Written by Sriram Veera | Wellington | March 17, 2015 11:58 am
It looks like a hockey stick, it’s from 1774, it’s perfectly suitable for playing under-arm bowling prevalent in its age, it’s the third oldest bat in recorded history of cricket and it’s in a charming cricket museum at the splendorous Basin Reserve Park in Wellington. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)
A light drizzle slants down the pitch in the middle as we walk up the stairs and beyond the white picket fences to face up to some cricketing history. A tiger skin from India; the ball that Trevor Chappell rolled underarm, the apology letter from Greg Chappell who was the captain in that controversial ODI; gloves and pads from a bygone era; Dennis Lillee’s notorious aluminium bat; pages from Harry Cave’s tour diaries from the ‘50s, and few stirring videos catching the action from the decades gone by. A small space bursting with trivia, history, controversy, and tons of stories from this great game.
Let’s first get to the tiger. At the end of the 1954-55 tour of India, the Maharaja of Vizianagaram, president of the BCCI then, gifted John Reid a tiger-skin rug. The New Zealand cricketers were called for dinner to the palace where he was given the rug. But Reid has another lovely memory from that party. “There is gold everywhere, we drink champagne off golden glasses, and as I walk out, I feel something in my pocket. So I slip my hand to find gold cutlery! I must have somehow put it during the evening. I slip back quietly inside the palace and put it back on the table and walk out!”
You can also catch videos of documentaries made on cricket in the museum. A phone is placed outside the glass panels that store the artefacts, and you place it on your ear to catch the sound from the video. A cricketer on that ‘55 India tour Alex Moir is chuckling away, and I catch it mid-stream. “They use ghee in everything. As players we sort of depended on fruits on the tour. Once, we were there at this small garden where we were being served tea. And there are vultures everywhere around us, staring down at us, waiting for us to just fall down I guess!”
In another panel, Javed Miandad, hands on hip, is staring at the umpire who has just warned Wasim Akram for bowling bouncers and injuring the tailenders. You can hear Miandad in his squeaky voice, “…then we shall walk out” and a young Akram looking on. The video shows Akram bouncing and injuring Lance Cairns, who had to retire hurt, and then hitting the No. 11 batsman Ewen Chatfield on the mouth with another bouncer. Akram and Co. bowl a series of bouncers, bruising Chatfield. That’s when the umpire intervenes. This is the famous game in Dunedin in 1985 where Chatfield and Jeremy Coney had an unbroken 50-run stand for the last wicket with Chatfield facing 84 balls to Coney’s 48 and take New Zealand to one of their great Test wins. Chatfield talks about trying to sip some tea at the end of the game. “The tea is just dripping out my injured mouth. Nothing went in.” The tea might have been lost but the Test was won.
James Bell, the director of the museum, shows its wares with great delight, often with humour. “We have the original under-arm ball. But Australia too has one, the other ball used in the game and they claim theirs is the original. Ditto with that Dennis Lillee bat. It was passed to us from the Crowe family and it’s genuine, but then just the other day I heard Lillee on the telly talking about how he might have hundreds of that bat in his garage!” The under-arm ball, though, was bought at an auction by the Biege Brigade for 10,000 dollars and they have given the museum to display it for this summer. The ball has signatures of both Trevor and the batsman Brian McKechnie. And alongside is that press-release from Chappell. “I regret the decision. It is something I would not do again.”
An interesting related item lies in an adjacent panel. A police helmet from that era with signatures from Australian players including Greg Chappell and Bell explains: “This was the game played after that under-arm incident. And 41,000 people had packed themselves at the Eden Park, still the largest crowd for cricket in this country. Greg was roundly booed throughout the game. I think the Aussies were given police protection and this must be a helmet of one of the cops.”
The museum also has the bat Roshan Mahanama used to score 58 before retiring hurt in the semi-final against India in the 1996 World Cup. “To Asoka Aiya, with Best Wishes from Roshan Mahanama”. The latest entrant, though, is from last week. A ball with a scribbling on it: “Sorry about the window!!!” and the name Vernon Philander on it. What happened here? “South Africa were practising some big hitting here last week and as you can see this museum looks down on the ground. I managed to stop Hashim Amla’s hits, parrying a few sixes off the window. But Philander got one high and too far from me. Look at the glass” It’s cellophane taped now and looks a bit messy, but then the museum’s collection has grown. Bell isn’t complaining.