Bevan Congdon © Getty Images
Bevan Congdon © Getty Images

Bevan Congdon, who passed away on February 10, 2018, was one of the key members of a side that transformed itself from an also-ran to a force to reckon with. Arunabha Sengupta pays homage to the man who led the side in their first ever Test match win against Australia.

He did not quite blaze the tracks around the world with his bat. However, Bevan Congdon remains a rather respected name in the annals of New Zealand cricket.

He led the national side in 17 of the 61 Tests that he played in his 13 years. The team remained a motley group of amateurs through much of his stint as skipper, as they had done through most of their history of Test cricket until then. However, by the time he was done, opponents had started to take the Kiwis seriously.

Congdon emerged as the victorious captain in just one of those Test matches. But that match was momentous in the history of the nation. Because that saw them put one over their trans-Tasman borders Australia, who had snobbishly refused to play them for almost 30 years. An Australia that was led by Ian Chappell  and including the likes of Greg Chappell, Keith Stackpole, Doug Walters, Ashley Mallett, Ian Redpath, Rod Marsh and Max Walker.

Congdon did not do much with bat in that Test. That was the triumph of Glenn Turner, with two centuries in the match. However, he did pick up 3 wickets with his underrated medium-pacers in the first innings. That was after he had inserted Australia after winning the toss on that Christchurch track.

Australia did win the next Test, but the series was drawn 1-1, in itself a triumph for the Kiwis.

Indeed, it was during his tenure that New Zealand managed to shrug off the also-ran tag and became a force to reckon with.

Congdon, as his 3,448 runs at 32.22 suggest, did not quite make it to the top echelons of world cricket as a batsman. However, he did have two excellent series.

One was when they toured West Indies in 1972, producing a tall-scoring yawnathon of a series with 5 draws and no result. Congdon scored 531 runs in those 5 matches at 88.50, while picking up 13 wickets at 34.30.

And when he took his men to England in 1973, he got 362 runs, including back-to-back hundreds at Trent Bridge and Lord’s, the 176 at Nottingham coming in the fourth innings in pursuit of a near-impossible 479 and enabling New Zealand to reach within 38 runs of England.It was during that innings that he was struck on the face by a fierce bouncer from John Snow but continued to bat.

When he was dismissed for 175 at Lord’s, Brian Johnston remarked: “He appears to have a weakness in the 170s.”

Asked afterwards how he prepared for Test cricket in his South Island hometown, Congdon replied that net pitches in Motueka prepared one for anything.

Congdon supplemented his batting with medium pacers which amounted to 59 Test wickets at 36.50. And another unique feat was his catch as a wicketkeeper while fielding as a substitute in Lahore in April, 1975.

What is often forgotten is that Congdon was an excellent ODI player well ahead of his time. His 11 matches netted him 338 runs at a remarkably high average of 56.33 and a strike rate of 71.61, amazingly healthy for his times. His knocks included a 101 against England at Wellington. He also led New Zealand in their first ever ODI, against Pakistan at Lancaster Park in 1973.

Later, after his retirement, Congdon served as a selector of the national team.

Congdon passed away on February 10, 2018, after a long bout of illness, just one day short of his 80th birthday.