Patricia McKelvey
The 2016 WHITE FERNS with Patricia McKelvey at the New Zealand Cricket Museum. Photo: Mike Lewis

As we commemorate 125 years since women in Aotearoa were granted the right to vote, we celebrate a pioneer of women’s cricket in this country; Patricia McKelvey CNZM MBE.

The first woman to score an international hundred for New Zealand, the captain when the WHITE FERNS’ secured their first win, a coach, manager, and selector, there is little that McKelvey has not done during more than half a century of involvement in the game.

In mid-2017, her global contribution to the game was acknowledged as she, alongside 36 other female cricketers, was recognised with an Honorary Membership of the MCC.

Following that honour, and with McKelvey a key part of the team behind the project to publish a history of women in New Zealand cricket, we caught up with her to discuss a lifetime spent on both sides of the boundary.

While in Standard 3 at Waiwhetu School, Patricia Frances McKelvey was introduced to cricket. The school’s headmaster, the aptly named Mr Jolly, was full of encouragement for girls and boys under his tutelage to play, and do, anything. McKelvey took that encouragement and developed it in to a lifelong love for the game.

Much of her early cricket was played at Te Whiti Park in Lower Hutt, a venue that became something of a home for women’s cricket in the region. McKelvey spoke of the role that games at the Park played in bringing together many young players who would rise to provincial and international honours,

“That’s where I first met people like Maureen Peters and Denise Craig – we were all out in the Hutt where we had a very strong link with Te Whiti Park in women’s underage and rep teams. Jill Saulbrey would come over the hill as well. We often had Sunday games out there against men’s teams. It’s where the first groups really got going.”

From Waiwhetu, McKelvey moved on to Wellington Girls College where she was once again encouraged to play anything. At the time, school girl cricket in Wellington was particularly strong with 48 teams involved in secondary schoolgirl competition.

After her years at Wellington College, McKelvey joined the Kilbirnie club where the environment was extremely welcoming and inclusive for the women’s teams,

“We were one of the first teams who, although we weren’t officially merged, we mixed really well with the Kilbirnie men. So, all those great players who played for Kilbirnie in those days, like Richard Collinge and Barry Sinclair, we just practiced with and alongside each other.”

When Kilbirnie’s women’s side dropped away, McKelvey moved across town to Onslow, where the environment was similar,

“That was a good club too because it had Morrison and Coney and we just did everything together.”

In 1960, McKelvey was selected to play for Wellington for the first time, travelling to Christchurch for the annual Hallyburton Johnstone Shield tournament. Reintroduced to domestic cricket in the 2017-18 season, the “HBJ” was viewed with great prestige during McKelvey’s era,

“It was a really, very coveted shield to play for. That was the focus, we wanted to win the Shield.”

McKelvey’s introduction to provincial cricket wasn’t exactly ideal, however, as Wellington finished last, going winless. The following season’s attempt was similarly disappointing, although McKelvey hit her first 50 for Wellington.

In spite of the team’s struggles, Hallyburton Johnstone Shield tournaments are fondly remembered by McKelvey,

“It was amazing. We had to raise funds and we’d spend ten days in a motel with the team. Most times we went in with people we wanted, and one room would be on cooking duties, and one would be on washing, and one would be on gear duties, and we’d get together and eat. It was a really good time to bond.”

It was quite a collegial tournament among opposing teams as well,

“There was always a drink at the end of the day, and all the games were played on the same ground. Like in Auckland, we played at Melville Park or Devonport Domain. So, everybody was there.”

While many would look at the coordination, logistics, fundraising, and practice required for these tournaments as a daunting task, for McKelvey it all added to making the experience incredibly rewarding,

“We practiced so hard and we had to work for everything. Whether it was raising the money … it was just a great time to be involved.”

Patricia McKelvey
The 1962-63 Otago team with the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield. McKelvey is in the middle row, far left.

After finishing last with Wellington during her first two seasons at the HBJ Tournament, McKelvey switched to Otago in 1962-63 and experienced immediate success as the southerners lifted the trophy. Led by captain Betty Sinclair and the bat of Eris Paton, Otago were the only side to win a match outright and finished 18 points ahead of second placed Auckland.

Her time with Otago coincided with a year spent at Teacher’s College and the, following season, McKelvey was back with Wellington. The capital side’s lean run continued but McKelvey worked hard, rising to captain the province. In 1966, she was selected for the New Zealand side to tour to the UK.

That team was selected following the 1965-66 HBJ Tournament in Auckland, with McKelvey given advance warning of what was to come,

“Before it was announced, Bev Brentnall, who was the vice-captain, and myself were called to a meeting and told that we were being made captain and vice-captain and then the team was announced at the end of the tournament.”

