The New Zealand XI’s victory over Bangladesh in the opening match of their 2016-17 tour was led by Auckland’s Ben Horne. The 22 year-old batsman/wicketkeeper/occasional bowler hit 60* as the home team won by three wickets. Almost 30 years before, another young Auckland batsman showed his class against a touring team: on that occasion it was Phil Horne at the crease and the opponents were the mighty West Indians of the 1980s.
In the latest Limited Overs interview, Devon Mace chats with Phil about his cricket career, being a dual international, and what it’s like to watch his son, Ben, rise through the ranks.
First of all, probably a good place to start, why cricket? What was it that got you into the sport?
I had a friend at school who was a cricket nut, and I think when I was nine or ten he sort of dragged me along to the cricket club – which actually wasn’t the local club. I lived over on the North Shore, and for some reason his dad was tied up with a club in town, so we used to go over the Harbour Bridge. And yeah, he got me into it when I was about nine or ten I think.
And then I imagine it was you that managed to get Matt into the game a little bit later on?
I have three brothers, and we all played backyard stuff, and Matt obviously got right into it, and loved it. Had another brother who played premier-level cricket, it just became part of what you did in the backyard I guess, and we kept going with it.
You managed to make some waves early on, you came through the Auckland Under-20s and 23s and teams like that, and then came into the senior side when you were still only 19 (in early 1980) – which must’ve been pretty imposing?
I managed to get into senior club cricket when I was quite young, and then got picked for the under-23s, and I think had a reasonable tournament, then I went to under-20s and got picked for Auckland when I was about 19. Auckland weren’t having a particularly good year, and I think they made a couple of changes for the back-end of the season, so I was fortunate enough to get in.
It was a pretty rapid elevation to the senior side.
It was all sort of a bit of a blur I guess, I was lucky I played at a club [Grafton] where we had Mark Burgess and John McIntyre and John Cushen, Austin Parsons, guys like that. So it was a strong club, and you got exposed to top cricketers at a young age, and that helped, definitely. I was just lucky to get picked, really.
And on debut you managed to make 48 in the second dig, which must have helped you feel at ease with that selection?
You’re more into stats than I am! I remember, I think we were playing ND at Eden Park No. 2 I think, and they had a strong team. I think I had a bit of luck and just sort of hung around, and batted for a while and managed to get a few runs. I think Martin Crowe was available after that and came in, and obviously the rest is history there – so I played maybe a couple more games, but not much that season.
After those three games, you ended up being dropped for five years – which must have been pretty gutting?
I think I played a bit in the As, there were other guys like Mark Greatbatch coming through. But I played badminton for New Zealand as well, so I made myself unavailable for Commonwealth Games years – I went to three Commonwealth Games, so for [a total of] five or six years I wasn’t available, we’d have pre-season training for the games, and couldn’t play cricket. I think in 10 years, or must’ve been around 10 years, I only played 40, 50 games or so, and I missed potentially four or five of those years when I wasn’t available.
It was a case of, yeah, maybe not being picked – but also not being available, I guess.
On the subject of your badminton, it’s quite an interesting combination with cricket, so what was behind having both sports?
Dad was into badminton, and he got me into it, so I played that in the winter. In those days you could play a winter sport and a summer sport, there wasn’t the professional environment so much, and you could play one, finish, and then switch into another one. I think it was a bit of an advantage being quite fresh, and doing something a bit different. Obviously you couldn’t do it nowadays, with the way sport’s headed – with professionalism, and guys making livelihoods out of sport.
You came back into the Auckland fold in 1984-85, you averaged 32 and made quite a lot of starts – and did fairly well. So did you feel pretty comfortable coming back into that environment?
I can’t remember! I think probably I’d been away from it for a bit, because of the badminton, and must’ve got a few runs in club cricket or something. I think about that time, also, Auckland had a pretty strong side, there were quite a few internationals. So it was a strong environment, and a good side, and I think I probably felt a bit more at home – I had a bit more experience in cricket, and probably was a bit better prepared.
And then the following season, in the last game against ND, you made your maiden century, in the second innings – having been on a pair after the first – so it must’ve been nice to both get off a pair, and then make your first ton?
It’s always special to get your first hundred, and I can’t remember too much, but it was Eden Park again I think. I can’t remember too much about it, but it was obviously a nice feeling, for sure.
It was the season after that (1986-87) that you really started to hit your stride – you hit 150 against CD, and then made 81 for the Shell XI against the likes of Joel Garner and Patrick Patterson, which got you into the national side.
