In the course of some ongoing research for the Museum into the history of the Hawke Cup, Norm Wilson was one of those contacted. Northland has had a distinctive history in the Cup, and Wilson was a part of their very first tenure, and for a long time a very significant figure in Northland cricket.
However, his health was deteriorating: Joey Yovich had been emailed about his own Hawke Cup career, and as he kept regularly in touch with Wilson was happy to help, but wrote in his first reply that “Please keep in mind that unfortunately Norm’s health doesn’t allow him to communicate via speech as well as he once could.”
Nonetheless, Wilson handwrote his memories of Hawke Cup cricket, kindly typed up by his daugter-in-law, Wendy.
Sadly, Norm passed away on March 28th aged 87, and so, to pay tribute to him, we’re publishing his full words below. The only amendments have been to correct spelling of player names and to add in brief summaries of each game at the conclusion of his comments about them.
As there are masses of statistics available to those who find them interesting I shall attempt to throw some light on what was, and is, the most gripping and tense cricket I have ever played.
May I say that I considered it a privilege to be asked to contribute to the history of that icon of minor association cricket “THE HAWKE CUP”.
My credentials for doing this job are to say the least dubious!
My greatest claim to fame is probably playing for Northland for 20 years (seven years as captain) and the odd mediocre appearance for Northern Districts.
The advantage of playing only five First-Class games meant I was available for 90% of the Hawke Cup games played between 1950 and 1970. It may interest you to know that Glenn Turner rated Hawke Cup cricket as being second to only Test cricket when it came to tension and competitiveness.
Well, let the great adventure begin!
In the early ‘50s the very name of “NELSON” struck tension into the hearts of most minor associations. We were no exception but were buoyed up by having the experience of Len Wyatt, Noel Vipond and the Child brothers, Ellis and Brian, to fall back on. So full of enthusiasm we boarded the train (Yes! The Auckland to Wellington express) for the first part of our overseas trip (the Wellington to Nelson trip was still to come). You may be surprised to learn that such was the excitement of the Orient Express that cricket was barely discussed. The rude awakening of cricket at Trafalgar Park was yet to come. Result – we were thrashed, and it was a long trip home! So the 20-year adventure had begun.
Nelson vs. Northland | Trafalgar Park, Nelson: 1st, 2nd & 4th February, 1952
Northland 136 all out (JL Wyatt 36; IB Leggat 6-45) & 307 all out (JL Wyatt 68; RS Challies 7-107) lost to Nelson 378 all out (IH Ching 105, A Newman 57) & 67-2 by eight wickets.
Two years later we earned a challenge against Wanganui, unfortunately without our two most experienced players, Len Wyatt and Ellis Child, something a small country association could ill afford. Result – another loss.
Wanganui vs. Northland | Cook’s Gardens, Wanganui: 1st & 2nd January, 1954
Northland 129 all out (BO Child 49; RE Brown 4-6) & 191 all out (NR Wilson 70) lost to Wanganui 265 all out (BG Hamilton 69; V Pearson 4-62) & 58-5 by five wickets.
Another two years of waiting and elimination matches then BINGO! A successful challenge against Hutt Valley, and Northland had its name on the Hawke Cup for the first time. [Note: Wilson did not play this match.]
Hutt Valley vs. Northland | Hutt Recreation Ground, Lower Hutt: 31st December & 2nd January, 1956
Northland 265 all out (S Munro 82, R Dunning 45) & 141 all out (MW Armstrong 50) beat Hutt Valley 124 all out (R Dunning 5-18, JG Williams 4-53) & 192 all out (AF Nightingale 76; EL Child 4-52) by 90 runs.
1956 continued to be a good year for Northland with successful defences against Southern Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough giving the faithful local supporters something to cheer about.
Northland vs. Southern Hawke’s Bay | Whangarei High School, Whangarei: 17th & 18th February, 1956
Southern Hawke’s Bay 104 all out (EL Child 4-19, R Dunning 4-28) & 64 all out (MK Joass 3-16) lost to Northland 146 all out (JL Wyatt 37; J Small 3-18) & 23-0 by 10 wickets.
