Ken Rutherford © Getty Images
Ken Rutherford © Getty Images

Ken Rutherford was born October 26, 1965. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an ordinary batsman who somehow went on to play over 50 Tests and even led the country.

The Kiwi captain has such a long nose,
It protrudes over his down-to-earth toes.
When he plays forward
He makes it look awkward
The result? Of course, the scoreboard, it shows.

— Anonymous

Had the length of the nose been the parameter to gauge a batsman’s greatness, Kenneth Robert Rutherford would have been worshipped to the same extent as Don Bradman in the cricket fraternity. The very fact that the calibre of batsmen is judged by mundane attributes like batting averages has sent poor Rutherford sliding to the bottom of the pile of specialist batsmen.

Rutherford had possibly the longest nose among Test cricketers — long enough for someone like Sunil Gavaskar or Sachin Tendulkar to stand under during a downpour. He was the man who had induced the banner RUTHERFORD NOSE WHAT TO DO on a cricket field. Had he been slightly more famous it would have gone down as the most famous nose in the history of mankind after Cleopatra’s.

There is a school of thought that believes in the fact that Rutherford had the ability to take any bowling apart on his day. Maybe he could, but there have been few witnesses. His was not a case of a great chance gone wasted; it was more of an ordinary batsman playing more Tests than he had ever deserved — and even leading his country in Tests.

From 56 Tests, Rutherford had scored 2,465 runs at 27.08 with 3 hundreds. Of all specialist batsmen with over 2,000 runs, his average is better than only Mohammad Ashraful and Darren Ganga. It is not really clear why he went on to play as many Tests — or the fact that he led his country in 18 of them. The selectors had probably placed their faith in the wrong person.

He had scored 16 ducks in his Test career. Of specialist batsmen only Marvan Atapattu, Steve Waugh, Michael Atherton, Brian Lara, and Ricky Ponting have scored more — and all of them have scored over 5,000 Test runs.

It was the West Indian fast bowlers, however, who had the better of Rutherford during the 8 Tests he played against them. Batting 15 times, he managed an aggregate of 95 runs at an average of 6.78, getting into double-figures only 4 times. Malcolm Marshall, especially, had managed to dismiss him 7 out of 12 times.

Even in the shorter version, Rutherford had scored 3,143 runs from 121 matches at 29.65 with 2 hundreds. Even his strike-rate was an appalling 64.00. His First-Class numbers — 13,974 runs at 39.92 with 2 hundreds from 220 matches is decent but not spectacular.

Early days

Born in Dunedin, Ian Alexander (8 years senior) and Ken Rutherford both made it to First-Class cricket at the respective ages of 17. Ian was a right-hand batsman who played 79 First-Class matches for Otago, Central Districts, and Worcestershire and had an overlap with his brother for two seasons.

Ken made his First-Class debut against Auckland at Dunedin in 1982-83, scoring 17 and 13 and picking up a wicket with his military medium-paced bowling. When England toured New Zealand next season Rutherford scored 47 and 33 against them for Otago at Dunedin. The first hundred came next season against Auckland at their den: after the hosts scored 305, Rutherford opened the batting and carved out a 282-ball 130 with 14 boundaries.

A couple of weeks later, he carried his bat against the same opposition (this time at home) with 89 and followed it with 61 in the second innings. He finished the season with 442 runs at 44.20 — decent but not great numbers. Then, somewhat inexplicably, he was asked to tour West Indies: in other words, he was thrown to the lions.

Test debut

Rutherford dug his own grave by scoring 109 not out in the tour match against West Indies Under-23s (the attack consisted of Courtney Walsh, Tony Gray, Roger Harper and Carl Hooper) at Basseterre. As a result he was asked to make his Test debut in the first Test at Queen’s Park Oval. A nightmare series followed.

Richard Hadlee provided with two early jolts after Viv Richards won the toss and elected to bat. Rutherford walked out with John Wright after West Indies had recovered to 307. He scored an 8-ball duck before Marshall snapped him up. He registered a pair on debut, when he was run out without facing a ball in the second innings. The other batsmen, however, saved the Test.