I do remember that game, we just got peppered. It was at McLean Park on a fast, hard wicket that the West Indian guys said was the closest to what they were used to playing on at home. It was a matter of hanging in there and surviving, and eking out a few runs – probably not too many in front of square, to be honest. Patrick Patterson in particular bowled pretty quick – I think he came in as a replacement and was trying to get a Test spot. But it was a great experience.
Coming into your Test call-up, did that innings against the West Indians give you a bit of confidence going into your debut?
No, not really. It was a nightmare. I think the first day was rained out, and the Test was still over inside four days. It was quite a green wicket at Lancaster Park, and it was pretty daunting to be honest. I obviously didn’t succeed, but it was quite a low scoring match from memory. It was pretty tough, they had a strong attack. I certainly wasn’t confident going into it! Pretty daunting.
Especially as the attack in that game was Garner, Marshall, Walsh, and Gray which isn’t too pleasant.
I think it was very early on Walsh’s career, and I think that was the game where we only needed about 40-odd to win in the second innings, and we were five or six down. I remember Gray and Walsh were the young guys, and we just got peppered, they just ran in and bowled quick and short. They bowled quick that day, they had nothing to lose I suppose. But it’s one of those memories, it sort of shook you.
I suppose facing those kind of guys bowling 150+ is something you try and push out of the memory!
That’s right, that’s right, and it didn’t get any better to be honest – Waqar in Pakistan, that was quite frightening as well. But yeah, an interesting time.
After that Test match you played the ODIs against the West Indies but didn’t do too well. But between domestic form and what you’d shown in the internationals, it was enough to get on the tour to Sri Lanka. Which must have been quite an experience, going to the subcontinent and playing cricket there?
Yeah, that was really interesting. I hadn’t been exposed to that. We had one Test and there was the security concern so the tour got aborted. But that Test was the one where Kuruppu scored 200 I think, and Hadlee and Jeff Crowe got hundreds that saved the game. And then we were heading into more Tamil area, from memory, and there were safety concerns so the tour was concluded.
Must have been nice that when there were security concerns, things were resolved pretty quickly and everyone got out – where a few years later (NZ’s tour of Sri Lanka in 1992) between the team vote and everything else, it got pretty messy.
We still had a vote, and I think it wasn’t as straightforward as saying we’re going, from what I recall. Some guys wanted to stay and some guys wanted to go – I can’t remember who, it was sort of a ballot. It wasn’t as straightforward as ‘we’re going’, so it was quite interesting. I was very raw and inexperienced, to be honest.
From there, you went to the ’87 World Cup, where you only played one game but got to experience both a World Cup and cricket in India.
That was cool, through all that time playing I was sort of the third opener – we always had more established openers, and I was back-up. I had a hit in the last game against India, and it was a pretty amazing experience, packed stadium. I think that was the game where we only got a couple of hundred, but they needed to score to get their net run rate up to get through. Srikkanth and Gavaskar just absolutely pumped it. I do remember dropping Srikkanth on the boundary actually, in front of the crowd which wasn’t too good. They pumped it, it was over very quickly. Touring India was just fascinating.
The tours continued, this time to Australia at the start of the 1987-88 summer. You made a hundred against Tasmania, which must have been a great feeling – to make a century for your country.
Yeah, because I didn’t get a lot of cricket – we obviously had Ruds and Wrighty opening. And I managed to get runs there. It was actually quite nice having a hit in the middle rather than in the nets – I’d been spending a lot of time netting – and yeah, got a hundred, and then played in the Boxing Day Test without a lot of success. It was pretty amazing playing in that Test, it was quite a well known Test with the McDermott LBW appeal, and Jonesy being given out caught behind down the leg-side by Dyer – I remember that quite vividly. I remember wicket-keeping for a session because Smithy buggered his finger up, so I took the gloves for a session which was pretty cool, keeping to Hadlee and Morrison and co. But yeah, it was a great experience to play in a Boxing Day Test, I was very fortunate.
In terms of your time with the bat, in both innings you batted quite a long time (81 and 102 minutes) but probably weren’t able to put the runs on the board to match that (7 and 27). So were you kind of mixed between feeling that you’d contributed by batting time, but not shown it on the scoreboard as well as you could’ve?
Yeah, that’d be fair, absolutely. It was a green wicket, I remember batting for quite a long time in the first innings to get past drinks or something, and then playing a bad shot and getting out – I think probably thinking I had to score quickly, and got bogged down. In the second innings we were looking for quicker runs, and same thing. So yeah, that’d be a fair assessment – didn’t get the runs for the time batted, really.
