New Zealand is a country with a proud history in the game of cricket. The Black Caps have produced many fine players over the years, especially with bat in hand. These run scoring machines have lit up the international arena and helped their country to many victories.
Whether it be the man considered the finest New Zealand have ever produced in Martin Crowe or the new kid on the block in Kane Williamson, there have been some superb players to turn out for them in the past. We countdown the ten greatest, starting at number 10
10. Mark Richardson
I’m a big lover of nicknames in sport and this guy had one of the best – although I’m not sure he would agree! Teammates used to call him ‘Rigor’ as in Rigor Mortis because he moved like a dead man. Dead or not, he knew where the boundary was and how to score runs. A superb opening left handed batsman, he combined hard graft with power. His stability was also key to helping the New Zealand sides he was in to build an innings. Never seen as an entertainer, he himself described his range of shots as “the straight drive, the forward defensive and 27 variations on the leave.”
Richardson was born in 1971 in Hastings and originally started out as a slow left arm spinner before he decided to concentrate on his batting. Making his First-Class debut for Auckland in 1989, he played for Otago before moving back to Auckland to finish his career. His record at this level reads 157 matches played and 9,994 runs scored at a 42.89 average, which is pretty solid.
Richardson didn’t play for his country until the fairly late age of 29, making his debut in 2000 against Zimbabwe. His record at this level showed his skill and ability as he made 2,776 runs in 38 games leaving him with an average of 44.77 when he called it a day. This included four centuries and 19 fifties which makes for fine reading.
He is also perhaps best remembered at this level for his challenge to the slowest runner on the opposition team to a sprint race against him at the end of a series. His opponents have included players such as Darren Lehman and Ashley Giles. This shows that, despite his dour reputation, he knew how to have fun.
9. Nathan Astle
A middle-order batsman, Nathan Astle often proved invaluable to his team due to an ability to play aggressively and score quickly. This quality allowed him to swing games in his country’s favour that may otherwise have been lost. A laid back, powerhouse of a player he is certainly one of the best modern cricketers for New Zealand as he could bowl as well as bat.
Born in Christchurch in 1971, Astle joined the East Christchurch-Shirley Cricket Clubs as soon as he was old enough. He soon settled into his role in the middle order of the batting and worked hard to hone his skills there. Making his First-Class debut in 1991 for Canterbury, he really made his mark in the 1994/95 season with innings such as his memorable 191 against Wellington.
This form led him to the attention of the selectors and he was handed his Test debut in 1996 against Zimbabwe. Astle had a long career at both Test and One Day level for his country, playing 81 Tests in all and making 4,702 runs. His average of 37.02 may not be the most amazing but his versatility and batting talent make up for that.
8. Kane Williamson
We come right up to date in our list with Kane Williamson. Although he is still playing for his country, his talent and exploits to date get him a place here. A right-handed batsman with guile and craft, he is great at playing the ball late, which is a rare ability. He is also currently captain of his country, which shows his leadership skills and mental toughness. As of 2016, he is officially ranked number four in the world of Test batsman.
Born in 1990 in Tauranga, he showed early promise at the game and this continued when he studied at Tauranga Boys College. His coach at the school noted his desire to improve and succeed even at that age. His domestic debut came in 2007 for the Northern Districts team and this has led to spells with Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Currently he has played 165 First-Class matches with 6,241 runs accumulated.
Internationally, his debut came in 2010 against India at Ahmedabad. This first game went rather well when he scored 131 to get a Test century on debut. He followed this up with a 161 against the West Indies in 2014. He has carried on this fine form into the present – in March 2017 he became joint second on New Zealand’s Test Century list.
At Test level he has played 61 games and made 5,116 runs at a 51.16 average – what is frightening is that he shows no signs of letting up yet!
7. Stewie Dempster
At number 7 we have an interesting selection in Stewie Dempster. Although he only played ten Tests back in the 1930s, his average of 65.72 demands inclusion. An elegant, free-scoring batsman you can’t help but wonder how many more runs he would have made with more game under his belt.
Dempster was born to Scottish parents during 1903 in Wellington, New Zealand. He showed interest in cricket from an early age and played for the Wellington Boys Institute Team. In an effort to improve him, Dempsters father would give him 5 shillings for each hundred he scored! His most prolific season when he moved into the First-Class ranks saw him score 9 centuries in 10 innings with the other one bagging him 99. This soon brought him to the attention of the New Zealand selectors.