“That first Test innings I survived for 20 minutes. It seemed a lifetime. I was out off a bat-pad from the bowling of [Malcolm] Marshall. I didn’t score a run,” were poor Rutherford’s later recollections about the first innings.

At Bourda, West Indies amassed 511 for 6; Rutherford scored his first Test runs when he edged Joel Garner through the slips. Those were the only runs he scored that innings before Garner had him caught-behind. Martin Crowe’s epic 188, however, saved the Test for New Zealand.

The teams then moved to Kensington Oval. Geoff Howarth himself opened the batting now; however, Marshall removed Wright with a single run on the board, and had Rutherford caught by Richards off the very next ball. New Zealand were bowled out for 94 and conceded a 242-run lead.

Howarth saw off the new ball (he batted for 41 minutes) before falling to Marshall in the second innings. This time Rutherford scored again: he fell for a 4-ball 2 before holing to Michael Holding off Marshall. Wright and Jeremy Coney saved the innings-defeat but only marginally. West Indies won by 10 wickets.

Rutherford was surprisingly retained for the fourth Test at Sabina Park as well. Possibly Howarth had banked on the law of averages. Rutherford, demoted at No. 6, came out to bat when Garner broke Coney’s forearm. Expecting a bouncer Rutherford ducked first ball — and the ball hit his helmet.

He still hung around for 21 balls, scoring a solitary run before Marshall ended his misery by having him caught-behind. He had his best outing in the second innings where he scored a 33-ball 5 (he even hit a boundary) before he was leg-before off — yes, you’ve guessed it right — Marshall. “The scars from that tour stayed with me for a very long time,” wrote Rutherford much later.

Rutherford had scored 12 runs in the entire series; he had faced 72 balls in 7 innings and had hung around for 135 minutes. He averaged 1.71 in the series. The magical world of cricket numbers came a full circle when his son Hamish Duncan Rutherford scored exactly 171 in his debut innings.

Comeback (of sorts)

Rutherford was dropped for the Trans-Tasman Trophy that New Zealand summer but used the domestic season to hone his batting abilities. He scored 126 and 67 against Central Districts at Palmerston North, and a week later he followed it with 105 and 104 not out against Northern Districts at Alexandra. By now he had formed a formidable opening partnership with Stu McCullum (father of Brendon and Nathan) at the top of the Otago line-up.

He earned a recall for the Trans-Tasman series at home and surprised everyone by scoring a 131-ball 65 against Australia. He hit 11 boundaries and added a 109-run partnership with Coney. He was back to his own self in the next Test at Christchurch when Dave Gilbert trapped him leg-before for a 30-ball duck. He did not get a chance to bat in the second innings.

With the series levelled 0-0, the teams moved to Eden Park for the final clash. After Australia scored 314, Wright and Bruce Edgar added 73 runs in 109 minutes before Rutherford walked out to bat at No 3 in the 33rd over. He was bowled for a duck in the same over by Greg Matthews.

Australia could not capitalise on a 56-run lead; they folded for 103 despite David Boon carrying his bat. New Zealand needed to score 160 with all the time in the world but lost Edgar early with 6 on the board. Rutherford walked out to join Wright. The pair returned at stumps with 85 on the board. Rutherford had managed to score 22; he had batted so slowly that Wright had scored more than double and had scored 45 by stumps.

The next day saw more attrition. Wright was eventually snared by Matthews after he cantered to a 210-ball 59: Rutherford was not to yield to such temptations. Martin Crowe walked out after the 363-ball partnership of 100 and soon changed the complexion of the match, scoring 23 with 5 boundaries. Rutherford remained unvanquished: his 50 had been worth 229 balls and 291 minutes, and New Zealand had claimed the rubber. For the first time in his career Rutherford had reached an average of 10.

Rutherford made it to the England tour thereafter and started with 91 not out against Oxford and Cambridge Universities at Fenner’s Ground. He played the first Test at Lord’s and lasted 9 balls before Graham Dilley removed him for another duck. It was his sixth duck in his 12th innings.

