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Graham Dowling: Of leadership, diligence, and courage

Graham Dowling (centre) bats for New Zealand against England © Getty Images
Graham Dowling (centre) bats for New Zealand against England © Getty Images

Former New Zealand captain Graham Dowling was born on March 4, 1937. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of one of the torch-bearers of New Zealand cricket who led them to some of their earlier victories.

New Zealand had been elevated to Test status in 1930; it had taken them 26 years to win a Test; then John Reid won the first three of them as a captain; and Graham Thorne Dowling won the next four. He was also the first to win Tests against India (both home and away).

Talking of India, there have been umpteen batsmen with a penchant for singling out the team for special treatment — but few have taken things to the extent that Dowling did. In the 1960s only Ken Barrington (998) scored more runs against India than Dowling.

M I NO R Ave 100s
Against India 11 22 2 964 48.2 3
Against other countries 28 55 1 1,342 24.85
Career 39 77 3 2,306 31.16 3

Dowling was your quintessential New Zealand batsman who relied more on concentration and diligence than flair. He was certainly not the best batsman to watch (more so because his strokes, though often well-timed, could not find the gaps), but he was certainly someone who could handle pressure — especially at the top of the order. From 158 First-Class matches Dowling scored 9,399 runs at 34.94 with 16 hundreds (2,306 of them were in Tests, as shown in the table above).

As a captain (and even as a person), Dowling was remarkably meticulous in his plans. DJ Cameron mentioned in Cricket Crusade: “He (Dowling) had plans for everything, from allaying the effects of the celebrated circadan disrhythmia [sic] caused by long air travel, to the setting up of various sub-committees among the players so that each had a part to play on the tour.”

There was a flip side to this as well. As Cameron wrote, “Sometimes I thought he was too methodical, especially in the time taken by him (Dowling), (Glenn) Turner and (Bevan) Congdon, to select the teams for the early matches, for Dowling and deadlines were not in the same wavelength.”

An exceptional fielder (as is true with most New Zealand cricketers) at most positions, Dowling claimed 111 catches at First-Class level, 23 of which came in Tests.

Early days

Dowling was born in Christchurch. His father was a school-teacher. He was brought up by his mother, an athletic lady who encouraged sport. There was a volley-board in the Dowling backyard (for tennis) where young Graham used to hit the ball hard. He took to cricket at a very early age and used to visit Lancaster Park for Canterbury matches.

He made his First-Class debut at 21 against Otago at Dunedin; he failed, scoring one and two, but Canterbury decided to persist with him. In his third match, against Central Districts at home, Dowling top-scored with 103 as his team romped to a seven-wicket victory in the Plunket Shield encounter.

The next season, Dowling scored 107 against Northern Districts, also at home, and was picked to represent New Zealand in the unofficial “Tests” against Australia. He had two decent outings, especially in the second “Test” at Dunedin, where he scored 43 and 40.

Test debut

Dowling was selected for New Zealand’s tours of Australia and South Africa in 1961-62, and got to play the solitary match in the first leg against Western Australia at WACA; he scored 83 not out in the second innings. He struggled once he reached South Africa, failing to reach fifty even once in 11 outings.

Despite his failure, Dowling made his debut in the second Test at New Wanderers after the hosts had won the first at Kingsmead. South Africa piled up 322 aided by John Waite’s 101; Dowling and McGregor saw off the new-ball threat of Peter Pollock and Kenneth Walter.

On came “Goofy” Lawrence to take two quick wickets, which started the battle between the Dowling and Reid and the South African fast bowlers. They bounced at the batsmen, Reid counterattacked, but Dowling simply stay put. The pair added 76 in 83 minutes before Lawrence removed Reid; and John Guy; and Zinzan Harris.

Then Dowling fell after 243 minutes of vigil — in the most unfortunate of fashions: dashing for a quick single a mid-pitch collision with Pollock which resulted in his being run out. His 74 remained the highest score of the innings as Lawrence ran through them with figures of eight for 53. Jackie McGlew then set the tourists a target of 278 in four hours, but Reid declined the challenge: New Zealand finished on 165 for four; Dowling scored another 58.

He played in the last three Tests as well, at Newlands, New Wanderers, and St George’s Park. He failed in the first two, but was a part of history at Newlands — New Zealand’s first overseas victory. South Africa went one up in the fourth Test, and at St George’s Park, New Zealand needed a consolidator after they had secured an 85-run lead.

Three quick blows from Pollock reduced the tourists to 50 for three, but Dowling and Reid got together once again, adding 125 in 201 minutes. Dowling fell shortly after Reid did for a 290-minute 78, and New Zealand managed to set a target of 314. The match seemed to be South Africa’s when they were 199 for eight with 106 minutes to spare, but victory was achieved only with 21 minutes remaining.

Dowling did not have a great tour; he scored 714 runs at 29.75 and his only hundred (145) came in a drawn affair against Natal at Pietermaritzburg; however, he had shown that he could bat for hours if he got off to a start. The authorities recognised the potential, and he was named a New Zealand Cricket Almanack Player of the Year.