Dempster was chosen for the touring party in 1927 and this is where he first played for his country. This led to him playing in the Tests against the MCC in 1929 when they toured New Zealand. In one of these games, Dempster and Mills put on a huge opening partnership of 276 which stood as national record for many years. This sort of form saw him listed as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1932.
Dempster played ten Tests in all and made 723 runs. Who knows what he would have gone onto finish with if he’d have played more matches? Instead, the decision to re-locate to England to play professionally in the county game meant he didn’t turn out for his country again after 1932/33.
6. Bert Sutcliffe
Bert Sutcliffe was always going to have a place in the cricketing history of New Zealand due to his fantastic 80 not out against South Africa in 1953 at Ellis Park. The New Zealand batting had collapsed due to being routed by South African bowler Neil Adcock. Sutcliffe remained in but was struck on the head by a vicious Adcock delivery. Rather than retiring from the match, he went off to reappear after treatment swathed in bandages but ready to play on.
With great courage, he attacked the bowling and showed immense bravery to keep the innings going for his country. When the ninth wicket fell, Sutcliffe started to walk off as the final man, Bob Blair, was understood not to be playing as he was in mourning for his dead fiancée. Instead, Blair showed his bravery by striding out to play. 33 runs were added before Blair was out and the innings came to a close. This didn’t matter however as the real story was the courage shown by two men for their country.
Sutcliffe was a left-handed batsman, born during 1923 in Ponsonby, New Zealand. He was an excellent school boy cricketer and would have moved into the First-Class game sooner but for the onset of the Second World War. When he returned from the war, he made his domestic debut in 1946. In total he played 233 games and made 17,447 runs at domestic level, which is some achievement!
It was on the international stage that Bert Sutcliffe really shone, though. Making his Test debut in 1947 against England, his superior batting skills soon became obvious. In particular, the 1949 series against England was successful for him personally as he made four fifties and one century overall.
Noted as an elegant stroke-maker, Sutcliffe really was one of New Zealand’s best. In all, he played 42 games and scored 2,727 runs at a 40.10 average to cement his place in history.
5. Glenn Turner
When you think about the best Test batsman produced by New Zealand, this man deserves a mention. A classical opening batsman with a style very pleasing on the eye, Turner could score plenty of runs, too. One of the finest moments of his Test career was scoring two double centuries on a tour of the West Indies in 1972. He is still in cricket and currently Head of the New Zealand selection panel.
Born and raised in Dunedin, New Zealand, he attended Otago Boys High School where he discovered the game of cricket. He made his First-Class debut for Otago in 1964 and had a successful career at domestic level especially with Worcestershire in England. His most notable achievement was scoring a century of centuries (i.e., 100 innings where he scored 100 runs or more!) for the county in his time there. In all played 455 games and scored 34,346 runs at a 49.70 average in the First-Class game to leave a fabulous legacy behind.
At Test level his debut came in 1969 against the West Indies. His talent and ability to put runs on the board were soon noted even from this initial appearance. Alongside the two double centuries already mentioned, he scored five other centuries at Test level. This was in just 41 matches, which is superb when you think he scored 2,991 runs in total.
In truth, Turner would probably have played more matches for his country and scored more runs but for a fall-out with the New Zealand management, which left him unavailable for selection. He was still a fine player, though, and one with talent to burn.
4. Martin Donnelly
The story of Martin Donnelly is a fascinating one, from making his Test bow at just 19 to finally retiring due to a recently acquired love for fishing in 1949. One thing is for sure though – this man’s batting prowess is not in question.
Nicknamed ‘Squib’ due to his short height, Donnelly was a great player and superb left-handed attacking batsman. He was especially good on his pads where he would play his favourite leg-side flick shot off his legs.
Donnelly was born during 1917 in Ngurawahia, New Zealand. He was a fine cricketer growing up where his excellent fielding and batting skills were obvious for anyone to see. He also had a liking for Rugby Union and was very good at this, too. He made his First-Class breakthrough in 1936 playing for Wellington and did well, scoring 22 and 38 in each innings. He would go onto play 131 domestic games and score an impressive 9,250 runs.
This led to his surprise selection for the New Zealand tour of England in 1937 when he was only 19. While not overly spectacular, he did enough to be labelled a star in the making by all who saw him. Unfortunately, his progress was interrupted somewhat by the Second World War.
