DAY TWO: Friday, February 27, 1914. Don Sandman looked at the men around him as they walked out under a cloudless sky. The morning had dawned cold, but with the promise of a crisp fine day. He could see some trepidation amongst his mates, this was the big stage and they’d already been humbled by their old foe. Young Rupert Hickmott was courageous and he’d been blooded on foreign fields earlier in the summer, but this felt different, like it could be the last time. George Wilson was new to this and, for all his promise and all the talk, how you handled yourself here could define you. With everyone in position, Don could see the resolve in Joe Bennett’s eyes as he turned around at his mark, gripped the ball tight and ran in to bowl at the Australian cricketers.
Australia v Canterbury, Lancaster Park, 1914, Australia won by an innings and 364 runs.
101 years after Canterbury faced the almighty 1914 Australian side, another trans-Tasman battle unfolded in the final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. That match would be the last time these two great foes met before the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day was commemorated in April 2015. Considering the long history of battling it out on the cricket field, it is fitting to acknowledgethe equally long history we have of standing side-by-side on the battlefield.
When Don Sandman and his Canterbury team mates played Australia at Lancaster Park that day in 1914, they couldn’t have had any idea of the events that would unfold over the next 12 months. Sandman himself had been involved in many of the most recent contests involving sides from both countries, although this tour marked the first time that the national teams had met since 1910. It would be 1946 until an official Test was staged, which made these early matches before WWI important for New Zealand to show they could foot it with big brother. In the match that concluded the 1914 tour, New Zealand played Australia at Auckland’s Eden Park. Although no could know it at the time, the match become historic as the last international before the outbreak of war.
Even during WWI, the cricket rivalry between Australia and New Zealand was evident. In a famous photograph from Shell Green on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsular, ANZAC troops play cricket in a rare moment of normality. The letters from the New Zealand Cricket Council, sent to their fee-paying members at the out-break of war, indicate a feeling that everything would be ok, so long as there was still cricket. To look at the picture of cricket at Gallipoli you have to wonder if that was what those New Zealand and Australian soldiers felt at the time, that this game could take them away from the most atrocious of situations.
The men in Sandman’s story all had their own experiences with that war; George Wilson would enlist, fight and die in 1917; Rupert Hickmott died in Belgium, just days after fellow Christchurch Boys’ old boys had seen him at the front, still in awe of their school’s former cricketing star; Joseph Bennett would spend almost four years in Europe and Egypt, but he came home. Don was lucky too, returning home after the war to the wife he’d married just before embarking and the son born after he’d left.
DAY TWO: Saturday, 12 March, 1921. He’d been here yesterday, but the scene in front of him now brought it all back: that same foe standing to greet them, men around him in that familiar uniform. Yet, somehow, it all felt different. Don Sandman had made this walk before, even after the great battles, but it hadn’t been against these men, this country. He remembered the look on Rupert’s face as he watched the great Trumper in action, George’s diminutive frame scampering in the field. Bennett had come back too, but only for one last turn. He wasn’t the man he used to be, the man who took four of them down last time. To be here now, he remembered them all.
Australia v Canterbury, Lancaster Park, 1921, Australia won by 7 wickets.
The New Zealand Cricket Museum’s exhibition, On A Foreign Field, opened at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on ANZAC Day 2015.