An unbeaten 24 in the second innings was not enough to earn him a spot for the next Test at Trent Bridge. New Zealand strengthened their bowling by replacing him with Derek Stirling, and 10 wickets by Hadlee and an unexpected 110 from Bracewell helped New Zealand to victory. Rutherford was not recalled, and New Zealand clinched the series with a draw at The Oval.

A very non-Rutherford performance

Despite his dismal performance in the Tests Rutherford scored 104 against Test and County Cricket Board XI at Edgbaston but eventually saved his best for the last match against Brian Close’s XI at Scarborough.

To be honest the hosts were a collection of cricketers well past their prime (Close himself played at the age of 55). There were ageing players like Geoff Boycott, Sadiq Mohammad, Chris Old, Bob Taylor, Collis King, Dilip Doshi, and stars like Miandad and Franklyn Stephenson. The hosts were bowled out for 257 towards the end of Day One. The New Zealanders returned at ten without loss and lost Edgar early next morning with 15 on the board. Rutherford walked out.

Rutherford had spent the night celebrating Willie Watson’s 21st birthday. He was still a bit groggy when he walked out and before anyone could realise what was going on he had reached his hundred off the last ball before lunch. A thunderous hook from Stephenson took him from 97 to 101. It had taken him 71 balls and he had not even played the whole session.

Rutherford slept through lunch and sprung into mindless hitting after the interval. He later wrote in his autobiography A Hell of a Way to Make Living: “It’s difficult to recall a lot of the detail from the innings. Once I got to around 150 I set my sights on beating my brother Ian’s highest first class score of 222. Once I achieved that I was so far into Wonderland and I just went for everything.”

Trevor Franklin had fallen for 45 and after the quick wickets of Martin Crowe and Jeremy Coney New Zealand had been reduced to 113 for 4. It was Evan Gray who rose to the occasion, helping Rutherford add 319 runs in 291 balls from only 185 minutes. He himself fell for 88.

Rutherford carried on like a dream; it was difficult to believe that his previous highest First-Class score was a mere 130. “The amazing thing about the innings is that it was chanceless. You’d think there would have been the odd miscue but everything seemed to find the middle of the bat and a gap in the field,” he later wrote.

Yet again he reached a landmark off the last ball before a break when he hit Doshi for four to end the second session. He had reached — no, not 200 — but his triple-hundred. Rutherford had managed to score 199 between lunch and tea. He returned to the dressing-room to find Wright walking across the room uttering the words “do you believe that” in a loop.

As the dressing-room broke out in a tumultuous applause Coney woke up from his slumber. He had slept through the session, and the last update he had of the match was when he had seen Rutherford reach 101 at lunch. The following conversation followed:

Coney: Gee, Ruds, you must be on 180-odd.
Rutherford: No, Jerry, I’m actually on 300.

Of course, Coney did not believe Rutherford. Rutherford mentioned later that Coney “laughed as if waiting for the punch line of a joke.” It was only when Wright showed him the scorecard that he believed it.

Rutherford’s triple-hundred had taken him 234 balls and 219 minutes. He was eventually caught-behind off Close for a 245-ball 317 with 45 fours and 8 sixes. It remains the highest score by any New Zealand batsman overseas.

Form ‘regained’

West Indies toured New Zealand next season and Rutherford found himself against his old nemesis, Marshall. He survived Marshall twice but could not escape Garner, falling to him for 6 in each innings in the first Test at Wellington. The second Test at Eden Park saw him falling for 11 and 5, getting out twice to Marshall.

The 11 remained Rutherford’s career-best score against West Indies. In the first innings, Marshall had bowled Rutherford so comprehensively that the off-stump was not only uprooted but it got re-planted in the ground just before Jeff Dujon as well.

West Indies won the Test and Rutherford was predictably dropped for the last Test at Christchurch. Once again Hadlee came into action, and once again New Zealand won a Test immediately after Rutherford was dropped. The horror run continued when he was dismissed for 11 in his only outing in the series against Sri Lanka at Colombo.

New Zealand were without Martin Crowe and Hadlee in the Reliance World Cup later that year, and as predicted, fared poorly; they won only two matches — both against Zimbabwe — and none of them comfortably. In the last league match, Rutherford was the first wicket in Chetan Sharma’s hat-trick — the first in World Cups and the first ever in international cricket by an Indian.