Northland vs. Marlborough | Cobham Oval, Whangarei: 31st March, 1st & 2nd April, 1956
Northland 151 all out (JL Wyatt 74; AE Cresswell 7-27) & 401 all out (JL Wyatt 104, R Dunning 86) beat Marlborough 97 all out (AJ McGuire 33; MK Joass 4-19) & 158 all out (IA MacGregor 32; JG Williams 4-25) by 297 runs.
But it was not to be a Merry Christmas. We were descended on by the mighty Waikato. Led by Jim Everest and Eric Petrie, ably supported by fine bowlers: Dave Hoskin and spinners Puna and Lissete! Dave’s match figures were 10 for 88. There was, as is to be expected in Hawke Cup cricket, a defining moment. In the 20 years I played, home umpires officiated so there was a general good natured (prior to games) acceptance that the defending home side would get the benefit of the doubt, and the rub of the green generally went the home way.
(May I say in passing that during my Hawke Cup career I witnessed some of the most bizarre decisions you could ever imagine, and it was a great relief to all when New Zealand Cricket recognised the problem and took over the appointing of neutral umps.)
But back to the Waikato game, all was well! Home game and home umpires (NZ ranked), we were battling hard with both Petrie and Everest out and a collapse a possibility (they lost their last 7 wickets for 26). Enter Peter Smith at the fall of Ron Hemi’s wicket. First ball: caught behind. Stewart Munro triumphantly threw the ball in the air and jubilation erupted! But not for long, the umpire called “Not Out”! There was a stunned silence. A fine but obvious catch to the wicket-keeper! Our umpire! What went wrong?
Some rather indelicate comments to Smithy that he should depart for far-off places simply brought a grin and a “bad luck boys” from Peter. 153 runs later the partnership was broken and so Waikato fortuitously won by 100 runs. The person I really felt for in that game was skipper Ellis Child, who kept us in the game by bowling Waikato out for 120 in the second innings with the magnificent figures of 4 for 30 and 7 for 22.
Well that is my sad story of the decade! But you will all have a similar experience to relate, because that is Hawke Cup cricket.
Northland vs. Waikato | Whangarei High School, Whangarei: 6th, 7th & 8th December, 1956
Waikato 277 all out (N Puna 82, PH Smith 79) & 120 all out (EL Child 7-49) beat Northland 119 all out (JL Wyatt 39; DC Hoskin 5-33) & 176 all out (D Jamieson 48; DC Hoskin 5-55) by 102 runs.
Nine frustrating years rolled by until we got a challenge against Manawatu. But the passing years had ravaged the side of five players – Len Wyatt, Ellis and Brian Child, Ron Dunning and Stewart Munro had all retired. In fact only NZ hockey goalkeeper Ross McPherson and myself were the ageing survivors from 1956. Nevertheless we ventured forth to Palmerston North full of confidence! Alas, we were soon brought back to earth! The experience of NZ players Bryan Yuile, Vic Pollard and Murray Chapple proved far too strong for our young team, and once again we faced the long trip home licking our wounds, but having learnt valuable lessons!
Manawatu vs. Northland | Fitzherbert Park, Palmerston North: 26th, 27th & 29th November, 1965
Manawatu 356 all out (ME Chapple 68, LW Downes 52*) & 291-7 dec. (V Pollard 102*) beat Northland 168 (NR Wilson 34; BW Yuile 5-40) & 2-1 on first innings.
Eleven years after our first successful challenge against Hutt Valley we returned to the scene of our success quietly confident. Our superstar of the future, Brian Dunning, was starting to blossom and First Class players Denis Lloyd, Ross McPherson and ND wicket-keeper Lance Mountain added to import John Ogilvie gave us a sense of solidity. But it was not to be! The fact that the three Smiths playing scored over 200 runs with Uncle Smith umpiring may have had some bearing on the result. In all fairness though, George McConnell’s bowling backed up by a magnificent 85 runs contributed significantly to a fine win.
