Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
8 January 2019
By Keith Quinn (from his book Quinn's Quips) Early in my broadcasting career by 1969 I was deemed sound enough by the bosses of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation to be the regular studio host of the Sports Roundup radio show. It was quite simple broadcasting work and therefore very good for a young bloke to be involved with. But one day I think I played a major role in New Zealand winning a cricket test match! Read on...
Basically for that job I would arrive at one of the studios at Broadcasting House in downtown Wellington and open up the show. The 'show' actually was pretty uncomplicated action for me. After going on the air I would read a few news, scores and stories from around the place. Then I would 'cross over' to a major sports event which we were featuring that day and which had commentary running ball-by-ball for hours. While that happened I waited in the studio, monitoring the broadcast in case it broke down. At any breaks in play, like lunch breaks, or rain, or change of innings etc, I filled in by reading more sports news and adding additional news interviews and local updates.
On this particular day in early March 1969 (but 50 years from 2019) the game I was monitoring was a West Indies v New Zealand cricket test in Wellington. The weather was fine, the game was meandering along without need for my interruption, so I arrived at the studio; I supposed I was in for an easy day.
For me at that time I felt that my job was akin to being near the very peak of what was possible in the life of a sports broadcaster. I had made the odd appearance on TV reading the night-time sports news and my rugby reports from the Ranfurly Shield season in Napier were very exciting to do.
So when an assistant editor from the Radio Newsroom upstairs entered the studio holding a telegram (yes, a telegram!) and asked me what to do with it I looked at it and blinked.
It was addressed to "The Manager, West Indies Cricket team, c/- Broadcasting House, Wellington New Zealand" - and its content clearly and simply said 'Here is the West Indies Cricket team to tour to England at the conclusion of their tour of New Zealand.'
So I thought; 'wow! As I am in Broadcasting House this telegram must be directed at whoever the studio host for that day is. So I thought 'I'll be the one who reads out this significant sports team in the next break in play!'
I never hesitated to think maybe the current West Indies team members, battling away against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve, might not have yet heard for themselves who of the current team in Wellington were to be included for the England tour - and who were not included. The tour was to follow in only a few weeks time.
'Surely they would have received their own telegram,' I thought.
Accordingly on the fifth and final day of the test match, when the tea break came at the Basin Reserve and both teams had headed for their dressing rooms the radio commentary (no live TV sets in those days) was audible in the rooms for all the players to hear as they sat down for their 20 minute rest.
In my mind’s eye I now see someone in the West Indies room. on hearing a callow youth (that's me!) start to read from the telegram. The whole room would have shushed down as the implications of what was being said were taken in by the team.
The West Indies had had a tough time in Australia and accordingly, listening back home the WI selectors were not impressed. Changes were seen as being needed from the Australian to the English conditions. So right there on the radio were the changes .the home selectors were making (five out of 16 of the Australian tourists were dropped);
They were read out very publicly by an ego-driven youth who was busting to make a name for himself; rather than checking to see if it was appropriate for him to do so.
Of course after tea apparently on the field at the Basin Reserve all hell broke loose. When the West Indies went back into the fray the most angry ones came from among their pace bowling attack, five had been callously and cold-heartedly and publicly dismissed. Accordingly the bowlers ignored their previous tactics and just charged in, wildly flinging ball after ball loosely at the New Zealand batsmen. The tenor of the game quickly changed totally.
New Zealand had been set 166 to win and at one point were down to 39-3; so a tough last session lay ahead. But with Charlie Griffith and Richard Edwards, two of their speed bowlers both in a rage at being dropped - along with the injured great Wesley Hall New Zealand cruised on to a six-wicket win.
The clipping I kept for my files is not of a glaring next day one; I don't think the reporters at the ground were aware of the 'background drama.' Rather the clipping I have kept it is a 'reflective' interview the captain Garfield Sobers gave to Gabriel David of The Evening Post in which Sobers spoke of being '"bitterly disappointed" with the West Indies selectors and their method of choosing and announcing the side (for the England tour.)
When Sobers added 'the team was subsequently announced on Monday afternoon, with the players hearing the side during the tea break in the second test, 'and the entire pace attack having been dropped' he said he had 'threatened to quit' as West Indies captain.
I (the secret announcer)was quietly thrilled.
So you be the judge; had I had played my part for my country? Maybe I did = or maybe I didn't.
(As I have often said 'it is my story and I'm sticking to it!')
And the Richie McCaw led, and Graham Henry coached, 2011 All Blacks begin their campaign by beating Tonga 41-10 on Eden Park
It was with great sadness but with a sense of inevitability that the famous Athletic Park ground in Wellington, New Zealand was pulled down in 2000. For over 100 years it had been known as the ‘Home of Rugby in New Zealand’.
Situated in the base of a high-sided valley running down to Cook Strait, Athletic Park was always in an exposed position, and was battered many times over the years by ferocious Wellington winds. The salty spray contributed to decay in the metallic stability of the double-tiered Millard Stand and after much local angst a decision was made to abandon the site for rugby and move to a new stadium in the city area of Wellington.
While there were many famous days on the superb playing surface, for both Wellington and All Black rugby, it is for its most infamous bad weather days that many remember Athletic Park most fondly.
The worst came in 1961 when the Wellington Rugby Union’s new pride and joy – the Millard Stand – was being ofﬁcially opened on the day of the France v New Zealand match. The southerly storm that weekend brought in winds gusting up to 80 mph (140 km/h) – one of the worst days in Wellington’s history. A large luxury liner, the Canberra, was so buffeted in Cook Strait that the ship could not enter the harbour, just a few miles away. Yet in this tempest a test match was played!
New Zealand won 5–3, with Don Clarke, the All Black fullback, kicking a sideline conversion that travelled across the wind in a crazy curving arc.
Athletic Park has also had its moments in the mud, no more so than in 1977 when the British Lions played the New Zealand Juniors. Not a single player from either side could be recognised at the end of the game.
But Athletic Park could be as effective a playing location as anywhere in the world and on its many top days, presented a ﬂat true ground and seating for the fans that was always close to the action. The record attendance was the 57,000 who crammed in to watch the second test between New Zealand and the British Isles in 1959.
New Zealand played its ﬁrst home test match at Athletic Park, against Great Britain in 1904. In the 1980s the All Blacks scored some handsome wins on the ground, including 42–15 v England in 1985, 46–15 v Argentina in the World Cup in 1987, and 49–12 v Argentina in 1989. In 1992 New Zealand beat a strong World XV 54–26 and in 1997 they posted the highest test score on the ground, beating Argentina by 93-8.
In its last years it became obvious that the facilities which are needed to service a modern rugby match were not all present at Athletic Park. It had very poor players’ changing rooms; there was one shabby function room and no permanent corporate boxes. And though there were some fierce debates about the ground’s future, the advantages of a new stadium in the city were overwhelming. The last test match was played on June 1999. Fittingly the All Blacks gave the old ground a great send off, beating France 54-7.
How many test matches did Alan Whetton play for the All Blacks? 34,35 or 36?