Ted Badcock, due to the fortunate positioning of his name alphabetically, is recognised as our very first Black Cap. Tom Lowry has the honour of being New Zealand’s first Test captain. But only one man can lay claim to being New Zealand’s first cricket captain, Olympic committee member, and dual international; Leonard Albert Cuff.
Born in Christchurch in 1866, Len’s cricketing career was slow to flourish after he gained his first mention in the newspaper as a member of the Shipping side (alongside his father) against the Mercantile team in 1882. Working his way up from the Lancaster Park Cricket Club’s 3rd Grade side, Len spent most of the 1880s playing club cricket in Christchurch. His achievements were notable enough to see him selected to play for Canterbury against the touring Lillywhite’s XI in 1888, however his record was fairly inconsistent.
This cricketing inconsistency may have been due to the competing sporting passions in his life, although he was known to be an enthusiast of practice sessions. Between 1888 and 1890, Len’s noted as being: on the committee of the Lancaster Park Cricket Club, the secretary of the Canterbury Amateur Athletic Club, and the treasurer of the Christchurch Baseball Club. He also represented Canterbury in rugby, was a three-time New Zealand long jump champion and, later in life, was a Tasmanian golf and lawn bowls champion.
However, by 1892 Len’s athletic ambitions had taken precedence as he travelled to the UK and Europe with the NZ athletic team – a trip he organised. According to his obituary, Len secured three first placings, three seconds, and three thirds on this tour – including a silver medal at an international meet in Paris. It was at the Paris meet that Cuff met Pierre de Coubertin, the man who would go on to establish the modern Olympics two years later. Their meeting in 1892 was fateful for Len as he became Australasia’s first representative on the International Olympic Committee in 1894, largely due to his familiarity to de Coubertin.
Len’s Olympic legacy may have come through a little-known event at the 1900 Paris games: cricket.
There is some contemporary debate about Len’s effectiveness as a member of the IOC: he was on the committee until 1905 but New Zealand didn’t attend the Olympics until 1908. Again, this was likely due to his competing passions as, in 1894, Leonard Cuff was selected to captain New Zealand’s first representative cricket side in a match against New South Wales in Christchurch. He played in New Zealand’s first four representative matches, with his highlight coming through hitting 50 in the second innings of the 1896 match against Australia. Unfortunately for Len’s record, that match didn’t have First-Class status; New Zealand used 15 players to even up the teams.
Len’s sporting achievements were notable but they were equally matched by his other administrative and community roles, particularly after he moved to Australia in 1899. Len lived in Tasmania until his death in 1954, serving on the St John Ambulance Association, the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and numerous other groups. He also designed 5 golf courses. When he had the time.