Herb McGirr (left) and Ces Dacre on New Zealand’s 1927 tour of England © Getty Images
Herb McGirr (left) and Ces Dacre on New Zealand’s 1927 tour of England © Getty Images

History tells us an Anglican missionary named Henry Williams who had organised a cricket match at Northland in 1832, believed to be the first known cricket match played in New Zealand. A journal entry dated December 20, 1832 made by Williams testifies to the fact: “Turned the boys out to play cricket … Very expert, good bowlers.”

 The first cricket game in New Zealand for which proper scores, however rudimentary, were maintained, is believed to have been played at Wellington in 1842. There was a taste of International cricket when, in 1864, George Parr’s all-professional All England XI arrived on New Zealand shores after the completion of the Australia leg of their tour to win 4 matches against 22-memebr teams from Otago and Canterbury.

 Although there was to be no Test cricket in England in 1927, there was to be some cricket of an international flavour in the season with the arrival of a cricket team from New Zealand, making the first ever visit to England. It seems that the tour had been financed by a private financial deal involving the sale of shares amounting to £1 each. The 14-member team was led by the ‘aristocratic’ Tom Lowry, who had, of course, had previous experience of playing in England before, having turned out for Cambridge, MCC, and Somerset before.

 Upon arrival on British shores in April, Lowry had stated that his players “felt like a lot of schoolboys who had got into long trousers for the first time,” going further to say that, “they were Britishers anxious to appear on the cricket map,” and who had “come home, not to beat the best sportsmen, but to learn the rules as England taught them.”

 May 11, 1927, was destined to be a landmark date in English and New Zealand cricket history for a number of reasons. For the first time, a representative New Zealand cricket team took the field at Lord’s, to take on an MCC team under Johnny Douglas. MCC won the toss and opted to bat. Runs were scored at a rapid clip and the home team were dismissed for 392.

 On the morrow, the fifth New Zealand wicket fell at 185, and the visitors seemed to be heading for a crisis situation. Dashing 28-year old batsman Charles ‘Ces’ Christian Ralph Dacre, vice-captain of the team, then teamed up with his seasoned skipper Tom Lowry to initiate a recovery of sorts. The sixth-wicket stand realised 115 as Ces Dacre became the first batsman from New Zealand to score a century (107) at Lord’s. Lowry followed suit shortly afterwards with a century (106) of his own. The visitors put up a substantial total of 460.

 MCC declared their second innings at 426 for 4. During the remainder of the third day’s play, New Zealand scored 224 for 4 as the game ended in a draw.

 In Lord’s Firsts, Philip Barker quotes the Times as saying: “Our visitors have not yet acquired the prestige which attaches to Australian touring teams,” going on to lament the poor attendance on the first day of the game. It may be mentioned here that the chilly weather conditions may well have been a deterrent to the attendance of the spectators. The people who had braved the elements and had graced Lord’s for the match, seem to have gone back having witnessed a new First-Class record being set at Lord’s. The total aggregate of runs in the match, both teams combined, of 1,502, was the first time that the 1,500-run mark had been crossed for any First-Class game at Lord’s, and the total was to become a new record for the venue.

 Ces Dacre was born at Devonport, Auckland, on May 15, 1899. From all accounts he took to cricket very early in his life. He was educated at Devonport Primary School, Auckland, and once set the school leagues alight by scoring 7 centuries in 8 innings as his Davenport Primary won the Auckland Primary Schools’ Championship seven times in a row.

 Writing in the now-defunct New Zealand Observer at a much later date, Dacre was to remark (as quoted by Lynn McConnell): “During my school career, we had some big hitters in the sides I played with, and it gave me great delight to see some of the senior players pepper the roofs of houses or even break a few windows. But in a year or so my turn to do the same came along, and many a ball I hit into a fowl yard and scattered the hens in all directions.”

 At this stage of his nascent cricket career, Dacre benefitted from some constructive coaching from four English professionals; Albert Relf, Frank Shacklock, Dick Pearson, and George Thompson, who, between them, instilled in him the basic nuances of the game.

 At the age of 14 years, Dacre played his first senior game, and things went forward for him at a rapid pace from then on with him scoring his first century and being among the runs on a regular basis. He was 15 years 224 days when he made his First-Class debut (the youngest First-Class debutant from New Zealand at the time), playing for Auckland against Wellington at Eden Park in 1914-15. It was a modest beginning with scores of 1 and 8.

 In a relatively long First-Class career spanning 1914-15 to 1936, Dacre played 268 matches scoring 12,223 runs as a right-hand batsman. His highest individual score was 223 (his only double-century), and he had a batting average of 29.17. He had 24 centuries and 59 fifties, held 166 catches, and made 6 stumpings. His slow left-arm orthodox format of bowling fetched him 39 wickets, with a best analysis of 5 for 35 (his only five-wicket haul) and a bowling average of 31.25.

 The English tourists under Douglas were still in the process of completing their Test series in Australia when it was decided to send an Australian team to neighbouring New Zealand. Consequently, the Australian team to New Zealand for 1920-21 was virtually a second-string group of 13 members, none of whom had played against the English team in the Tests.

 The touring unit was led by the 35-year old champion Vernon Ransford, the only one in the group with any Test experience, having played 20 Tests before the outbreak of World War I. The tourists played 9 First-Class matches in New Zealand between February and April, two of the games being against representative New Zealand teams.

 Dacre’s first experience of any international opposition was in the game between New Zealand Minor Associations and the visiting Australians at Wellington. Batting at No. 3 in each innings, Dacre top-scored with 57 in the first innings and was dismissed for a duck in the second. An interesting feature of the Australians’ innings was the fact that the last 4 wickets all fell at the same total of 271, the home skipper David Collins picking up all 4 wickets in the same 8-ball over but with a dot ball separating each wicket.

