dunedin when the All Blacks faced Australia in 1955.
Tindill wasn’t done officiating, however, as he also umpired cricket on the international stage, umpiring a Test between New Zealand and England at Lancaster Park in Christchurch in 1959. His involvement in top level sport did not stop here, as he became a selector for Wellington cricket and would later be involved in selecting the team that secured New Zealand’s first Test win in 1956.
One of the more interesting international careers from the dual international list would have to be that of Brian McKechnie. As a teenager, McKechnie made his cricket debut for Otago in the 1971-72 season and played a helping hand in winning the Plunket Shield for Otago that season.
Through a 15-year career in domestic cricket, McKechnie proved he was a good allrounder but never quite pushed on, passing 50 just twice and claiming a best of 4-24 across both First-Class and List A matches. His Cricinfo profile describes him as a “bits-and-pieces cricketer”, which is perhaps equally accurate and unkind for a man who played 14 One Day Internationals, including featuring in two World Cups. His international career ended with a high score of 27 and best bowling of 3-23. Backed up by the customary Hadlee 5-for, that 3-23 would help New Zealand to a 78-run win over Australia.
That victory over our trans-Tasman neighbours was the first match in 1981’s Benson & Hedges World Series Cup finals. Australia would win the second final, making the third ODI at the MCG an important one for both sides. Although the match would be McKechnie’s last for his country, it has become his most memorable ODI. Unfortunately, not for the right reasons.
The closely-fought encounter would come down to the last ball of the match, and that ball would go down in cricket history forever. With New Zealand needing six off the last ball just to tie the match, Trevor Chappell was instructed to bowl underarm. As the ball rolled along the pitch, McKechnie’s disgust was evident, blocking the ball and throwing his bat as the moment became a major point in immediate and ongoing relations between New Zealand and Australia.
McKechnie made his All Black Test debut in 1977 against France. He went onto play 10 Tests for his country alongside another 16 games. Before he faced the infamous underarm ball he was involved in another controversial sporting act, except this time for the All Blacks. In 1978, McKechnie kicked a penalty against Wales as the All Blacks came from 10-12 behind to win in the final minutes of the game. The penalty was awarded from a lineout, where a controversial dive from Andy Haden is often seen to have forced the referees hand. Other stories, however, believe the awarding of the penalty was for another offence. This is often a fact overlooked by many, especially by the aggrieved Welsh.
The 1978 tour is further ingrained in our rugby folklore as it also produced the first ever Grand Slam for the All Blacks as they beat England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.
Like, Eric Tindill, Brian McKechnie’s involvement in sport didn’t end after his retirement from rugby and cricket as he became a selector in the summer game, serving at national level and with Canterbury.
Jeff Wilson will always be remembered as one of the greats on the rugby field, making his Test debut as a 20-year-old in 1993 against Scotland where he would score a hat-trick – one of the few to do this. This would epitomise his career as an All Black where he scored a total of 44 tries in 60 Tests – a record when he retired, since passed by Christian Cullen and Doug Howlett, who now holds the record with 49. Wilson was not just a talent on the rugby field but also on the cricket pitch. Before he played for the All Blacks he made his One Day International debut for the BLACKCAPS, playing Australia in 1993 – meaning he made his international debut in both sports in the same year.
It was easy to see very early on that Wilson would go far in more than one sport. As a child he gave everything a go, first representing New Zealand as a 10-year-old in the shot put at a Pan Pacific primary school track and field meet in Melbourne. Back home he continued to collect a stack of gold medals: winning the 60 and 100 metre sprints, long jump, and shot put at the South Island primary school championships. After this run of success, at the age of just 12, Wilson made the hard decision to focus on his love of cricket.
The first sign that Wilson was exceptionally talented as a cricketer came at the South Island primary school tournament in 1987. Through the competition he claimed 37 wickets at an average of 7.2 – his tournament tally of 37 remains a record to this day. Not only was he devastating with the ball, he also proved very handy with the bat. Against North Otago, he hit a staggering 95 in just one hour before returning to destroy them with the ball, taking 8-35.
With performances like this it was not long until he started playing senior cricket. Joining the Appleby Cricket Club was a family right-of-passage for the Wilsons: 14-year-old Jeff was playing senior cricket with his father, brother, and uncle. While still a schoolboy, Jeff took at total of 163 wickets for the club. By the time he was 15 he was playing for Southland in the Ubix Cup (now returned to its original name and trophy, the Hawke Cup). A year later, still playing for Southland, he would snag the wickets of Lance Cairns and Bryan Young in a game against Northland.
Wilson would make his List A and First-Class debut for Otago in the 1991-92 season. In his very first game for Otago he finished with one for 52 of ten overs and only 16 with the bat. By the end of his debut First-Class season, Wilson would have his first 50 and 5-wicket bag.
Continuing his rapid rise, Jeff would be picked for international honours at the age of 19 only after playing just one season for Otago. He was chosen to represent New Zealand in a series of ODIs against Australia in March 1993. His most memorable performance came in the fourth ODI – his third – when he hit a game winning 44* of just 28 balls as New Zealand won by three wickets with just two balls to spare. The fifth and final ODI of the series would be Wilson’s last game for some time as he would be putting his boots on for the All Blacks in the United Kingdom later that year.
In fact, it would be 12 years before we would once again see Jeff Wilson charging in for the BLACKCAPS, a name that didn’t exist the last time he played cricket for New Zealand. In fact, this is a record for the longest stint between international appearances. After he retired from professional rugby at the age of 28, Wilson thought he would give cricket another go although Goldie did not immediately live up to his name. However, near the end of the 2004-05 season it was evident some of the form that saw him achieve his first international cap was returning. He was selected for New Zealand to play against the FICA World XI where he played well including 3-6 off four overs in the third game of the series. This was enough to see him selected to play again for the BLACKCAPS in another Australian series. The first match of his return was the first ever men’s international T20 on February 17th 2005. Australia won convincingly and Jeff ended up with no wickets (0-43) and hit 18 runs.
Wilson would play two more ODIs to add to his 1993 four before ending his international cricket career with 103 runs at an average of 20.6 and a high score of 44*. With the ball, he claimed four wickets with best figures of 2-21. Wilson has said that he was very lucky to play for the BLACKCAPS both times he did. But it takes talent to get there in the first place.
Jeff Wilson was the last to achieve the double of playing for the All Blacks and BLACKCAPS and it is likely that he will be the last. Wilson began his careers in both sports just as they were on the cuff of going professional. Today, in a fully professional environment, it would be near impossible to play both sports at the highest level, especially when you consider how much cricket and rugby is played in a calendar year.
Will what these few did ever be achieved again?
Feature image: Richie McCaw umpires in the Fill The Basin chairty fundraiser held in 2011 to raise funds in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake. Photo by Mike Lewis.