Eric Tindill. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Eric Tindill. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Eric William Thomas Tindill, born December 18, 1910, was one of the greatest all-round sportspeople in history. He was a Double All-Black (he represented New Zealand in both cricket and rugby). Representing a nation in two sports is something very few have achieved, but Tindill went a step further, standing as umpire in Test cricket and refereeing a rugby union Test. He also lived till 99, and was, at the time of his death, the oldest surviving rugby and cricket Test player. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a Double-Double All Black who once caught Don Bradman.

The other Test

There have been Double All-Blacks in cricket and rugby: Bill Carson; George Dickinson; Charlie Olivier; Curly Page; Brian McKechnie; and Jeff Wilson. Eric Tindill surpassed all of them: he played Tests in both sports, and was perhaps a more authentic Double-Black than others.

Tindill played a rugby Test only once, when All Blacks toured England in 1935-36. The match ended in a 0-13 defeat for New Zealand at Twickenham. The match is remembered as the famous debut appearance of Prince Alexander Obolensky (a real prince). Obolensky made two tries, the first of which acquired legendary status (he went past several opponents and ran three-quarters of the field). Tindill made sure the ball stayed with him as souvenir.

Tindill, Black Cap #417, played 16 other Black Caps matches. He made his debut on the same 1936-37 tour, where All Blacks beat Yorkshire and Cumberland 14-3. He played till 1938. In his last match All Blacks thrashed ACT 57-5 at Canberra. He scored a drop-goal in the match.

Later, he co-authored The Tour of the Third All-Blacks with Charlie Oliver, also on the tour. It became a bestseller. He would later write another book, on Wellington Athletic Rugby Football Club (popularly known as Athletic), for whom he played.

Starting as a halfback, Tindill went on to become a five-eighth. Early in his career he met with a near-fatal on-field accident, when he was tackled by Alf Cleverley. Tindill was knocked out, remained unconscious for four days, but he could hardly be blamed: Cleverley had represented New Zealand in boxing at The Olympics the previous year.

In his entire career, Tindill scored 24 points, all of them from 6 drop-goals (two against each of Newport and London Counties, and one against each of Mid-Districts and ACT). Had World War II not intervened, Tindill would, in all likelihood, have been deputy to Charlie Saxton on the 1940 tour to South Africa, as Winston McCarthy (iconic rugby commentator) would say.

Tindill later went on to become a referee. When the British Lions played four Tests in New Zealand in 1950, Tindill was appointed in the first two of these, at Dunedin (9-9 draw) and Christchurch (Black Caps won 8-0). He also played football (1927) and table tennis for Wellington, helped found Wellington Table Tennis Association (1934), and was treasurer of New Zealand Boxing Council (1973 to 1981).

The cricket bit

But all that is about rugby. Tindill was no mean cricketer either. His rugby prowess and small frame (5 8 , and a mere 66 kg) helped him develop into a quality wicketkeeper, pouching 96 catches and effecting 33 stumpings from 69 First-Class matches, mostly for Wellington. His batting numbers, 3,127 runs at 30.35 with 6 hundreds, also make decent reading for a New Zealand gloveman of the 1930s.

At the highest level, unfortunately, Tindill did not do as well in his 5 Tests on either side of World War II. He was never the part of a winning side (but then, New Zealand never won a Test till Tindill was 45). He scored 73 runs over half of which came in a single innings at 9.12. These were accompanied by 6 catches and a solitary stumping.

A star is born

Born in Nelson and raised in Motueka, Tindill moved to Wellington in 1922. He went to Wellington Technical College (till 1925) before the schools were closed following an outbreak of infantile paralysis. He switched to accountancy, and did his BCom. His immense talent was probably a hindrance to his choice of sport; in the end he opted for cricket and rugby.

Tindill made his First-Class debut at 22, and became the first Wellington player in ten years to slam a hundred (106, to be precise) on debut. His next four matches saw him score another two hundreds, and by the time he was 23, he was acknowledged as one of the finest batsmen in the country.

Top-level cricket in New Zealand was sparse in those days. In addition to that, Tindill s cricket clashed with his rugby career. Despite that, Tindill kept scoring consistently, and went up the batting order for Wellington. In the antipodean summer of 1936-37 he scored 133 (opening batting), and had two catches and two stumpings against Auckland. He was selected for New Zealand s 1937 tour of England.

