In this week’s Limited Overs feature, Devon Mace talks with Robert Anderson about a career that spanned Hawke Cup cricket with Southland, Northland, and Manawatu, First-Class cricket with Canterbury, CD, ND, and Otago, and 9-Tests and 2-ODIs for New Zealand.
I suppose the place to start; you had a father [Mac Anderson] who played Test cricket for New Zealand. So was he much of an influence on you coming into cricket?
I’d have to say definitely, yes. I chose cricket over a few sports I could’ve played, and my father was a bit the same, so I inherited a bit of his genes, because he’d actually won Canterbury tennis championships when he was still at school. So he preferred cricket over tennis, I was playing a lot of golf and a lot of rugby, and doing quite reasonably well at it – in fact doing better, in my mind, at my rugby and golf than I was at my cricket for a while, or it felt like it.
You came through the age-group systems and pathways, from the Brabin Cup through to New Zealand Under-23s. Was there a good structure at the time?
Well, I never really thought about it. I pretty well made every team I was up for, and then I started making sides a wee bit earlier than I probably should have, so I probably didn’t make that adjustment quite as quickly as if I’d sort of come through the grades. I think I was playing Under-23 at 17, so that’s a bit too much of a hike.
Then when you did come into First Class cricket you moved around a bit – you played for Canterbury in 1967-68, missed a season, played for Northern Districts, missed a season where you played in Auckland, and then played for Otago from ’71-72 onwards, so what was behind all this moving around?
That was being transferred with my job, basically that was the reason, there wasn’t any other reason – I wasn’t like some of them, chasing cricket. We weren’t paid as you could imagine. And I was very lucky, I worked for NZI and I got full leave. Probably one of my only disappointments was that I played for Auckland in a trial game, against Northland, which was quite a memorable game because Graham Vivian nearly a killed a guy – Ross McPherson, who passed away the other day.
But what happened, as I found out later, I went on a B tour where I did quite well against Canterbury, which included Dick Motz and Russell Merrin and quite a few of their frontliners. And I did well against Bartlett the next time in Blenheim, and then we went to Nelson and I got runs there as well, and I thought I’d get a call-up for Auckland, especially as they were playing Otago who had the emerging talent of Murray Webb, who I’d played against before. There were a couple of people in the Auckland side who I thought I might’ve got their places, but as it turned out – I found out from Alan Clark, the Auckland selector, the following year he came up to me when I was playing Otago and asked me how I got on for leave. I said good as gold, don’t have a problem. Well, he’d rung the office – that was the only way he knew how to get a hold of me – to offer me a place in the Auckland side, and my boss at the time who was having a mental breakdown said, “No, he’s had too much time off as it is, and he’s not available”. Then later on I was working under Sir John Wells, and he was very keen to transfer me to Wellington so I could say I’d played for the whole six.
In terms of your first season with Otago, you really nailed down your spot, making 446 runs at nearly 50 with a century against Central Districts, which I imagine was pretty pleasing?
I came under the very persuasive Gren Alabaster, and he set it out as a task that he was going to make sure I made some runs, and I played to the best of my abilities. He was very hard on me, and wasn’t satisfied unless I kept getting on, so I’ve always been very grateful for Gren, he set me on the way, and gave me a bit of confidence.
The following season you struggled a bit more, but got on the 1973 tour of the UK, so did you feel comfortable with that call-up?
I was very surprised, hugely surprised. If I’d let Frank Cameron know that I could’ve kept wickets, as he told me later, I would’ve gone in Keith Campbell’s place to the West Indies [1971-72] because they were looking to have somebody who could do the job if Kenny Wadsworth got injured, it would take about a week to get somebody flown over as a replacement. I found out later, and that’s one of those things that happens. But I was very surprised to get picked in ’73, but I think the selectors were probably feeling, as they told me later, that they made a bad choice in not taking me to the West Indies – so it was make up time!
Over the next few seasons, through the mid-seventies, you probably didn’t make the runs in First Class cricket that you would’ve wanted to, but got the call-up for Pakistan in late 1976, so did that feel like a bit of a vote of confidence in your ability?
After I didn’t make the tour to Australia [in 1973-74], but I think there were reasons there – I had a bit of a problem because I was batting in a position which Bevan Congdon had, and Congo’s a pretty tough man and any opposition he wanted to make sure of, so I lost interest during that period. I’d been there, done that, and was focusing more on my work than I was focusing on cricket.
