John Richard Reid © Getty Images
John Richard Reid © Getty Images

John Richard Reid, that excellent all-rounder, was born June 3, 1928. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the man who led New Zealand to their first 3 Test wins.

John Richard Reid’s significance in the history of New Zealand cannot really be measured in runs and wickets. Despite there being no shortage of talent, for long Bert Sutcliffe was New Zealand’s only world-class cricketer. Then came Reid, just after Keith Miller and before Garry Sobers; had there been no Sobers, Reid would indeed have established himself as the greatest all-rounder of the era (but for Sobers) as well as one of the all-time champions. Captaincy was just another aspect of his game.

Let us get back to numbers, the ultimate test of any cricketer. Had he been born a generation later, he would have locked horns with the phalanx of all-rounders that dominated cricket in the 1970s and 1980s — and would probably have led his country to a higher stature in world cricket.

Reid was the ultimate all-rounder. As a batsman who could dominate any bowling attack. When at his prime, his powerful drives boomed thunderously through the V and his arrogant hooks disappeared into the crowds, and yet it never seemed like he was taking risks. Fascinated by his style, Neville Cardus wrote that Reid was ‘a club-cricketer in excelsis’.

With the ball, he ran in off a short run-up, bowling anything from fast bouncers, brisk off-cutters, and persistent off-breaks. As if that was not enough, Reid was a brilliant fielder – even in his late thirties — prowling in key positions like gully or cover, and if required, he kept wickets as well. He captained New Zealand in 34 Tests, and led them to their first Test victory.

Des Wilson has perhaps described Reid’s valiant greatness the best: “To appreciate Reid’s achievement you have to imagine Ian Botham with no county to play for, only the village team on a Saturday; Botham unpaid and with no commercial contracts, with no proper practice wickets and minimal first-class cricket, much of that mediocre; Botham combining the captaincy of his country with running a local Shell depot and, finally, having no world-class team-mates to share the burden of his country’s reputation.”

To make things sound even more unbelievable, Reid was, in his own words, “I was a good swimmer; I was a good runner — short-distance runner.” To round off the list, he adds “I was a better rugby player than a cricketer.” And as for combative sports, this is what Reid himself had to say: “I broke someone’s nose once. I was a sportsman as such, and someone got me into the ring. This chap was a boxer and he was ducking around, and bang, I broke his nose. I won that round, and that was the only one I had.”

Reid’s career numbers read 3,428 runs at 33.28 with 6 hundreds from 58 Tests. Additionally, he had taken 85 wickets at 33.35, and had also accounted for 43 catches a stumping. In First-Class cricket his numbers (mostly for Otago and Wellington) make excellent reading — 16,128 runs at 41.35 with 39 hundreds, 466 wickets at 22.60 with 15 five-fors, 240 catches, and 7 stumpings. Given his forceful batting, versatile bowling, spectacular fielding, and inspirational leadership skills, he would have been a phenomenon in the shorter formats of the sport.

His role in the history of New Zealand cricket was more than his individual records, though. As John Mehaffey wrote, “Through his unflagging enthusiasm and drive Reid helped keep the faltering flame of New Zealand cricket alight in the dark days of the 1950s, when the nation’s Test status was questioned after they were dismissed for 26 in an innings by England.”

Choosing cricket

During his childhood days, Reid was a very talented rugby player, also excelling at other sports including cricket. Though a cruel bout of rheumatic fever affected his rugby career temporarily, he dominated school cricket, and was elevated to the position of Head Prefect and the cricket captain in 1946.

Soon after Reid returned to rugby he dislocated his right shoulder — which meant he could not bowl for an extended period of time. Not willing to restrict himself to one aspect of the sport, Reid took to wicket-keeping, and represented Wellington in the Brabin Shield as a wicket-keeper-batsman.

However, after another bout of rheumatic fever he had to give up rugby for good, and had to fall back to cricket, which was always his second love. He had to be hospitalised for four months; but you simply could not keep a man like Reid idle for a period that long. He had a relationship with a nurse in the hospital, and ended up marrying her.

Early days

Reid made his First-Class debut against Canterbury in the 1947-48 season, scoring 79 in his very first innings. After scoring 599 at an average of 49.92 in his first two seasons, Reid was selected to tour England with Walter Hadlee’s team after scoring 117 and 23 for The Rest against the New Zealand XI.

