Wiri Baker was born on April 2nd 1892 in the small town of Otaki on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington. Otaki is an important site for its long history of Maori settlement and the role it played in the connection between Iwi and European settlers. 

Wiri’s parents, Ted and Maggie, enjoyed working in the rural community and called on the services of a Maori midwife when their child was born. The midwife was understood to have never delivered a European baby before and, out of respect, Ted and Maggie asked for her to provide them the Maori name for William Henry, leading to the naming of Wiri Aurunui Baker.

 

Wiri Aurunui Baker

Born: April 2nd 1892, Otaki
Died: July 1st 1966, Wellington
Parents:  Edward Baker and Margaret Riddell Ballantyne
Married to:  Gladys May Anderson on October 20th 1920

Wiri and his wife Gladys (nee Anderson) Baker lived at 17 Wade Street in Wadestown, Wellington next door to Wiri’s parents Ted and Maggie (19 Wade Street).  Gladys, Wellington born, grew up in a house on Webb Street in the Te Aro area, before she married Wiri in 1920 when she would have been about 26 years old. Wiri was employed by the Government Printing Office, then opposite the Wellington Railway Station, for most of his working career. There, he served as the Senior Purchasing Officer before eventually attaining the position of Deputy Government Printer.

Wiri started his cricket while attending Wellington College and started playing senior club cricket at the age of 18, playing for the East Club and, in his latter career, the Midland Club.  He also played for the YMCA Institute boys’ team alongside Clarrie Grimmett. Wiri became a First-Class representative for both Wellington in the Plunket Shield and New Zealand primarily as a batsman during the decade following World War One.


 

New Zealand Representative:  1923-24

With a career interrupted by the First World War, it wasn’t until the 1923-24 season, at the age of 31 and toward the end of his representative cricket career, that Wiri sufficiently impressed the national selectors. In 1923-24 he was part of one of the strongest provincial batting line ups in the early history of New Zealand cricket and as a result of scoring 73 and 11 not out for Wellington in the opening game of the New South Wales tour, he was selected for New Zealand.

In his first test, Wiri batted at No. 7 rather than his usual position as opener and in the first innings, he achieved the second highest score of 34 in a disappointing New Zealand effort of 144.  He was run out for 20 in the second innings as New Zealand lost by eight wickets.  A rain affected pitch at the Basin Reserve spelled disaster for New Zealand in the second match as they were dismissed for 89 and 79 in reply to New South Wales 294.  Wiri this time opened the batting, scoring 2 and 13.

Many players of less ability have represented New Zealand on more occasions than Wiri did, his only appearances being in those two matches against New South Wales in 1923-24.

 

Wellington Representative:  1912-13 to 1929-30

A right-hand opening batman, Wiri Baker served Wellington Well over a period of 17 years albeit interrupted by World War One.  He averaged 31.63 in his 34 matches for the province amassing 1835 runs, and shared in many noteworthy partnerships and victories. 

Wiri first appeared for Wellington in February 1912, at the age of 20 against Auckland, the same match in which Clarrie Grimmett made his debut. Wiri remained a lifelong friend with Clarrie and regularly wrote to him after he went to Australia for work and played cricket for Australia.

Two seasons later, Wiri scored 50 against Arthur Sim’s Australian team, and in December 1914 against Auckland, he scored his first representative century with 119 in adding 182 for the third wicket with HE Burton, and 72 in the second innings. He also scored 73 against Canterbury that season.

On the resumption of first class cricket in 1917-18 after the war, Wiri scored 76 against Canterbury – adding 124 for the fourth wicket with MA Dind, and 85 against Auckland when, after four wickets had fallen for 71 runs, Wiri and JN Crawford (110) added 192 for the fifth wicket.

In March 1919, he scored 124 against Auckland, this time assisting EM Beechey (180) to add 252 for the second wicket after the first wicket had fallen with only 1 run on the board. Scores of 71 against Otago in 1919-20 and 57 against Hawkes Bay the following season were his best efforts until the 1921-22 season, when his second innings of 63 not out was responsible for Wellington’s eight wicket victory over Canterbury, HN Lambert assisting in an unbeaten third wicket partnership of 101. In the next match, Wellington beat Otago by ten wickets when Wiri, 47 not out, and JS Hiddleston, 77 not out, scored the 130 required without loss. He also scored 56 against Auckland that season and represented the North Island against the South Island.

Moderate scores followed until January 1924, when Wiri hit 143 against Otago in a high scoring game at Dunedin, BJ Kortlang (103) assisted in a second wicket partnership of 227 runs. Then, against the visiting New South Wales side, Wiri scored 73, this time adding 118 for the second wicket with Kortlang (67).

Two appearances for Wellington the following season and Wiri’s career was virtually finished, except for one amazing re-appearance in December 1929 when with five players not available to play Otago at Dunedin, Wiri was recalled. Although he scored only 4 runs in each innings, Wiri nevertheless closed his career in a blaze of glory. When given a bowl for the first time in his First-Class career, he captured three wickets for 50 runs in the first innings and five for 50 in the second with slow spinners to win the game an amazing climax to his representative career.

Wiri scored three centuries for Wellington in 1914-15 (119); 1918-19 (124); and 1923-24 (143), ten 50s and took 25 catches. He also set four batting partnership records:

  • 118 runs for the second wicket in 1923-24 v New South Wales, Baker 73 and Kortlang 67 (still current)
  • 252 runs for the second wicket in 1918-19 v Auckland, Baker 124 and Beechey 180 (broken in 1997-98 Bell/Wells)
  • 227 runs for the second wicket in 1923-24 v Otago, Baker 143 and Kortlang 103 (broken in 2006-07 Bell/Parlane)
  • 192 runs for the fifth wicket in 1917-18 v Auckland, Baker 85 and Crawford 110 (broken in 2005-06 Parlane/Franklin)

 

Club Cricketer:  1910-11 to 1943-44

In Wellington club cricket, Wiri Baker holds the all-time batting aggregate record of 10,226 runs at an average of 41.56. Wiri hit 23 centuries, four of them doubles, with his highest score being 254 in the 1918-19 season against North, the third highest individual innings in Wellington club cricket.

Wiri amassed 23 centuries in club cricket, second only to Stewie Dempster.  He still holds the Senior Club second wicket partnership of 260 runs shared with WH Dustin (134) when he scored 125 not out for Midland v Institute OB.  He scored the most runs for the season four times during his club career:

  • 1915-16 with 663 at an average of 55.25 and top score of 241 not out playing for East;
  • 1918-19 with 665 at an average of 95.00 and top score of 254 playing for East;
  • 1925-26 with 538 at an average of 67.25 with a top score of 235 playing for Midland;
  • 1930-31 with 754 at an average of 62.83 with a top score of 170 for Midland.

Wiri was in the winning Senior Men’s Championship side (Cook Shield) six times: 1915-16 and 1916-17 for East; and 1923-24, 1930-31, 1935-36 and 1938-39 for Midland. 

Sources:

  1. Cricket Wellington First Class Statistics and Historical Records
  2. Arthur Carman Shell Cricket Almanack (NZ) – 1966 Obituary Wiri Aurunui Baker
  3. Shell New Zealand Cricket Encyclopaedia – New Zealand Representatives
  4. New Zealand Cricket website – NZ Representatives
  5. Cricket Wellington website – Archives
  6. Various Shell Annual Almanacks for batting partnership records
  7. New Zealand Cricket Museum, Wellington – access to all the almanacks and letters to Clarrie Grimmett
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