The middle years

Shortly after his return, Dowling scored an emphatic 206 against Wellington at home where nobody else had crossed 35 (nobody else crossed 50 in the entire match) and Canterbury were bowled out for 331, winning by an innings. He had an abysmal home series against England (as did the entire team, as England whitewashed them 3-0).

Dowling was retained for the first Test against South Africa at Basin Reserve but was dropped for the next two; an almost similar scenario occurred in the home series against Pakistan, where he played the first two Tests and was dropped for the third. Neither series produced a single decisive Test; it was perhaps because of his dogged batting on his maiden overseas tour he was picked to travel India.

The first two Tests at Chepauk and Eden Gardens ended in somewhat predictable draws (though Bruce Taylor created history in the second Test, scoring a hundred and taking a five-for on debut; Dowling also claimed his only Test wicket — that of Farookh Engineer when he had him caught by Pollard). It was the third Test at Brabourne Stadium that witnessed some drama.

By then, Dowling had got going against the Indian spinners. After Ramakant Desai reduced the visitors to 31 for two Dowling got into a three-hour partnership with Ross Morgan; he also found company in Pollard and Reid, and batted for 377 minutes to score 129 — his maiden Test ton.

Desai’s burst saw New Zealand being bowled out for 297, but Taylor struck back with five for 26 as the Indians folded for 88. They did better in their next outing (Dilip Sardesai got 200 not out and Chandu Borde 109), and Tiger Pataudi set New Zealand a target of 255. The Test ended with New Zealand on 80 for eight.

The third Test belonged to Srinivas Venkataraghavan: though Sardesai and Pataudi both got hundreds, it was Venkat’s eight for 72 and four for 80 (he also dismissed all eleven New Zealand batsmen playing in the Test) that resulted in the seven-wicket victory. India won the Test and the series.

The Indian summer

Indian fans remember their 1967-68 tour as one that involved their first overseas Test and series win. New Zealand fans, on the other hand, remember it as the first time when they managed to beat a team from the subcontinent. They also remember the series for Dowling’s magnificent batting against the Indian spinners.

After Barry Sinclair decided to bat at Dunedin, Dowling seemed to carry his form from Brabourne Stadium: he added 155 for the second wicket with Bevan Congdon and eventually fell for an emphatic 143 as New Zealand managed to reach what seemed like a formidable 350.

In response, all Indians reached double-figures as they secured a nine-run lead before Erapalli Prasanna routed the hosts for 208. India won the Test — their first overseas — thanks to a third-wicket stand of 103 between Ajit Wadekar and Rusi Surti.

The night before the next Test, Dowling got a call from the Chairman of the Board. He was told that Sinclair was unfit and had been ruled out of the Test: Dowling had been appointed captain instead. Unfortunately, Sinclair never played a Test again.

Dowling led New Zealand in the second Test at his home ground. His 143 at Dunedin had not been enough, so this time he decided to take things a notch further: he added 126 with Bruce Murray, 92 with Congdon, 103 with Mark Burgess, and 119 with Keith Thomson before eventually being stumped off Prasanna.

Dowling’s epic 239 (which remained his highest First-Class score) had lasted 519 balls and 556 minutes; it still remains the highest by anyone in his first Test as captain; he also went past Bert Sutcliffe’s 230 and achieved what was the then highest score for a New Zealand batsman (the record is currently held by Brendon McCullum).

Dick Motz and Gary Bartlett then bowled out the visitors for 288 and 301; there were a few hiccups as New Zealand chased down 88, but Congdon settled matters with 61 not out. Dowling became the first New Zealand captain to win his first Test at the helm.

The last two Tests did not turn out to be good experiences for either Dowling or New Zealand: they lost both the matches, and their captain did not come off either. They ended up conceding the series 1-3.

The second victory

The home series against West Indies next year saw Glenn Turner make his debut in the first Test at Eden Park. New Zealand set a challenging 345, but ended up losing the first Test thanks to a 174-run third wicket partnership between Seymour Nurse and Basil Butcher. Nurse scored 168, and West Indies won by five wickets.

The second Test at Basin Reserve turned out to be a historic one. New Zealand trailed by 15, but some excellent bowling from Motz, Bob Cunis, and Bryan Yuile saw the mighty West Indians being bowled out for 118. New Zealand lost three wickets for 39, but Brian Hastings and Yuile ensured New Zealand won the Test. It was New Zealand’s first victory against West Indies.

The English summer turned out to be another disaster: New Zealand lost convincingly at Lord’s and The Oval, and were saved at Trent Bridge mostly because a major part of Day Five was washed off.

The twin overseas victories

Later that year, Dowling was up against his favourite opposition. New Zealand collapsed against Bishan Singh Bedi and Prasanna in the first Test at Brabourne Stadium, and despite gritty knocks of 32 and 36 from Dowling they lost by 60 runs. Then came the Nagpur Test.

Dowling had come down the order at Brabourne Stadium to accommodate Turner at the top. He dominated proceedings the way he had always done against the Indians, adding 74 with Murray and scoring a patient 69. The innings laid the foundation as New Zealand scored 319, and Hedley Howarth won the Test by 170 runs with match figures of nine for 78. It was New Zealand’s first victory on Indian soil; they have won only one more till date.