Test cricket

England did not suit his style of batting. The entire tour fetched him a mere 477 runs at 18.34 without a fifty, though he did a competent job with the big gloves, with 29 catches and 18 stumpings from 23 matches.

Tindill, a left-hander, did nothing out of the common with the bat but as a wicket-keeper he was always worth his place although he did not compare with K. C. James who came over with the 1931 side, wrote Wisden in their tour report.

Note: The KC James mentioned here is Ken James, New Zealand s first Test wicketkeeper. James also led and kept wickets for Wellington when Tindill scored a hundred on First-Class debut.

Tindill had his moments. Against Derbyshire he came out at 132 for 5 and scored 39, adding 79 with Page. He then stumped four batsmen in Derbyshire s first innings. In the cliff-hanger against Kent (who won by 1 wicket), Tindill batted competently in both innings with 38 and 40. There was also a quickfire 47 against Lancashire. But most importantly, he played all three Tests.

New Zealand impressed everyone in the Test series. Left to bat four hours to save the first Test at Lord s they were down to 15 for 3, but Merv Wallace, Jack Kerr, and the great Martin Donnelly helped save the Test. Tindill took three catches, Walter Robins being the first of his career.

Len Hutton s hundred gave England an 87-run lead at Old Trafford, but Jack Cowie left England reeling at 75 for 7. Freddie Brown bailed out England with 57. Set to chase 265, Giff Vivian and Sonny Moloney added 50 for the opening stand before Tom Goddard spun England to a 130-run victory.

A hundred from Joe Hardstaff Jr (and 65 from a debutant Denis Compton) helped England declare a mere 5 runs ahead on the final day. They almost had their way: New Zealand were left reeling at 107 for 6, 102 ahead, by tea, with Moloney holding fort. Page, with a strained muscle, was unlikely to bat.

Tindill, having scored 8, 3, 6, 0, and 4 in his five innings till then, finally came good. He added 43 with the immovable Moloney, and 32 more with Jack Dunning. By the time Cowie fell (Page did not bat) New Zealand were 182 ahead, and out of danger. Tindill remained unbeaten on 37.

The big wicket

On their way back from England, New Zealand played the usual regulation match at Ceylon before dropping by to play three more in Australia, mostly to make up for the costs incurred by New Zealand on the England tour. Tindill played two matches, against South Australia and New South Wales.

The first match was a landmark one, for it was Don Bradman s only appearance against a representative New Zealand side. The tourists were bowled out for 151 by Clarrie Grimmett and Frank Ward, to which South Australia responded with 331, with Jack Badcock scoring a hundred.

Bradman walked out at 38 for 2 and reached 11, helping Badcock add 27 for the third wicket by stumps on Day One. The second day s play had a sensational start: Cowie found Bradman s edge the first ball the great man faced; and the ball landed into the big gloves of Tindill who remained the only New Zealander to catch Bradman in a representative match.

The Telegraph noted Bradman s dismissal: Though the nick had been heard all around the ground, Bradman stayed rooted to the spot until the umpire’s finger went up, and then departed with a slight grin on his face.

The grin was a telltale one, for it resulted in a lack of enthusiasm among the locals, and New Zealand lost gate money. You two have cost us 1,000 , told NZCC Treasurer Sammy Luttrell to Tindill and Cowie. Ward then bowled out the tourists for 186, and South Australia romped to a 10-wicket win.

The dismissal, however, attained iconic status to the extent that sports writer Ron Palenski went on to pen a book titled C Tindill B Cowie: The Story of Bradman and New Zealand.

Other battles

When Wellington captain Jack Lamason pulled out the season after, Tindill was asked to lead in addition to his duties as opening batsman and wicketkeeper. Unfortunately, The War broke out soon afterwards, depriving Tindill a proper career in both cricket and rugby in his early thirties.

He joined New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) during World War II. He became a lieutenant, and was set to fight in Egypt. However, when Germany attacked France, Belgium, and Netherlands, he was posted in Britain.