Reid, essentially a front-foot player, adapted to the conditions more than what was expected of him. Additionally, this tour was when he found his groove with the ball, and he kept wickets whenever necessary. Of a strong fielding side (which has always been New Zealand’s forte), Reid was, as per Wisden, the best of the lot.

His performances were good enough to earn him a spot in the last two Tests at Old Trafford and The Oval. He scored 50 and 25 in his debut Test, and when he came out to bat at 131 for 4 after New Zealand trailed by 137 at The Oval, he top-scored with an aggressive 130-minute 93 to draw the match and, against all odds, the series. It was the only time that he played a Test as a specialist wicket-keeper. Reid emerged out of the tour with 1,466 runs at 41.88, 13 wickets at 30.00, 26 catches, and 5 stumpings.

The ascent

Reid scored his first Test hundred at Johannesburg in 1953-54 against a quality South African side. This was also when his hooks came into play at Test level for the first time, as he scored 135 in 196 minutes with 18 fours and 2 sixes — and South Africa were made to follow-on. In the final Test of the series he played a lone hand in a defeat with 73 and 5 wickets — establishing himself as an all-rounder for the first time. He was named a South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year — after being the New Zealand Cricket Almanac Player of the Year in 1951.

The India tour of 1955-56 finally established Reid as one of the contemporary greats. In the third Test at Delhi the two greatest New Zealand batsmen of the era came together as Bert Sutcliffe scored 230 not out and Reid supported him with 119 not out, adding an unbeaten 222 for the third wicket. In the fourth Test at Calcutta Reid smashed his way to 120, along with picking up 5 for 106 in the Test.

Despite a 0-2 defeat Reid scored 493 runs at 70.42 and picked up 6 wickets to boot. He was one of the few batsmen to have frustrated Subhash Gupte by using a singular strategy. Reid recollected: “He didn’t like being picked. I used to pick him. And he used to bowl wide to me. I wouldn’t even lift my bat up. He would call me a big cheat.”

Reid was an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year that season.

Captain of New Zealand

Denis Atkinson’s West Indies toured New Zealand the next season, and New Zealand were routed by an innings under Harry Cave’s leadership. Cave was replaced by Reid in the next Test in the next Test at Christchurch — and despite Reid’s fighting efforts on debut (28 and 40, 3 for 68) New Zealand lost by an innings again.

To the credit of the selectors, they persisted with Reid. West Indies lost by 9 wickets at Wellington, and when the teams took field at Auckland, a 0-4 rout was predicted.

Reid won the toss and decided to bat, and he top-scored with 84 — which was eventually the match-decider. Cave and Tony MacGibbon routed West Indies for 145, giving the hosts a 110-run lead. After New Zealand set the tourists a target of 268, the visitors were routed for 77, once again thanks to Cave — who had shown tremendous character after being sacked after the first Test. After close to three decades and 45 Tests, New Zealand had finally won their first Test — under Reid.

Reid took his side to England next season, and New Zealand were routed 0-4, Reid managing to save the final Test at The Oval with an aggressive 51 not out. Despite the one-sided defeat, his tour numbers read 1,429 runs at 39.69 with 3 hundreds, 39 wickets at 22.74, 32 catches and a stumping — and was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

The pinnacle

Reid’s career reached its peak in South Africa on the 1961-62 season. Seldom has a cricketer dominated a series to an extent Reid had in the series. With 546 runs at 60.67 and 11 wickets at 19.72 he became the first captain ever to score 500 runs and take 10 wickets in the series (Sobers is the only other person to have achieved this till date).

He had a rather innocent-looking start to the series — 13 and 16, and no wicket in the first Test at Durban that New Zealand lost. The 39 and match-saving 75 not out at Johannesburg probably set things off. And then, in the third Test at Cape Town, he scored a 135-minute 90 to set the match up; he did not enforce the follow-on; and after South Africa were asked to chase 408, Reid picked up 2 crucial wickets for 21 to lead New Zealand to their second Test victory.

Reid’s role was far from over, though. He played out of his skin in the fourth Test at Johannesburg, top-scoring in each innings with 60 and 142 (scoring 202 out of New Zealand’s 413 in the Test) and picking up 3 for 55, but he still could not prevent an innings defeat.