But you got that call-up for Pakistan and made a century in the tour game.
I was very lucky there. I was very peeved to see [another batsman] got picked for the matches against India in New Zealand, I always rated myself a better batsman than him. But I played for Otago against the Indians at Carisbrook, on a square turner. From memory I think I got 66 or around about that, and was a bit unlucky to get out to a bit of a freak delivery one of their three spinners [Bishan Bedi]. At the ground that day was the Chairman of Selectors, so I probably on one innings got in the side.
And you got in the side, made that century in the tour game, and got a Test cap, and made 92.
Then I got crook. These days I would’ve been sent home after the second Test, I was in no fit condition to play the third Test which I did. I was really suffering. I could go through two or three mattresses a night with sweat, that’s how bad the night sweats were. They still weren’t really conclusive when I came home, I had so many blood tests and things.
So was that illness the reason you didn’t play on the Indian leg of the tour?
Very much so. My wife didn’t even know I was crook. Michael Malaria was my nickname on that tour.
Then ’77-78 you moved to Central Districts. Was that again through work?
Yes, yes it was. I was with NZI finance in those days. I’d pretty well worked for the NZI group until the early ’80s, when I got head-hunted to head up Yates Finance. I actually used to keep a note of extra time I worked, to make sure that if anyone challenged me about all the leave I was getting to play cricket, I’d have a note of what I’d done. I knew I didn’t need to, but I felt like it was a bit of an insurance policy. But that move was when John Wells shifted me from Invercargill to Palmerston North.
Was it ever a strange feeling, going from one dressing room to another in the way that you were at the time?
Not really, no. Because I played with them all, and I guess I had very good relationships – like, Ali Jordan and I were and still are today helluva good mates, because we were 12th men. In that season I missed out for Canterbury, I was 12th man most of the time. If you were 12th man in those days, you sat down and got to know the opposition reasonably well. John Morrison and I were competing, we reckoned we should’ve picked for New Zealand as 12th man because he’d been on the sideline a lot as well. So you knew those guys, you talked to them, and although there were a few knuckleheads that wouldn’t want to talk to you because you’re the opposition, most of the New Zealand cricket guys are pretty reasonable sort of blokes. Even the Aussies I didn’t mind, off the park they were as good as gold.
Once you were with CD you did really well, got yourself a recall to play against England (1977-78), and got a couple of half-centuries which got you on a tour of the United Kingdom for a second time.
Yeah, well we were playing at Carisbrook for half our home games [playing for Otago]. Carisbrook was not an easy wicket to bat on, and had a very slow outfield, so if you were good enough to average 25 at Carisbrook you were probably averaging about 38 anywhere else. And coming to the Manawatu, I think in my first game for Manawatu I got a double hundred. Well, I certainly got a double hundred in a club game, and I’m pretty sure I got a double hundred against Taranaki. Because Ali Jordan and I had a bit of a friendly verbal, I was sledging a few of their bowlers, and my Manawatu teammates weren’t happy because they weren’t very happy about facing a very fired up Ali Jordan. Gary Langridge and Graham Duncan, they were bloody petrified. Ali Jordan’s another one who wasn’t very fairly treated by the selectors over the years either.
Managing to get yourself the recall, doing well, and getting on the tour of England must have been pretty nice though, managing to justify the faith shown in you.
Yeah, it was also because we starting to earn some money. I had a very lucrative bat contract, and that sort of thing was very pleasing. And at the same time I was trying to start a family. But from then on, after ’78, the way I was treated I wasn’t very happy with, so my cricket started to wind down then.
On that tour of the UK, you made your highest First Class score against Scotland, and did well in the tour games but didn’t do as well as you wanted in the Tests. So what was behind that?
If you look at the stats, and remove the Tests, I had a very good tour – apart from the Test matches. I found, and I still do today, that the standard of English county cricket is not that wild. Normally against the touring sides, or they did in our day, if you played against Lancashire they had a stable of West Indian fast bowlers. And they’d just bring another new one or two out for the tourists, they could play as many as they liked in those sort of games, so they’d give them a bit of a roll. So you played against the ones who didn’t normally play in the county side, or were back-ups.