The horror run continued. Rutherford scored a duck (again) and 2 against Australia at The Gabba. Australia won by 9 wickets and Rutherford was dropped for the rest of the series. He was also not picked for the first home Test against England at Christchurch and when brought back at Eden Park for the injured Andrew Jones he surprised everyone by scoring 29, but fell for 2 in the second innings.

At this stage of his career Rutherford had scored 224 runs from 13 Tests at 11.20. Though he was only 23, it was anybody’s guess that time was running out for him.

The hundred

Wright won the toss in the third Test at Wellington. New Zealand became 132 for 3 when Mark Greatbatch joined Martin Crowe, and the pair added 155 for the fourth wicket after Graham Dilley, England’s best bowler of the series, had broken down. Rutherford walked out to join Crowe. A déjà vu almost happened when he was dropped on 1.

Crowe, diligent in approach, was eventually trapped leg-before by the medium-pace of Mike Gatting. Bracewell was dropped twice as well, and the pair carried on. What followed afterwards was sheer delight. The selectors were finally paid for their perseverance with Rutherford.

Wisden wrote that Rutherford played “a sumptuous array of off-side strokes”. He shed off all inhibitions and scored 66 in the final session of Day Two; he reached his maiden Test hundred with a deft late-cut, and eventually remained unbeaten for a 181-ball 107. Most of the match was washed away, but Rutherford, despite scoring less than Crowe in the Test, was named Man of the Match.

Later that year in India, however, Rutherford was back to his ‘normal self’, scoring 14, 0, 6, and 17. He was dropped for the last Test at Hyderabad. He was dropped for the Pakistan and Australia series that followed but came back against India, scoring 69 at Christchurch. Once again, he failed at Eden Park with 20 and 8.

Rutherford was selected for the first One-Day International (ODI) in the Rothmans Cup Triangular Series at Dunedin. Coming out at 66 for 3 he added 152 with a cautious Martin Crowe and then finished in a flurry of boundaries to finish on a 75-ball 78 not out. A controversy arose towards the end of the innings when Manoj Prabhakar bowled a beamer to Rutherford.

The World Cup

After being in and out of the team, Rutherford found some form in the home ODI series against England, scoring fifties at Christchurch and Dunedin. He barely made it to the World Cup squad as one of the more experienced players — despite being only 26.

Rutherford gave a perfect start to New Zealand’s World Cup campaign at Eden Park. He came out to join Martin Crowe at 53 for 3 and helped Crowe put up 118. He scored a 71-ball 57; New Zealand scored 248 for 6 before the bowlers restricted Australia to 211. It was New Zealand’s first upset in what had started as a dream campaign.

Rutherford’s form continued in the next match against Sri Lanka at Hamilton: he smashed a 71-ball 65 not out as New Zealand won by 6 wickets. He was named the Man of the Match. Thereafter he was seldom required as New Zealand steamrolled almost every opposition before coming to a halt against Pakistan in two successive outings.

He found himself joining Crowe at 87 for 3; once again the two led the resurrection; this time Rutherford scored a 68-ball 50 as New Zealand reached 262 for 7. However, some incredible batting from Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq and a late-order cameo from Moin Khan helped Pakistan clinch the match.

The peak and the leadership

After failing in the first Test at Bulawayo, Rutherford eventually came good in the second Test of his next series at Harare. He scored a 132-ball 74 and a 159-ball 89 and added 168 with Martin Crowe and 130 with Dipak Patel — paving the stones for Zimbabwe’s first Test defeat.

The fifties took his average beyond the 20-mark for the first time — in his 32nd Test. Sandwiched between the first and the third days was an ODI — and Rutherford scored 37 there as well, adding 130 with Crowe.

The big innings, of course, came in the next Test at Moratuwa. Sri Lanka dominated the drawn Test, but Rutherford played a crucial role, scoring 105 not out and a blazing 62-ball 53 (with 9 fours and 2 sixes). Just when it seemed that he would get back to form he scored another duck in his next innings at Colombo SSC.