 Dacre’s next encounter with the Australians was also at Wellington, this time playing for a representative New Zealand side. He scored 27 and 18. There were 17 ‘international’ debutants in the game, 8 for New Zealand (including Dacre), and 9 for Australia (including the likes of Vic Richardson, Alan Kippax, and Bert Ironmonger).

 Dacre had to wait till his 15th First-Class match (for Auckland against Wellington in 1922-23) to register his maiden century (145, in 115 minutes, with 19 fours and 1 six), exhibiting ample evidence of his power-hitting abilities. The 100 had come up in 80 minutes with 15 fours and 1 six. This was his maiden First-Class century, and his first in the Plunket Shield. He scored another 68 in the second innings.

 The match between Auckland and the visiting Victoria in 1924-25 turned out to be a rather high-scoring draw with a total of 4 individual centuries being scored. In the midst of this run-fest, Dacre held his head high with scores of 127* and 101* — the first instance of anyone scoring a century in each innings of a First-Class match in New Zealand.

 A 14-member New Zealand team, led by Bill Patrick of Canterbury and Otago, made a tour to Australia in 1925-26. They played 4 First-Class matches against the State teams and 5 other games. Queensland won the first match by an innings and 92 runs, Dacre top-scoring with 80 in the first innings. The match against Victoria was drawn after a remarkable innings of 325* (in 323 minutes, with 26 fours) by ‘Stork’ Hendry. Dacre had scores of 19 and 12. He would later avow that Hendry had been caught by Lowry while on 56 but that the umpire had thought otherwise.

Ces Dacre. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Ces Dacre. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The match against South Australia at Adelaide was drawn. Dacre contributed 70 and 40. The last First-Class game, against New South Wales at Sydney, was also drawn; Dacre scored 6 in his only innings.

 During the New Zealand tour of England in 1927, Dacre played in 23 matches, scoring 1,070 runs from his 34 innings, with a highest of 176 (against Derbyshire), and an average of 31.47. He was back in England in 1928, and making his debut for Gloucestershire against Oxford University. He marked the occasion with scores of 69 and 50* in a drawn game. This was to be a qualifying year for Dacre and he played only 5 First-Class matches in England. He was back in 1929, playing 3 matches.

 His first full season with Gloucestershire was 1930, when he played 31 matches, scoring 1,413 runs with a highest of 223 (against Worcestershire at New Road, the highest individual score of his career), and an average of 33.64. In all, Dacre played 191 matches for Gloucestershire between 1928 and 1936, scoring 8271 runs at an average of 28.32. His runs included 16 centuries. He also played 31 matches for Auckland, scoring 1,714 runs at an average of 32.96. His Auckland profile is replete with 5 centuries.

 Mention of Gloucestershire in the 1920s and 1930s evokes the immediate mental image of the majestic cover driving by Walter Hammond and his enormous appetite for runs. Great as his cricketing achievements had been, Hammond had always been a moody and introverted person, not very gregarious, and often unapproachable. David Foot has mooted the idea that the“mysterious illness” contracted while on a West Indies tour in 1925-26 may have been the starting point of his withdrawn behaviour.

 The saying goes that he had picked up a sexually transmitted infection on that tour that he made him very ill, and had required a series of twelve operative procedures back in England. Foot feels that the mercury preparations that had been in vogue at the time for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases may have been the cause of his altered personality and behaviour subsequently, making him depressive and uncommunicative.

 There are many stories about his run-ins with other cricketers, both from his own Gloucestershire team, and from other sides. Somehow, Dacre’s cavalier batting style did not seem to go down well with Hammond and there are stories of the latter bowling at extreme pace when Dacre would be standing up to the stumps during his wicketkeeping episodes, the intention being to do Dacre bodily harm.

 It is also said that Charlie Barnett was never comfortable with Hammond’s philandering attitude and his treatment of his first wife. Barnett had later also felt insulted at Hammond’s refusal to play in his benefit match. Denis Compton was another cavalier cricket that Hammond had somehow disliked.

 Dacre made a tour to Jamaica under the banner of Lord Tennyson’s XI in 1931-32, playing in 3 First-Class games. Jamaica made a clean sweep of it, winning every match comprehensively.

 Chronic arthritis finally forced Dacre to retire from First-Class cricket in 1936. The archives, however, show him turning out for two Veterans games in 1940 and 1941, but these were not First-Class fixtures. In his very last innings in senior cricket, Dacre scored 50* for Auckland Veterans.

 There were two other sports for which Dacre was well-known. During his school days, having experimented with field hockey for a while, Dacre discovered that he had a natural flair for football, being equally comfortable with kicking the ball with either foot. He improved his football skills rapidly and was soon selected for the Auckland team. Selection for the New Zealand national team followed in 1922-23 when the team toured Australia. New Zealand won 2 games out of 3 and Dacre acquired the sobriquet of ‘Dirty Dacre’ for his rough style of play. He earned 4 international football caps between 1922 and 1923, scoring 2 international goals. In 1926, he played in the final of the Chatham Cup (New Zealand’s knockout football tournament) but was on the losing side.

 During the years of World War I, Dacre played Rugby Union for the Railway Club till 1917. In 1917 he broke away from the Rugby Union format along with some others to play Rugby League and to form the Railway XIII.

Ces Dacre, the pioneering all-round sportsman from New Zealand, passed away on November 2, 1975 at his native Devonport, Auckland, aged about 75.