My father surprised me one day when he stated cricket rather than rugby was his favourite sport. His full name, after all, was “Derek Rugby Darrow” otherwise known as Bill, after his father William.
As a rugby player he excelled at Kings College in Auckland as a halfback along with his twin brother John, who he managed to swap rugby positions and girlfriends with! I never consciously thought I would be a halfback like him but that is exactly where I ended up.
Bill made it to a Counties second XV team and that was as high as he went. I never felt any pressure from him to reach the top as rugby was just a game I loved to play and follow. I attended a small country school, Helena Bay Primary, which only had a roll of thirty children, so rugby was not really an option.
I have vague memories of playing softball. Possessing a good throwing arm which became more apparent as I got older.
I did however play on my father’s cricket team in the annual match played in a paddock on our farm. All the local farmers and identities were invited to play in my first taste of this sport that can bring communities together -something I also discovered later in life when reigniting an old cricket club in Australia and establishing a “field of dreams.”
At high school I did not play cricket as a regular sport, preferring to focus on rugby (with a divide felt between the cricket coach and myself not helping matters!). It was not until I joined my father’s social cricket side, the Geri-Hatricks, that my enjoyment of playing the game began. Yes, it was an elderly side with my brother Mike and I boosting the playing numbers when an old timer was not available.
I discovered I had some pace and if the opposition were taking the game too seriously for a social occasion, my father would bring me on to sort them out! “Let ‘em have it” were often the words used. Most of the time the games were played in good spirit with a wonderful team of characters who excelled more at drinking than playing. My father described his bowling as “autumn leaves falling gently” onto the pitch. We always looked forward to the Wednesday night matches, with some of our mates also assisting with filling in for the old boys.
Prior to this, an Australian cricket team toured New Zealand in 1969/70, captained by Sam Trimble while the senior team was touring South Africa. The team in South Africa was led by Bill Lawry with Ian Chappell the vice-captain. Luminaries like Doug Walters, Ian Redpath and Keith Stackpole also featured in the side.
The team in New Zealand included Greg Chappell, John Inverarity, Terry Jenner, Dennis Lillee and Kerry O’Keeffe, with the three matches against New Zealand not awarded Test status. NZ weren’t deemed to be good enough to join the “big boys” just yet!
This was my first taste of international cricket with great admiration for the mighty Australian team. Even though they were the seconds, they were the ‘gods’ of cricket. NZ had previously toured England in 1969 with the team including such players as Graham Dowling, Richard Collinge, Bevan Congdon, Glenn Turner and Hedley Howarth.
The 1973/74 tour by Australia to New Zealand was an important event for NZ with their first ever win over Australia, with great memories of Glenn Turner blunting the Australian attack. A memory of skipper Ian Chappell feuding with Glenn Turner features.
1973 also saw the debut of the great Richard Hadlee, but it was not until 1976 he found his rhythm in Test cricket – the sight of him bowling at Eden Park with the crowd right behind him is unforgettable.
One of the great joys of cricket is listening to Test cricket on a hot summer’s day, which my father adhered to on his old transistor radio. In later years I followed the cricket in Australia through the dulcet tones of Jim Maxwell and the humour of Kerry O’Keeffe.
The highlights of battles between Australia and New Zealand are too numerous to mention here, but some standouts would be Mark Greatbatch’s innings in Perth where he was at the crease for eleven hours.
Of course, the underarm must be mentioned but if my memory serves me right, Greg Chappell received a standing ovation in NZ after the incident for scoring a century.
Richard Hadlee’s clinical display of fast bowling to secure nine wickets for 52 in Brisbane is unforgettable. Lance Cairns became a Kiwi cult hero when he hit six sixes at the MCG. Shane Bond’s inspired bowling against Australia on their home turf. Martin Crowe’s classical batting style. Michael Bevan’s match winning exploits. The crushing defeats by Australia in 2019/20, when New Zealand were hoping to be more competitive. Mitchell Starc knocking over Brendon McCullum in 2015… the list goes on.
My father got to see the best of Test cricket, with the true greats of the game, Hadlee, Chappell, Viv Richards, Ian Botham, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, I am not sure how he would react to T20 and the demise of once great teams like the West Indies. Would he have been a fan of Bazball?
I believe that cricket is in a better position than rugby union is at present and the old fella was right! The rules of cricket basically being far simpler than rugby.
In memory of Derek Rugby “Bill” Darrow 1924-2004.