With Crowe out with a finger injury and Wright dropped, Rutherford was asked to lead New Zealand in the one-off Test against Pakistan at Hamilton. Things started like a dream for Rutherford when Danny Morrison and Murphy Su’a reduced Pakistan to 12 for 3 before Miandad took them to 216.

Greatbatch then played one of the best innings of his career, scoring 133 and taking New Zealand to 254. Once again Morrison and Su’a came into action, and Pakistan were in tatters at 39 for 5 — just about enough to make the hosts bat again. It was then that Inzamam hit one hard at short mid-wicket; Rutherford dived and took the catch, but as his hand hit the ground the ball bounced out.

Thus reprieved, Inzamam went on to score 75; chasing 127 New Zealand were bowled out for 93 by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. The fact that he had demoted himself to No. 7 in the second innings probably did not speak too highly of Rutherford’s willingness to lead from the front.

With Crowe back at the helm, Rutherford pulled off one of his best career performances at Christchurch. Australia had scored 485 before Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, and Shane Warne were let loose. New Zealand were bowled out for 185 but Rutherford stood firm, top-scoring with 57. It included what Wisden called “the shot of the series — an audacious back-foot cover drive off [Craig] McDermott that cleared the fence.”

He was not done. Following-on New Zealand were soon reduced to 110 for 7 when Rutherford launched another counterattack with only Patel and Su’a for company. He eventually fell for a dazzling 102 from 215 balls as New Zealand crashed to an innings defeat.

He batted well for the rest of the series and played a crucial role when New Zealand squared the series at Eden Park. After Morrison had skittled Australia for 139, Rutherford top-scored with 43 (before attempting an ugly hoick off Warne and getting stumped) as the hosts acquired an 85-run lead. They were eventually set a target of 201.

New Zealand were on track when Crowe fell; from 109 for 2 New Zealand were suddenly reduced to 134 for 5 and Warne had tasted blood. Rutherford decided to counterattack as Tony Blain held up the other end, helping the hosts inch towards victory.

Eventually Rutherford finished off things with an unbeaten 95-ball 53. He shared the Man of the Match award with Morrison. New Zealand did not lose another wicket. It was a crucial victory since it was New Zealand’s first against Australia in the post-Hadlee era — and would remain their last one against them for the next 18 years.

It also turned out to be Rutherford’s best season by far — one for which he was named New Zealand Cricket Almanac Player of the Year. A break-up of his career will reflect how significant the season was in his career:

Ken Rutherford’s Test career
M R Ave 100
1992-93 8 698 53.69 2
Other seasons 48 1,767 22.65 1
Career 56 2,465 27.08 3

Instated as captain

New Zealand managed to draw the first Test of the return series at WACA next season. However, Crowe was declared unfit for the second Test at Hobart and Rutherford led again. Australia scored 544 for 6 and bowled out New Zealand for 161 in each innings; in the second innings he played a lone hand, using his fit brilliantly against Warne and scoring a 97-ball 55.

Ken Rutherford (left) seen with Australia captain Allan Border (right) during New Zealand’s tour in 1993. Rutherford led New Zealand in 2 of the 3 Tests in the absence of Martin Crowe © Getty Images
Ken Rutherford (left) seen with Australia captain Allan Border (right) during New Zealand’s tour in 1993. Rutherford led New Zealand in 2 of the 3 Tests in the absence of Martin Crowe © Getty Images

The third Test at The Gabba also resulted in an innings-defeat: leading again, Rutherford scored 36 and then top-scored with 86, but New Zealand’s efforts were too feeble after Australia’s 607 for 6.

With Crowe ruled out for New Zealand’s home series against Pakistan, Rutherford was announced as captain. He failed with the bat but eventually won his first Test as captain as New Zealand chased down 324 after conceding a 124-run first-innings lead thanks to some excellent performances from Morrison, Bryan Young, and Shane Thomson.

Rutherford led New Zealand in England that summer and the tourists lost the series 0-1. Rutherford never got past 50, and scored 96 runs at 16.00. His trademark surprise innings on English soil came against Glamorgan at Swansea when he brought up his hundred in 71 balls leading a 306-run fourth innings chase. He was retired hurt for 115 but won The Walter Lawrence Trophy that season.

