Ian Colquhoun played only two Tests, but had an amazing dual sports career; he was also loved by all Picture courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Ian Colquhoun played only 2 Tests, but had an amazing dual sports career; he was also loved by all
Picture courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

February 26, 2005. News got out that Ian Colquhoun, the springy Central Districts and New Zealand wicketkeeper, had passed away. The immensely popular Colquhoun’s funeral, hosted at Palmerston North Boys High School, was attended by about a thousand people — but the biggest surprise came when they performed a haka in memory of Colquhoun, the man who had played Hawke Cup for Manawatu, played for Otago, and made it to the All Blacks trials before becoming a successful teacher and coach. Abhishek Mukherjee reflects on the life of a near-forgotten man.

“A haka is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge of the Maori people of New Zealand which the New Zealand national rugby union team, the All Blacks, and a number of other New Zealand national teams perform before their international matches. Some non-New Zealand sports teams have also adopted the haka.” — Wikipedia

The above words are not sufficient. You need to see a haka, at least in televised form, to understand what it is all about. When the All Blacks perform the haka before an encounter, the sheer spectacle is enough to send a chill down the spine of the opposition. The very sight of burly, monstrous physiques breaking into a deafening chorus — designed to instil fear into the opposition before the encounter — is a spectacle to behold anywhere in the world.

Barring funerals, that is: nobody does the haka at funerals; unless, of course, the person in question is Ian Alexander Colquhoun (pronounced Kow-hoon or kah-hoon) — ‘Coke’ to those who loved him.

Who was Colquhoun?

Though he was born in Wellington, Colquhoun was, as the name suggests, of Scottish ancestry. In fact, there is a Scottish author who shares his first and last names. He was the Central Districts wicketkeeper for over a decade, mostly in the 1950s.

Campbell Alexander and Gladys had two sons, Ray and Ian Colquhoun (born June 8, 1924). Both brothers attended Rongotai College, Wellington, where both became Head Prefect and Captain of Rugby. Ian also captained them in cricket, and was Senior Athletic Champion in 1942. It was during his college days that he met Betty Petley.

Paul Cameron of Palmerston North Boys’ High School recollected in Colquhoun’s eulogy how Ian trained to become a ‘signalman’ during his army days. Using flags he sent “I love you” messages to Betty from Beacon Hill to Lyall Bay. They got married on May 7, 1949.

Ian played Hawke Cup (grade cricket) for Manawatu. When a strong Australians toured New Zealand in 1949-50, Colquhoun played them for Manawatu. Having no exposure to bowling of that quality, he was snared cheaply by Ian Johnson and Doug Ring.

The First-Class debut came surprisingly late (he was almost 30). He did not shine with the bat, but his glovework attracted eyes of the selectors: he was considered worthy enough to make his debut for New Zealand the following season.

Nightmare; success; nightmare

Len Hutton’s men had regained The Ashes in Australia, and were in no mood to relent in the 2-Test series. Before the first night, unfortunately, nerves caught up with Colquhoun: he had a terrible nightmare that night, in which he dropped Hutton, no less, four times. It must have been a relief for him next morning to find that it had all been a dream.

Few scripts have been written better than Colquhoun’s. An unpretentious non-batsman, he batted at No. 11 and played unbeaten innings of 0 and 1. But when he kept wickets, he held 2 catches. The dismissals read:

1st innings: Len Hutton c Ian Colquhoun b John Reid 11
2nd innings: Len Hutton c Ian Colquhoun b Bob Blair 3

Nothing could have given him more satisfaction after that horrific nightmare!

Unfortunately for New Zealand, Hutton’s dual failure was not sufficient to prevent England from clinching the first Test by 8 wickets. Despite the defeat, Colquhoun retained his place for the second Test at Eden Park. In hindsight, he would probably have wanted to be left out —for a nightmare was awaiting them.

Colquhoun was, for some reason, promoted at No. 9. It did not work: he walked out at 199 for 8, was caught first ball off Bob Appleyard, and took the long road back to the pavilion. From 189 for 5 New Zealand collapsed to 200. But the misery had just begun.