Hutt Valley vs. Northland | Hutt Recreation Ground, Lower Hutt: 15th, 16th & 17th December, 1967
Hutt Valley 358 all out (RW Smith 129, GT McConnell 85) beat Northland 217 all out (JE Ogilvie 76*; GT McConnell 45 overs, 2-50) on first innings.
My last hurrah!
After 20 years of representing Northland, the last seven as captain, I had decided to retire at the end of the ’70-71 season. As you may well imagine I wanted to finish on a high.
With the support of Dunning, Lloyd, McPherson, [Robert] Anderson, [John] Parker and Mountain I believe I was justified in being confident providing we could bowl them out for a reasonable score. We lost the toss and in murky conditions found ourselves in the field. Backed up by some magnificent fielding we bowled them out for 110 with a wet ball. Game over I thought!
We prepared to bat but the umpires decided the drizzle we had bowled in, was now unsuitable for play. No worry! We’ll get ‘em tomorrow…
Sunday dawned! But lo and behold the covers had leaked. Umps: no play for the day.
By Monday morning nerves were getting jumpy. The prospect of the long trip to Invercargill ending up as a washed out draw a distinct possibility. Mid-morning the skies cleared and the outfield was perfect. Great! Get the covers off and we’ll knock the runs off and go home… Hawke Cup cricket doesn’t work that way! Not with home groundsmen and umpires. The covers came off and horror of horrors – the track was a mixture of wet and dry spots from end to end. We weren’t going to go home without having a shot so out we went against two of the best spinners in the country (Jack and Gren Alabaster). You guessed it! We were rolled for 80 with Jack and Gren getting all 10 wickets. We had three left-handers: Dunning, McPherson and Wilson, all adjudged LBW to Jack.
Southland vs. Northland | Turnbull Thomson Park, Invercargill: 13th, 14th & 15th March, 1970
Southland 110 all out (RJ Verrall 42; B Dunning 4-28) & 139 (GD Alabaster 36; DB Crene 5-26) beat Northland 80 all out (JC Alabaster 6-45, GD Alabaster 4-17) & 115 all out (GD Alabaster 5-28).
At this stage let me correct a misconception I may have given. These local officials were not cheats! The ground staff were in many cases willing volunteers operation with old equipment and damaged covers. Remember! Many of these games were played in rural areas that rarely hosted a First Class fixture and did not have the advantage of highly trained professional curators.
In the heat of the battle this was small consolation to the travel-weary challenger. Now – to the much-maligned umpire who in most cases were also unpaid volunteers who gave their time freely and were probably very capable club and even minor association umpires suddenly thrown into a three-day cauldron known as a Hawke Cup challenge! The epitome of Minor Association cricket and the closest that many of them (both players and umpires) will ever come to First Class or international cricket. Added to that the umpires are not segregated like a jury but are subjected to three days and nights of one-sided advice from partisan home supporters and players.
Some handle it, and some don’t!
New Zealand Cricket became aware of this and appointed qualified neutral umpires and keep a close watch on grounds and facilities.
Finally, as a matter of interest, I list the Top 10 [Northland] Hawke Cup averages between 1950 and 1970. There no doubt will have changed dramatically by now. It will be interesting with the current improved umpiring and playing conditions if any of the oldies hang in there.
Hawke Cup cricket – the ultimate for us country boys, long may it remain!
From my personal point of view: I have made life-long friendships the length and breadth of the country, none of which would have been possible had it not been for Hawke Cup cricket.
Thanks go to Advocate Sports Editors Gary Frew and Kip Brooke for the statistical information.
At 86 years young I regret that due to sound financial reasons New Zealand Cricket are no longer able to cater for the minors as they did in the ‘50s and ‘60s be allocating international fixtures to the rural areas.
In my younger days playing for Northland I was fortunate to play against the West Indies, MCC, Pakistan, and Fiji in Whangarei at Cobham Oval. Unfortunately these days the promising young players are denied the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Garry Sobers, Everton Weekes, Ramadhin, and Valentine (West Indies); Jim Parks, Willie Watson, Dennis Silk, and Jim Laker (MCC); Javed Burki and Intikhab Alam (Pakistan); and Nat Uluiviti (Fiji).
Memories for a lifetime!