Pearl Savin.For years a pair of batting gloves have been on display at the New Zealand Cricket Museum with a label noting that they were awarded to Pearl Savin for being the best player against the 1935 English touring side. With the White Ferns touring the West Indies this month, we thought it was an ideal time to delve a little deeper into Pearl’s story.

Pearl Hannah Savin was born in 1914 to parents James and Margaret Savin. Educated at Epsom Girls Grammar, Pearl excelled at sports while at school – in her own words, Pearl had “good hand eye co-ordination” and “liked a bit of a challenge”. As well as being a school swimming champion she was also an Auckland tennis champion in both singles and doubles. After school she’d represent Auckland at cricket and feature at fullback for the Auckland hockey side when they took on Australia in 1936.

Pearl made her Auckland cricket debut against the touring English side in 1935, selected as wicketkeeper against the formidable opposition. In front of some 2000 spectators, Auckland were bowled out for 33 in their first innings before staggering to 64-5 by the match’s end. In their only innings, England amassed 200 for 9. The highest score for Auckland was made by Pearl as she hit 18, good enough to see her awarded a pair of batting gloves as the best all-round player in the home team. She was also responsible for some tidy work behind the stumps, including stumping Betty Snowball – one of the star’s of the English side. Later on, Pearl would admit she wondered whether she should ever have stumped Snowball, such was the esteem with which she held her opponent. It probably made for interesting conversation at the Savin residence that evening, too – Betty Snowball had been billeted with Pearl.

Young Auckland wicketkeeper, Pearl Savin's White Ferns' Test cap. - NZ Cricket Museum
Pearl Savin’s White Ferns’ Test cap.

Pearl’s performance saw her nominated, then selected, for the New Zealand side which was to take on England in Christchurch for the home country’s first ever Test starting on February 16 1935. England proved far too strong for Pearl and her team mates in that match, winning by an innings and 337 runs. Pearl’s wicketkeeping was the source of much praise after she only let a few byes past, in spite of never having faced bowling as fast as her New Zealand team mates were firing down. Pearl described her knees as “a mass of bruises” as she didn’t stand far enough back to combat the pace.

Pearl also found herself as vice-captain, something that was only made clear to her after the team’s captain, Ruth Symons, was hit in the eye after misjudging a catch. With Symons on the sideline with a raw steak over her eye and without any prior warning, Pearl, in just her second major cricket match, was told she would be taking over the captaincy. The team had essentially met each other the day of the match, so Pearl admitted that captaincy was very difficult as she only knew Nancy Browne (also from Auckland) and Symons!

There are several newspaper reports which highlight Pearl’s cricketing skill – she was noted as someone who could find the boundary once she “got going” – but there’s always more to a cricketer’s story than what they did on the field. For Pearl, reports of her sporting prowess disappear after 1936. Instead, she features heavily in the society pages where she is regularly noted as an attendee of various dances for the Epsom Old Girls or Teacher’s College. In 1938 and 1939, Pearl spent her time teaching in Fiji as part of a national teacher exchange programme. By 1944, she’d moved on from teaching and become a physiotherapist, with her cricketing days well behind her.

The gloves awarded to Pearl Savin in 1935. NZ Cricket Museum
The gloves awarded to Pearl Savin in 1935.

In 1994, Pearl donated a range of items to the New Zealand Cricket Museum. Included in the Pearl Savin Collection are her New Zealand cap, blazer, and the gloves that she was awarded for standing up to the English in 1935.

Thanks to Carey Clements for the quotes from Pearl Savin included in this piece. Carey interviewed Pearl and other members of the 1935 New Zealand side in 1994.