Before former-BLACKCAPS and West Indian Test wicketkeeper, Sammy Guillen died in 2013 he was proclaimed as having been New Zealand’s oldest Test player at 88. One of just 14 players to feature in Test cricket for two countries, Sammy, by all accounts, was a remarkable man who was rightly lauded for his contribution to the global game of cricket. But, New Zealand’s oldest Test player is one thing he wasn’t.
Sadly, the rightful claimant to that title passed away in Christchurch last month with none of the headlines that Sammy’s passing generated. Margaret Luff (nee Marks) was 96 when she peacefully passed away in Christchurch in August, 2014. 79 years earlier she was part of the very first White Ferns side to take to the international stage when she opened the batting against England at Christchurch. Margaret was the last link to New Zealand’s Test cricket origins and, by some distance, our oldest Test player.
When Margaret made her Test debut she was just one month past her 17th birthday. In spite of her youth, Margaret was clearly one of the best batters in the country having hit a century for Canterbury against Wanganui B at Cook’s Gardens during 1934’s Wanganui Carnival Week. She finished that tournament by top-scoring in the final, sending a clear signal to the members of the proposed New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council that she was a serious talent.
When the time came to face the English at Lancaster Park, the New Zealand side was ill-prepared, having gathered the day before the game. Players in the side noted that they knew little about their teammates, with domestic cricket a very new phenomenon and, even then, largely played within each island. Lack of preparation showed as the New Zealanders’ first innings resulted in a team total of 44, before England piled on 503. In the second innings, Margaret opened the batting and was the last out, battling the English bowlers for nearly two hours to make 22.
After that first foray into international cricket, Margaret returned to representing Canterbury and the Mai Moa club while the White Ferns returned to the cricket wilderness. Margaret was a feature of Canterbury sides through the late 1930s and 1940s, continuing to bat at the top of the order and serving as Vice-Captain during a highly competitive era of women’s cricket. Then, in 1948, 13 years after her debut, Margaret was selected in the White Ferns side to take on Australia in our second Test.
That White Ferns side was packed with 10 debutants, making it hard for meaningful progress to have been made since 1935. In spite of that, the domestic game was in good heart and players in the 1948 team knew their teammates a lot better than their predecessors. Unfortunately the match was another one-sided affair with Australia winning by an innings and 107 runs to signal the end of Margaret’s international career.
While Margaret’s family recall that she seldom talked about her cricketing life without prompting, her dedication to the game is exemplified by her schedule around that 1948 Test match. On March 16, Margaret took the overnight ferry from Christchurch to Wellington, spending a couple of days preparing for the Test match which took place from the 20th to the 23rd. As soon as the Test ended, Margaret was back on the ferry to Christchurch. On March 25, two days after she left the field, Margaret married Jim Luff at Christchurch’s St Paul’s Church.
If you look at photographs of Margaret during her playing days, you might notice she’s never pictured wearing batting gloves. Her son once asked if she had forgotten to put them on, “oh I never used them, I couldn’t feel the ball on the bat.” His response, naturally, was “how often did you get hit on the hands?” to which she replied unassumingly, “it never happened.”
Margaret Luff (nee Marks) was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a nana, White Fern number 7 and a talented cricketer who helped set the stage for women in the game. We’d like to thank her family for sharing her story with us and for donating her cricketing treasures to the New Zealand Cricket Museum.