He was not to give up, though. He knew New Zealand had to win the final Test at Port Elizabeth to square the series, and set out with a mission. Coming out at 20 for 2 he set the tone, hitting Neil Adcock and Peter Pollock for 6 fours in a score of 26. He followed this with 2 for 26, ensuring New Zealand to acquire a crucial 85-run lead. Then, with the match evenly poised at fifty for 3, Reid came out and scored an aggressive 69 with 8 fours, but New Zealand collapsed to 228.

With South Africa chasing 314 for a series victory, Reid came to the forefront once again. He brought himself on as the fifth bowler, and kept on picking wickets at regular intervals, not giving away any easy run in the process. He eventually finished with figures of 45-27-44-4, and New Zealand won the Test by 40 runs with 21 minutes to spare despite a 60-run ninth wicket partnership between Pollock and Adcock.

New Zealand did not win 2 Tests in a series for the next two decades. Reid finished the tour with 1,915 runs at 68.39, 27 wickets at 29.00, and 21 catches. The Australian journalist ‘Dick’ Whittington described Reid as “the greatest batsman in world today”.

Final days

Despite the fact that Reid was 35 now, his form did not fade. Playing for Wellington against Northern Districts, he clobbered the bowlers on his way career-best 296 — scored in only 220 minutes with 35 fours and 15 sixes. He held the record for most sixes in a First-Class innings for 33 years till Andrew Symonds hit 16 sixes against Glamorgan.

In the third Test of the home series against England (in which they whitewashed New Zealand) at Christchurch, Reid followed his 74 with an astonishing innings: he scored exactly 100 out of a team score of 159. This remains the lowest all-out Test total to contain a hundred. With 62.89% of the runs scored in the innings, Reid came closer than anyone before him to Charles Bannerman’s 67.34 per cent.

When South Africa came on a return tour, they managed to skittle out New Zealand for 149 at Dunedin. Reid, in return, picked up 6 for 60 — his only five-for in Test cricket — and restricted South Africa to 223, drawing the Test, and eventually the series.

He also did played quite competently in the twin tours of India and Pakistan. The Calcutta Test saw a furious onslaught by Reid — one of the most famous ones the historic ground has witnessed. In Reid’s own words: “Desai once tried to knock my head off. He was a medium-pacer, a little wee fellow. Wrong guy. Four sixes in 10 balls before lunch.”

He retired after the England tour of 1965 — where New Zealand were whitewashed again. Remaining true to his style, Reid scored a 54 with 9 fours and a six in his final Test at The Oval. His role as a mentor turned out to be crucial. As Mehaffey later acknowledged: “On his last expedition to England he helped nurture a new generation, including Congdon and the rangy left-arm quick Richard Collinge, who were to play significant roles 13 years later in that long-awaited maiden win over the mother country.”

His final hurrah came later that season, though, when he was appointed the captain of a star-studded World XI (consisting of legends like Sobers — the vice-captain, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs, Hanif Mohammad, and Colin Bland) against England at Scarborough. It was a significant moment of glory for New Zealand cricket.

J. R. Reid Gate, at Basin Reserve. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons.
J. R. Reid Gate, at Basin Reserve. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

Later days

Even after his retirement, Reid kept his reputation as an all-rounder going. He played in what is believed as the first cricket match at the South Pole, where he hit a six where the silver, reflecting ball ‘buried itself deep in the snow at mid-off’, bringing the match to a premature end.

Reid, who had already served as a selector of New Zealand while being captain, was appointed ICC match referee in 1993. He had officiated in 50 Tests and 98 ODIs. On retirement, he was appointed the President of New Zealand cricket in 2003 — possibly the only possible role left in the career of an all-rounder.

Reid was also a great ambassador for his country. Whittington wrote: “There is nothing petty or ignoble about John Reid, nothing bitter, disappointed, resentful in his system. To me, Reid shines from the ruck of many others who have played big cricket since the Hitler war, in much the same manner that Sir Roy Welensky, and yes Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, because of his courage, stands out from the other so-called statesmen of modern Africa.” It was only fitting that they would name a gate at Basin Reserve after him.

The unassuming hero was also extremely genial towards children. On one occasion, a 14-year old boy had approached Reid in his hometown of Oamuru with a piece of paper containing his list for the ideal New Zealand team. Reid accepted the paper, had a curt, serious discussion with the boy, and assured that the list would be considered by the Selection Committee.

Seldom has the sport known a greater all-round champion.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)