Dowling’s men came close to winning the third Test at Hyderabad as well. Dowling (42) and Murray (80) added 106 before Prasanna spun out the tourists for 181, but were bowled out for 89 themselves by Dayle Hadlee and Cunis. However, rain ensured that New Zealand started their innings only on Day Four.

Dowling top-scored with 60 and set the Indians 268, and the hosts were left tattering at 76 for seven thanks to the brilliance of Hadlee and Cunis. However, storm and rain held up play, and when the rain eventually stopped, (and Pataudi himself agreed to the allegation much later) the staff did not make adequate efforts to dry the ground.

Dowling himself walked on to the ground barefoot and tried to offer a hand himself, but everything went in vain. Play never resumed, the Test was drawn, as was the series.

The second leg of the tour took off at Karachi, where the first Test ended with New Zealand on 112 for five chasing 230. It was the second Test at Gaddafi that saw Howarth and Pollard bowling at their best to bowl out the hosts for 114; Murray and Hastings then added 101 for the third-wicket stand and gave New Zealand a crucial 127-run lead.

Once again, the New Zealand bowlers did a splendid job, and despite a few initial hiccups New Zealand chased down the required 82 with five wickets in hand. It was the first time New Zealand won a Test on Pakistan soil; they have done so only once more subsequently.

The tourists then travelled across India to play the third Test at Dacca: it ended in a draw (Pakistan scored 51 for four in the fourth innings chasing 184). New Zealand won the series 1-0; they have won only one more overseas series — in England in 1999.

The accident

New Zealand went on a tour of Australia in 1969-70; they won the Vehicle and General Knockout Cup (a knock-out tournament involving the six Australian sides and New Zealand, where the latter got a direct entry to the semifinal), defeating Melbourne in the final at MCG. Shortly afterwards came the tour match against Australian Universities at Benalla.

The two-day match followed the usual slow proceedings; the youngsters scored 169, Dowling declared with a 156-run lead, and the match was meandering towards a draw when Dowling relieved Ken Wadsworth (the only specialist wicket-keeper of the side) from his duties behind the stumps and put on the gloves himself.

He summoned Richard Collinge, and asked him to go all-out; then came that ball — the one that came at him at a pace far more than he had expected; the ball completely smashed the joint of his left middle-finger; the finger had to be amputated shortly afterwards.

Final days

It took a year for Dowling to return to mainstream cricket, but later that year he scored 102 in a Plunket Shield match against Central Districts at home and followed it with 99 against Western Australia at WACA. When England came over Dowling’s men lost again at Lancaster Park, and an excellent 104 from Burgess saved the Test at Eden Park.

He led his side to West Indies in 1971-72, and showed no sign of injury when he scored 124 against West Indies Board President’s XI at Montego Bay, adding 268 for the opening stand with Turner. Given that the attack comprised of the likes of Bernard Julien and Raphick Jumadeen, there seemed to be nothing wrong with Dowling’s health or form.

New Zealand drew the first two Tests at Sabina Park and Queen’s Park Oval. As the team went to Guaracara Park for the tour match that followed, Dowling stayed back at Port-of-Spain for treatment: a back-pain had been bothering him. “(Graham) Dowling made light of it, but I could see that some of the shine had gone out of his smile,” wrote Cameron.

Dowling was treated at Port-of-Spain and at Bridgetown. If he suffered from physical agony, it certainly did not show on his face. “The (Graham) Dowling upper lip was still stiff, and when released from hospital — with a statement on his future to be made the following day — he was positively chirpy,” wrote Cameron. Unfortunately, the doctors announced that Dowling’s back would not be able to stand up to the strains of competitive cricket anymore.

New Zealand drew the rubber 0-0 as Congdon took over for the last three Tests. Dowling was not even in a condition to run. He never played another Test. In fact, he never played another First-Class match. “It was a cruel blow to such a dedicated man (Dowling), and to his players for they admired him immensely,” lamented Cameron.

A personalised Test card of Graham Dowling. Photo Courtesy - eBay
A personalised Test card of Graham Dowling.
Photo Courtesy – eBay

Post-retirement

Dowling was a partner in an accounting firm during his playing days, and was rather successful at it. However, he had idiosyncrasies of his own. Cameron recalled: “As soon as the team boarded a flight (Graham) Dowling could be seen having a quiet word with the hostess; a few minutes later Dowling would disappear through the for’ard door. Later, much later quite often, Dowling would re-appear smiling happily at having passed another stage of his Pilot Officer apprenticeship.”

He also served as the CEO of New Zealand Cricket, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his Services to Cricket in 1987. He was also an International Cricket Ccouncil (ICC) match referee from 1995 to 2008, officiating in nine Tests and 16 ODIs. The most famous of these were, of course, the MCG Test where Darrell Hair had called Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing. Dowling had no option to overturn the no-balls, but he later expressed his gratitude to ICC for changing the rule and letting Murali play on.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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