His route back into Test cricket came in 1949 when he was selected for the tour of England. In the whole series he made a fantastic 462 runs at a 77.00 average to enhance his reputation further. Savagely, this tour was also the end of his Test career due to a job transfer and a penchant for fishing over cricket. He finished with figures of 7 matches played and 582 runs scored.
3. John Wright
John Wright is a big name in world cricket not only for his playing career with New Zealand but also his subsequent coaching career with India. A tenacious and rugged character, Wright was a fabulous opening batsman. He became the first ever New Zealand player to score over 5,000 runs at Test level which is quite some feat. Towards the end of his career he employed an unusual batting stance, as he would raise his bat parallel to the ground when facing up.
Born during 1954 in Darfield, he made his First-Class debut in 1975 for the Northern Districts team. In varied career he would have spells with teams such as Derbyshire, Canterbury and Auckland. In total he played 366 games and scored 25,073 runs before retirement.
An international call-up soon followed his good form at domestic level and he played his first Test in 1978 against England. He would eventually make 12 centuries for New Zealand which is testament to his abilities. In all, he would play 82 times for his country and make 5,334 runs as his legacy to Kiwi cricket.
2. Stephen Fleming
A natural born leader, Fleming was a fine captain for his country and a brilliant batsman to boot. The second-most capped player in his country’s history, he was an astute tactician and clever thinker. He led New Zealand to 28 wins including series wins against countries such as England, India and the West Indies. A dashing batsman, he had the full range of strokes in his locker and played with class and style.
Having been born in Christchurch, Fleming was soon introduced to cricket when young. He made his First-Class debut for Canterbury in 1991 before going onto play for sides such as Wellington, Yorkshire and the Chennai Superkings later in his career. In all he notched up 461 games and made 14,037 runs in his domestic playing time.
Fleming made his Test debut in 1994 against India and showed his class from the start. Scoring a fine 92, he was also named Man of the Match to give him a perfect beginning to his international career. His next notable achievement was during England’s tour of New Zealand in 1996/97 when he became the youngest ever Kiwi captain at age 23.
This led him to make 111 international appearances and score 7,172 runs at a 40.02 average which, combined with his invaluable captaincy skills, made him an important player for his country.
1. Martin Crowe
Widely regarded as the best Test batsman New Zealand has produced, Martin Crowe was a fantastic player. Not only was he powerful and able to score runs, he had an elegant style to boot. This led many to regard him highly and hold him as one of the finest cricketers of his time on the world stage.
Crowe was a big, strong player which made his nimble footwork and grace all the more remarkable. Interestingly, he was a big believer in playing by instinct and never planning a shot before the ball was bowled. Crowe was also a superb captain and known for his innovative fielding plans and match tactics.
Born in 1962 in Henderson, New Zealand, he grew up in a cricketing family with his Dad playing at First-Class level himself. As an intriguing aside, the famous actor Russell Crowe was his first cousin. As expected he played cricket all through school and also joined the local Cornwall Cricket Club to practice further.
Crowe made the breakthrough into First-Class cricket in 1980 playing for Auckland against Canterbury. This was at just 17 and he made a fine 51 in that first innings to signal his potential. He spent a few years at Auckland scoring many runs before moving onto Central Districts and then Somerset in England. His final team was back home in New Zealand for Wellington where he played until he retired. In all he played 247 matches and scored 19,608 runs in what was a very successful career.
His bow on the international stage came in 1982 against old foes Australia. His age at the time made him one of the youngest players to play for New Zealand at Test level. Crowe held his place in the team and scored his first Test century against England in 1984 when they toured New Zealand. This fine form continued into 1985 where he scored 188 in two separate innings – one against the West Indies and the other against Australia.
Crowe would continue to display his brilliance at international level for the rest of his career and eventually took over the captaincy of the side from John Wright. He clocked up 77 matches and made 5,444 runs in all which shows why he’s so well regarded.
A sad end to the tale, though, is that Martin Crowe passed away in March 2016 due to illness. He will always be remembered; not only as a fantastic player, but a fine man.
As a nation, New Zealand have certainly given us some amazing batman to enjoy over the years. All of the above were superb players who had one thing in common – runs! They all could score them and no bowler ever fancied sending the ball down to them especially if they were in a scoring mood!
Who do you think were New Zealand’s greatest test batsmen?
Image Credit: Dave Morton