Shortly after her selection was announced, McKelvey was given her first New Zealand uniform. Or, more specifically, she was given the parts with which to construct that uniform,

“About a fortnight later, that’s when we got our bolts of material and our dress patterns and a voucher to go and get a specific pair of shoes from Hannahs.”

McKelvey’s Test debut, where she was also captain, came against England at Scarborough in June 1966. With Judi Doull starring with the bat and Jos Burley effective with the ball, the tourists came away with a draw in the series’ opening Test, a result that would repeat in the next two matches of the series.

In 1967-68, McKelvey led Wellington to claim the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield. It is perhaps no surprise that the side were so successful under her leadership at the ground where she spent much of her youth: Te Whiti Park.

Following their English tour in 1966, the New Zealand women’s side’s next international engagement would come in the return tour in 1969. That series opened with a drawn Test at the Basin Reserve, which has its place in history due to the performance of the home team’s captain.

Ahead of the Test McKelvey talked with the groundsman in her preprations,

“I’d talked to Wes Armstrong, who was great, the day before when we were practicing there. He said, ‘Trish, it’ll always be the same. It’s always a bit dicey in the first hour. Play the first hour out and it’s a brilliant pitch.’”

Batting at three, McKelvey didn’t have to wait long to take the field as Judi Doull was dismissed with the score at just 17. Importantly, with the words of Armstrong ringing true, Doull had batted out the first 45 minutes. Still, the nerves of playing a Test on home soil for the first time still jangle in the memory of McKelvey,

“I can remember a fair bit of the game. The wicket was slightly different in those days and we were using the changing rooms in the old stand and I was sitting on the terraces outside and I thought, “it’s me”, and I actually got out there in the middle of the wicket before the English had stopped high-fiving the previous wicket.”

254 minutes later, the New Zealand innings concluded at 302. Standing unbeaten at the end was the New Zealand captain on 155*. McKelvey’s century was the first in Tests by a New Zealand woman and would remain a record Test score by a captain on the historic Basin Reserve until Martin Crowe’s 299 in 1991.

Patricia McKelvey
The 1972 New Zealand women’s team that toured to Australia and South Africa.

Another HBJ title with Wellington followed amidst another three years between internationals before McKelvey and her New Zealand side again made history. This time, it was a true team effort and it saw a pair of historic wins against Australia and South Africa in 1972.

In McKelvey’s own words, the win over Australia “was the best one” as the team bounced back from a disappointing opening day to beat their trans-Tasman rivals in the first women’s Test to be played over four days.

New Zealand were bowled out for just 89 in the first innings, and they ended the first day 20 behind with only two Australian bats back in the dressing room. Inadvertently, however, a pair of proud Australian parents were about to inspire an historic victory for the visitors.

When the team arrived in Sydney, they were billeted with opposition players – McKelvey staying at the home of Tina McPherson, a six-foot fast bowler. McPherson was in the Australian side for the Test at Melbourne, in fact it would turn out to be her last Test, and her parents made the journey to support their daughter.

With the first day being so one-sided in favour of Australia, McPherson’s parents stood at the gates to the field to say goodbye to McKelvey,

“I came off and these two were standing on either side of the gate, and I as I went through the gate I stopped beside them and they said ‘we’re down here so we can say goodbye, there’s no point in staying any longer, it’ll be over in two days’”.

When her team asked her later that evening who the pair were, McKelvey relayed what she had been told on the boundary. The conversation inspired the New Zealanders who, led by a six-wicket effort from Pat Carrick, took the last eight Australian wickets for just 20 runs. They then hit 335 in their second innings with Doull, Janice Stead, and Lynda Prichard all passing 50.

Deflated from the turnaround in the match and under immense pressure from the rejuvenated New Zealanders, Australia folded for 155 and an historic win was secured for the tourists. It was the first Test win for a New Zealand side (men or women) against the Australians.

While McKelvey views her two Test centuries (she scored her second in the first Test of the 1972 series against South Africa) as something to be immensely proud of she describes the win over Australia as “something else”.

The team travelled from Australia to South Africa – a controversial leg of the tour with international pressure increasing on the apartheid regime in the nation – and won the second Test, with the other two drawn, to record back-to-back series wins.

McKelvey’s playing days with Wellington ended in 1981, while she featured for New Zealand through the 1982 World Cup on home soil. From there she quickly moved in to an off-field role,

“I basically became a selector and a coach and then a manager straight after I finished in ‘82 and I didn’t stop my actual involvement at New Zealand level until 1990.”

While her official duties may have concluded at the start of the 90s, McKelvey remains a staunch advocate for the current crop of female cricketers. Over the years since her retirement for the game, many accolades have come her way, as have honours and awards named for her.

In 2017, she was recognised by the MCC with an Honorary Membership, something that she is, rightly, very proud of,

“It’s a culmination of everything I suppose, being a Wellington Life Member and New Zealand Life Member and now the MCC, it’s a recognition that you’re still there and people still recognise what you achieved.”