The New Zealand Cricket Museum extend their condolences to the family and friends of Thomas Leslie Pritchard, who passed away on August 22 aged 100.
Born in rural Taranaki, Tom Pritchard first made his mark on cricket playing for Manawatu in the Hawke Cup during the 1936/37 season. His 30 wickets at an average of just 5.43 played a major role in Manawatu etching their name on the cup and it seemed higher honours were a formality.
In December 1937, at just 20 years old, he made his First-Class debut – playing for Wellington against Canterbury at the Basin Reserve.
After his debut, Tom rapidly proved himself as one of the premier fast bowlers in the country. In the 1939/40 season, where he took 23 wickets in just three games, he became the first Wellington player to be awarded the Winsor Cup for outstanding bowling performances.
In his history of Wellington cricket, Don Neely referred to Pritchard as “an effective combination of pace and accuracy”. In just twelve appearances for the province he took, a staggering, 71 wickets.
New Zealand’s 1937 tour to the United Kingdom came perhaps a year too soon for Pritchard. However, when Sir Julian Cahn’s XI toured here in 1939, Pritchard was selected to open the bowling for New Zealand alongside Jack Cowie. Pritchard claimed just one wicket – fellow Wellington representative, Stewie Dempster – but the sight of the two fearsome New Zealanders bowling in tandem would have been a pleasing one for fans of cricket in New Zealand.
The outbreak of war, however, saw Pritchard’s story take a different turn.
Pritchard was stationed in the Middle East and Italy during WWII but cricket still played a role in his life as he turned out for services teams. In 1945 his performances in Egypt – where cricket, surprisingly, flourished during the war – had an English critic singing his praises as “one of the finest fast bowlers” he had ever seen. That praise must have registered among cricket pundits in England as, a year later, Pritchard began a cricketing relationship that defined his career as he joined Warwickshire.
From 1946 to 1955, Pritchard was a stalwart of Warwickshire, playing in 170 First-Class games and amassing 695 wickets. It is little wonder that Keith Cook, assistant honorary secretary of Warwickshire Old County Cricketers Association, referred to him as “a Warwickshire legend in the truest sense of the word.”
After missing out on New Zealand’s 1937 tour to the United Kingdom, Pritchard’s Warwickshire commitments meant that Test cricket was not an option for the right-arm bowler.
His best opportunity to fulfill that dream came in 1949 when New Zealand again toured the United Kingdom, asking him to join the side. With a benefit season for Warwickshire ahead, along with the additional remuneration that would bring, Pritchard opted out and takes his place in history as, arguably, the greatest New Zealand cricketer never to play a Test.
Pritchard had no regrets, though.
At the conclusion of WWII, Pritchard married his wife, Mavis, and the pair would spend the next 64 years together. In his own words, if he had been selected in 1937, “it would’ve messed a lot of things up”.
His cricket career ended with him having taken 818 wickets. As of his death, that places him 4th on New Zealand’s all-time First-Class wicket-takers list.
Fittingly, the man behind him is another with strong Wellington and Warwickshire ties, Jeetan Patel
Thomas Leslie Pritchard
Born: 10th March 1917
Died: 22nd August 2017
5 Wicket Bags: 48
10 Wicket Bags: 11
Photo: Tom Pritchard, left, stands with his Wellington team mates at Carisbrook, February 1940. New Zealand Cricket Museum collection