Which meant you had a bit of a stint out of the Test team for a while – although you had an excellent ’88-89 summer, where you managed to win a Plunket Shield title, made a double century against ND, and went on the Young New Zealanders tour of Zimbabwe.
I can’t remember what age I was, but I didn’t think I was that young to be honest!
I think at that time, to be fair, we had a pretty strong [Auckland Plunket Shield] team, I think most of the guys playing were internationals. That was cool, and always nice to be part of that. It was a strong side, from memory, I think just about everyone, at one stage, had played international cricket. So I think there was expectation, but always nice to win a title.
And not too many people make First Class double centuries, so it must’ve been nice to get that one under your belt.
Yeah, that was a bit of a surprise, actually. It was one of those things where I guess every dog has his day, and it was my day. I remember it was at Eden Park, I don’t remember much about the innings particularly, but I think I recall it was the first double century in a little while for Auckland. But I think since then it’s becoming a lot more common, wickets are a lot flatter and guys are playing more aggressively and scoring more quickly. But it was pretty cool, yeah.
At what seemed like the peak of your batting, you made the call after that season to take the 1989-90 summer off working towards the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Was that a difficult decision to make?
It was the same with Edinburgh ’86. Nah, not really. I don’t know if badminton was almost my first love, but I guess the fact that Commonwealth Games only come around every four years, it sort of seemed the right thing to. Certainly no regrets.
Then [in late 1990] called in for Pakistan, where I was out of my depth, I played in the last Test and Waqar pinned me. He was a different class. It was tough, it was a tough tour. But an interesting tour. It was quite an experience.
With Pakistan, were you surprised that you’d come straight back in having had a season out?
Looking back, it definitely was a surprise. Martin Crowe was taking over the captaincy, and he’d sort of written to me and said ‘you’re in the mix’ so I did quite a lot of netting in the off-season, but it still was a surprise, to be fair. I was lucky to be selected, really.
Coming back from Pakistan where, as you mentioned, it had been pretty difficult, you played six games for Auckland but didn’t really fire as well as you would’ve wanted, and announced your retirement with one game left in the season.
I don’t even know if I announced it, I just kind of faded away. There were other guys coming through, younger guys that I could see should have a shot, and I sort of said to the selectors, ‘look I’ll bat anywhere if you need to blood guys’ and I think I was batting five or six. I just didn’t think it was fair for younger guys not to get a go. It was a decision based on what they needed to do for the future of the team. I had no regrets, I’d had a decent run, and it was a great experience.
When you look back over your career, you had an excellent record for Auckland (averaging 39) but struggled a little bit more at the step above – so how you do, overall, view your cricketing career?
I think it’s fair that I didn’t do it justice at that next level. I guess if you have your time again you’d do things differently. I can’t necessarily put my finger on it but I probably just played to enjoy playing. I think these days its a lot more bent on the art of batting, and breaking down how you score and where you score, to be honest when I was playing my view was just to go out and bat. It wasn’t as analytical or professional as these days. If I had my time again, knowing what I do now, I’d definitely do things different, but it’s fair to say that I was sort of out of my depth at that next level, for sure.
You’re a part of the Horne dynasty, and although you didn’t get to bat with Matt who debuted two seasons after your retirement, he obviously had an excellent career – and then Ben [Phil’s son] has gone on to play for NZ Under-19s and is now a fringe Auckland player. So it must be pretty cool to be a part of that?
Yeah, Matt was a far better player, and he was a lot more focused on his cricket than I was. Ben’s making his way, and I’ve got a bit of involvement with the Parnell team he’s involved with, and just enjoying watching those guys play now. Matt’s obviously still heavily involved with ND. I’m still involved in cricket a little bit, but enjoy watching how the game’s changed and the way the guys play it – so much a better game now than when I was trying to play, that’s for sure.
How did the experience of Test cricket compare to being involved with a Commonwealth Games event?
I think cricket was more dangerous. If you’re going out to face some of the guys I played against, it was definitely a different skill-set required. You were always under pressure in both, but the big difference with cricket was it was much more of a high-profile sport. Where with badminton it was more amateur, didn’t have the same visibility, so there wasn’t the same awareness. If you’re playing in a Test match you’re under more scrutiny, it’s televised, where some of the badminton events people wouldn’t really be aware they were going on. But the main thing I enjoyed in both really, was being involved in teams, it’s what it’s about in team sports, mixing with people.