This time Hutton did not fail. Batting at No. 5 he carved out an invaluable 53. Peter May scored 48; Frank Tyson, a crucial 27; from 164 for 7 England reached 246. “Stick around for a while, Frank, we may not have to bat again,” had been Hutton’s words to Tyson during their stand: they proved truer than he expected.

To their credit New Zealand batted 27 overs. To their discredit, they were bowled out for 26, losing by an innings. Once again Colquhoun batted at No. 9 (this time at 22 for 7). Once again the bowler was Appleyard. Once again he fell for a golden duck.

Colquhoun never played another Test. Though he caught Trevor Bailey off Harry Cave and had a revenge of sorts by catching Appleyard off Johnny Hayes, he finished his Test career with 4 catches and 1 run at a princely average of 0.50.

He was back to Plunket Shield. His batting never improved (he often batted at No. 11 even for Central Districts), but he somehow managed to finish with an acceptable average of 14.76 — owing to the fact that he was unbeaten in 33 of the 85 innings he batted.

However, his moment came against Auckland at Eden Park in 1959-60. Central Districts had conceded a mere 4-run lead, and Colquhoun walked out to join Gary Bartlett when the score read 154 for 9. The pair reached 205 for 9 by stumps, and eventually ended on 287 when Colquhoun was run out for 32, leaving Bartlett stranded on 99. The 133-run stand remains the record last-wicket partnership for Central Districts.

Wicketkeeping, however, was another story. A tally of 108 catches and 28 stumpings from 57 matches are not outstanding, but Colquhoun was more safe than spectacular: his rugby experience helped him significantly.

Rugby

Rugby was, of course, always there. Colquhoun played with distinction for Otago when they held the Ranfurly Shield (from August 2, 1947 to August 16, 1950); he even turned up for All Blacks trial in 1947; and later had a distinguished career for Manawatu. He had 4 tries, a penalty, and a drop-goal from 35 First-Class matches.

It was during this phase that Colquhoun grew in stature as a Manawatu sport legend. He became coach and selector for both cricket and rugby. In fact, he was a selector and President of New Zealand national cricket side. He earned the awe and respect of all and sundry, but perhaps most at Palmerston North — where he started as a Physical Education teacher in 1948.

Palmerston North

Colquhoun took Palmerston North to new heights as rugby coach. He started in 1955 and continued till 1983, but his greatest year came in 1982 — when they won 29 matches and lost 2. They scored 716 and conceded a mere 197. Three years before that Colquhoun’s boys became the first New Zealand side to tour Europe and North America.

Writing for SkySport College Rugby Channel, Adam Julian wrote: “Dedication, innovative thinking, powerful halftime speeches and a low tolerance for defeat were among the hallmarks of Colquhoun’s coaching. His sides were often noted for their character and slick back play. He was more of a mentor like figure than a fearsome general like Dick Glover.”

Colquhoun taught at Palmerston North for 36 years. He became Senior Master in 1974 and 1975, and was Deputy Rector from 1976 till his retirement in 1984. He settled down in Paraparaumu Beach following his retirement, and became President of Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club.

Colquhoun was loved by all, and his achievement in education and sport was rewarded when Government of New Zealand awarded him the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in 1985.

Death and haka

Australia were playing New Zealand at Eden Park. Though the tourists were reduced to 128 for 5, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey lifted them to 264 for 5. Brett Lee and Brad Hogg then bowled out the tourists for 178, Lee also hitting Michael Papps on the helmet, forcing the latter to retire hurt.

Somewhere in Paraparaumu Beach, an 80-year-old Colquhoun was watching the match on television. He passed away during the match. The date was February 26 — a number Colquhoun never liked, possibly because of memories of 26 all out.

Ian and Betty remained childless — but showered their affection on others. Cameron recollected: “Although Betty and Ian did not have their own children – in effect they did – they had all of us.” A similar sentiment was shared by Tim Connor, then Rector of Palmerston North.

Seldom has a man been so loved. There was no surprise when about a thousand turned up for his funeral. They also performed a haka at the funeral — perhaps a tad uncharacteristic, but it would have brought a smile to Coke’s lips.

Colquhoun was named a Manawatu Legend of Sport in 2008, three years after he passed away. They also named a 1,700-seat auditorium in Palmerston North after him.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)