Palenski produced a letter Tindill wrote when in Britain. It reflected his attitude perfectly: He [Hitler] will get a hot reception if he does attempt anything … They make us dive for slit trenches in the middle of the night and get freezing cold, and then in the morning to find a live snake in the very trench where two of us were just a few hours before. Indeed, the temper was not the best.

Thankfully, he got to play cricket, and took revenge of sorts, scoring 23 and helping NZEF beat Australian Imperial Forces when he was posted at Aldershot. The match was played despite a 45-minute air-raid warning. He also scored a quickfire 70 in a match against Aldershot Command, helping NZEF reach 162 for 6 in 24 overs.

Tindill resumed First-Class cricket in 1943-44. He played for New Zealand when Australia came over, in 1945-46. The one-off Test at Basin Reserve, finished in two days, was a no-contest: the hosts were rolled over for 42 and 54, sandwiched between which Bill Brown declared the Australian innings closed at 199 for 8. The second innings saw Tindill score 13 and add 24 with Wallace.

He played only one more Test, against at Christchurch next season. Walter Hadlee scored 116, and New Zealand secured an honourable draw in a rain-affected game.

Back to domestic cricket, Tindill played on till 1949-50. His significant contributions during this phase include 112 and 51 against Canterbury in 1947-48 and a career-best 149 against Auckland in 1948-49.

Once his rugby days were over, Tindill took to cricket umpiring. By 1956-57 he was standing in Plunket Shield matches. The peak of his umpiring career came in the 1958-59 Test, against England at Christchurch, when he became the first cricketer to do the Double-Double All-Black.

Standing alongside Tindill was Cowie, with whom he had combined to remove Bradman over two decades back. England won the Test by an innings thanks to a majestic 141 by Ted Dexter and Tony Lock s match haul of 11 for 84.

Eric Tindill celebrates his 99th birthday    Getty Images
Eric Tindill celebrates his 99th birthday Getty Images

Way to the last record

Fair-haired (which led to the nickname Snowy) and handsome, Eric had married Mary in 1937. In Tindill s obituary, Wisden emphasised on what kind of a day it was: Monday, March 27, 1937; a civil servant, he started by tidying his office desk; he got married at 9 a.m.; by 11 he was at the Basin Reserve for the final day of New Zealand s unofficial Test against Gubby Allen s tourists (he finished the day with 24 not out, helping his side salvage a draw); and at 8 p.m. he joined the rest of the New Zealand cricket team on board ship for the voyage to England. His new bride followed in a different vessel.

The couple had five sons, of whom Dennis played rugby for Wellington B, and Paul played both rugby and Plunket Shield (as wicketkeeper, of course) for Wellington.

Tindill even did his Master s (in 1949), and worked in the Government audit office for four decades. This included the terms that he would earn half his salary when on international sport duty, and get paid only 3 shillings allowance a day.

He was not a strong supporter of professional sport. According to Radio New Zealand, he disagreed with the move to professionalism and doubted that today’s players had more enjoyment from their sport than he did. He believed in playing for the love of the game and for the honour.

He did not even approve of the Haka. As The Guardian wrote, Tindill dismissed the Haka made All Blacks look like they were dancing around like whirling dervishes.

Tindill became a selector for both Wellington and New Zealand. He was awarded an OBE in 1981, was inducted into New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, and won the Halberg Award for Services to Sport in 2001.

Don Cleverley, who had played for New Zealand against Australia alongside Tindill, passed away on February 16, 2004. He was 94 years 55 days. At that point Tindill was the oldest-living Test cricketer.

He was healthy well into his nineties, and attributed that to his long walks. Citing an example of his fitness, Wisden wrote: When a grand-nephew came by and said he wanted to be a wicketkeeper, Tindill well into his nineties got down on his haunches to demonstrate technique.

When Tindill passed away on August 1, 2010, he was 99 years 226 days then the oldest-lived Black Caps rugby player, and the only surviving pre-World War II rugby Test player.

He was also the oldest-lived Test cricketer for any nation, going past Francis McKinnon, the 35th McKinnon of McKinnon (98 years 324 days). Norman Gordon, who passed away at 103 years 27 days in 2014, is the only Test cricketer to have outlived Tindill.

Tindill spent his last days with his daughter Molly. He was buried at Karori Cemetery in the suburb of Wellington.

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