So England favour the aeroplane over the boat to travel to New Zealand after the last beer match in Ladygaga or wherever it is. I suppose that’s the way of the modern world – all Red Cow singles and shuttle sprints from one pre-match interview with MCJ Nicholas to the next with Ian Healy – but much would be gained by more sedate progress.
In 1956, my cameo 27 in the Varsity match and a fine rearguard 14 not out in the Gentlemen vs Players dust-up in which we had been set a stiff 145 in three and a half hours (which our captain, PBH March, obviously declined to chase) was enough to secure me the 16th place in the MCC party to tour Ceylon, India and New Zealand the following winter. After securing a fine 0-0 result in the Indian series – I played in only the Third Test (England 427-5 dec, India 311-7 match abandoned due to unspecified pandemic after seven days of the scheduled 12) – we boarded the SS Corkengough for the three week voyage to Auckland.
There was so much to be learned on the boat that I hardly saw my Godfather, DRS Knott-Givens, for the whole trip – though his duties as President of the MCC detained him below decks with his three Burmese secretaries for most of the trip. Apart from Wally’s unfortunate incident in that Rangoon bar – well, none of us knew for sure – and despite the ministrations of matron, he was hors de combat until the Third Test, with what were reported in the press as “swellings”, the trip was a resounding success.
I managed to secure second place in the deck quoits round-robin to perennial winner Anglo-Indian opening bat the Nawab of Thorpy, VHS Rekorder, but cruised home in the endurance smoking event averaging 64 woodbines per day edging out The Times’ Jim Duckton for the coveted prize. Sure there were high jinx, but nobody got really hurt (well, none of the party and that’s what mattered) and the time on deck offered the chance to pick the brains of some of England’s finest cricketers.
It was on that voyage that I learned the benefit on Brylcreem applied to one side of the ball, of how to conceal the bottle top in the sock for picking the seam when tying one’s shoelaces and, most importantly of all, the exact moment to click one’s fingers at short leg as the ball passed the outside edge. This was knowledge that simply wasn’t available at Fenners – not for free anyway.
I walked, well staggered after the last night party had run over a little, down the gangplank at Auckland docks a better cricketer and, dammit, a better man – good job too, with only a fortnight to acclimatise to local conditions before the first of 12 upcountry matches prior to the First Test.
An occasional guest column in which Hugh Fatt-Barstad (Double Oxford Blue 1956 – cricket and fag-beating – and one of the celebrated sporting Fatt-Barstads of Little Pilling, Shepherdshire) gives his views on cricket today to @garynaylor999.