The abrupt end

Rutherford’s New Zealand had a brilliant start to their first tour of South Africa at New Wanderers. Their middle-order (including Rutherford, who scored 68 with 11 fours and 2 sixes) helped them reach 411; thereafter Simon Doull and Matthew Hart bowled South Africa out to give New Zealand a 137-run victory.

Rutherford had scored a golden duck in the second innings; he scored another 6-ball duck in the first innings of the next Test at Kingsmead. South Africa won the Test and the following one at Newlands, thereby claiming the series. It was their first series without Kepler Wessels since readmission.

In the Wills World Series that followed, Rutherford scored his top-score at international level. Coming out at 27 for 2 he added 180 with Adam Parore and was eventually run out for a 102-ball 108 at Baroda. However, the innings was drowned as India romped home by 7 wickets.

Towards the end of the year, New Zealand visited South Africa for the four-nation Mandela Trophy. They lost 5 of the 6 matches and were saved by torrential rain at Bloemfontein after Sri Lanka scored 288 for 4. Rutherford himself scored a 98-ball 102 not out against the same opposition at East London but New Zealand lost again.

The tournament started the slide for Rutherford. New Zealand managed to draw the first Test of the home series against West Indies at Christchurch but were trounced at Wellington as Walsh picked up 13 wickets after West Indies’ 660 for 5. New Zealand lost the one-off Test against South Africa as well.

The final nail in the coffin came at Napier. After being bowled out for 183, Sri Lanka struck back, reducing the hosts to 6 for 3. Stephen Fleming and Rutherford then added 47, but the Sri Lankan seamers eventually bowled out New Zealand for 109 — and then scored 352.

Chasing an improbable 427, New Zealand had reached 108 for 1 before they collapsed to 185 (Rutherford scored 20) with Chaminda Vaas (who became the first Sri Lankan to take a 10-for) and Muttiah Muralitharan picking up 5 wickets each. It was the Test that started off one of the greatest partnerships of world cricket.

The second Test at Dunedin ended in a draw. With his unorthodox batting, Murali hit a skier that Rutherford missed, splitting the webbing between two of his fingers. He did not take part in the Test anymore and never played a Test again.

Rutherford was not the only victim. Glenn Turner’s coaching tenure of the mid-1990s saw Greatbatch and Rutherford being axed and Crowe virtually forced to retire. Parore played as a specialist batsman and “Turner’s man” Lee Germon made his debut as captain. It marked the end of an era. The phase continued till Steve Rixon took over a few years later.

A home away from home

Dropped from the New Zealand side, Rutherford moved to South Africa and had a somewhat successful career there for Transvaal (later Gauteng). After three indifferent series with the bat, he eventually found form in the 1997-98 season, finishing with 532 runs at 48.36.

The next season saw him going a step better with 810 runs at 62.30 and 3 hundreds, finishing only next to Boeta Dippenaar. In 1999-2000, he scored 818 at 51.12 with 3 more hundreds. It was here that he played one of the finest innings of the season against KwaZulu-Natal at New Wanderers.

After KwaZulu-Natal had scored 264, Rutherford walked out at 69 for 1. His first fifty took 107 balls but the subsequent ones took 71 and 75. He was eventually left stranded on 195 as Gauteng took a 109-run lead and won by 9 wickets.

Gauteng won the SuperSport Series that season with Rutherford topping the batting charts. He finished 67 runs ahead of James Bryant’s 751. He scored 79 and 23 in the last match of the season against Border at New Wanderers that ensured Gauteng’s victory. It remained his last First-Class match at the age of 34. He was named South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year in 2000.

Post-retirement

Rutherford was appointed coach of Ireland as a replacement for Mike Hendrick. Before his autobiography A Hell of a Way to Make Living (1995) he also co-authored Ken Rutherford’s Book of Cricket (1992) with Mike Crean. He subsequently took up a job in the South African betting business, being quite vocal against ICC’s handling of the sports betting industry.

His son Hamish had started in an emphatic manner and is currently a regular opener for New Zealand. At the time of writing this article, Hamish’s First-Class average reads 39.70 to Ken’s 39.92.  The nose is nowhere close, though.

(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)