Came home, I can’t remember how well I did, but probably only averagely well for CD. CD wasn’t a very well-directed side under [Mike] Shrimpton. He was a good bloke, but should never have been captaining sides, and I was probably used to the hard-headed management of Alabaster. So then I think there was a World Cup side where I had a bet with Grant Nisbett that I wouldn’t make the side. He couldn’t believe it, he had to pay up because I didn’t. And then I had the pleasure or the displeasure, whichever you like, of the three selectors coming to me and telling me it was the other two who didn’t want me.
So at that stage I made it known that I wasn’t going to make myself available for cricket. You might recall the West Indies came out, probably the following season, and I came back to play – I was having a year off, because we’d had three kids, and I thought well I’d better help Jane. We’d came up here on holiday to my in-law’s bach. We came back, and somebody suggested that – after CD had got a hell of a hiding against Auckland, and I think Wellington beat them in a day and a half – would I make myself available to play the game at Palmerston North. So I think if you look at the records, I made a few runs, and I think I was not-out at the end after we beat Otago.
CD’s administrators said, well we’ll make arrangements for your wife and three kids to be looked after, I think my mother who was up from Christchurch might’ve come as well, and could I play against Canterbury [at Napier]. Well, in the middle of that game, I got a call from a DJ Cameron who was talking to Frank Cameron, the Chairman of Selectors, and DJ Cameron asked me if I was available to play against the West Indies. I said don’t be bloody silly, with the amount of preparation I’d had – and it was the time just before helmets.
I then got head-hunted to come to Auckland, I played for University which was nice because there were a lot of guys who were friends of mine from school days, because Christchurch Boys’ High and Auckland Grammar played an annual game. So a lot of guys like Mark Burgess I’d known since basically the first year of high school. So yeah, it was enjoyable.
You must be pretty proud of what you managed to achieve at the First Class and international levels though?
Probably, when I reflect, I didn’t realise I was as good a player as I was. I might’ve appeared – I see CD have written a book and I’ve been described as a bit bloody rough on the young guys, maybe by that time my standards had got a bit higher. One of the things that most people don’t realise unless they’ve been involved in it, Hawke Cup cricket is great for developing an Australian-like attitude. You’ve only got that one game, like the Ranfurly Shield, those contests bring out some good things in people. For a lot of people, that’s their Test match.
In terms of Hawke Cup cricket, you were named to bat at number-three in the Hawke Cup centenary side a couple of years back.
I’m quite proud of that, because that wicket in Southland wasn’t the easiest to bat on, and it wasn’t the quickest outfield, although it was a lot quicker than Carisbrook. It was a nice period in Southland’s cricket history actually. We had a good all-round side, and we trained pretty well, Brian McKechnie and I formed a very good combination catching at slip. Alabaster’s astute field placings, and by this stage his management team included me, strategising what we were doing and how we’d approach things.
He [Alabaster] gave me a lesson in how to bowl an out-swinger as an offie, and bowl it over the top, and after he’d finished this bloody lesson he said “well you can forget about all that, because you’ll only get the ball if it’s too wet for me to hold, what you’re going to do is go out there and make half of our f*****g runs. That’s your job in the side”. That’s fairly blunt, but I think I pretty near achieved it. The other thing is I have a deep love of Southlanders, I think they’re the salt of the earth people. Very straight, very honest, your word is your bond. That suited me down to the ground, I liked that attitude where you knew where you stood.
I actually had one day where I had to go from Invercargill to Queenstown to get some documents signed, I had to go from Queenstown to Riverton to get them signed there as well, and I had to get back to Invercargill to get them in the mail so they could be on the board’s table for a Monday board meeting. I got picked up by a traffic cop for speeding, first time was just out of Winton, he gave me a warning, then he picked me up coming down just out of Lorneville, and he gave me another warning, then coming back from Riverton on the Lorneville Highway he picked me up again, and he gave me another warning and wished me all the best, “I hope your luck is better on the cricket field tomorrow”. I think we were playing Bay of Plenty, and I think I got 150, and he was actually at the ground. I’d spotted him, he was down at wide long-on, so I waved my bat to him when I got a hundred. That’s the sort of thing you probably wouldn’t get away with today.
Undertaken by Devon Mace, Limited Overs is a series of interviews with former-New Zealand cricketers whose careers in the silver fern were fleeting. From their introduction to cricket, through their rise to the top, and on to life after pulling stumps, these are the players’ own stories. For more from Devon, visit Mind The Windows for cricket writing & @DVMace09 on Twitter.