Folkloric Heroes: NZ Cricket’s All-Time Battlers XI

Kane Williamson. Martin Crowe. Richard Hadlee. Ross Taylor. These are but a few of the names that have been carved into national cricket history as heroes for the right reasons. Unfortunately, in a nation of roughly 4.5 million people, and with a professional cricket population of about 100, you’re bound to have some real battlers throughout your brief history. By god have we had our fair share, and this is truly exemplified by the fact that I find it significantly more difficult to put together this XI than I would an all-time XI (Turner, Sutcliffe, Williamson, Crowe, Taylor, McCullum, Cairns, Hadlee, Vettori, Bond, Boult for anyone wondering). 

To provide some clarification for readers, a ‘battler’ is a well-established Kiwi and Aussie slang term for that classic mate we all have who means well but just always manages to fuck things up and look like a real muppet. If you can’t figure out who it is among your friends, then, bad news, it’s you. 

Without further ado, I present to you our folklore heroes. To qualify, they must have played at least one test for NZ (quite a few didn’t get a further roll of the arm).

1. Matthew Bell (Domestic Average: 35.93, International: 24.30)

Just like your standard Bell innings, I’ll keep this short and ugly. He started in 1994 the way he meant to continue – dismissed hitting his own wicket, and went on in that fashion for three seasons before making his first century. He stayed true to form by missing his intended test debut in India 1998 (says a lot that he was in the team this soon, we’ve had some pretty shit openers) with a classic dose of Delhi belly - such a battler thing to have happen. Long story short, he was in and out of the team for the next couple of the years before returning briefly in 2007 and being terrible again. 

2. Michael Papps (38.01, 16.40)

No matter how many runs he scores, Papps is destined to be remembered for being the dude who Brett ‘Binga’ Lee clocked on the scone twice in two overs. After a battling 86 in his debut test innings against South Africa, Papps broke his finger, the first in a long line of injuries. The wee fella got another chance against South Africa in 2006, and just like a true battler threw it away to keep bullying domestic attacks, becoming the first ever man to 10,000 Plunket Shield runs this season.

3. Craig Cumming (38.25, 25.94 somehow)

Look, I know he’s an opener, but quite frankly this whole team could be made up of them. Just like Bell, Cumming took a while to see the black cap. Starting his career in 1995, he didn’t don the fern until 2004 while on tour in Australia. Cumming gave a glimpse of what was to come with his struggle to 74 on debut, and it only got worse from there. Years on, he finally got another chance against South Africa, and copped a shot to the jaw from South African speedster Dale Steyn. Just a shame it didn’t stop him commentating.

4. Peter Fulton (39.88, 25.44)

Look, at this point I’m really not sure I need to say much about ‘two-metre Peter.’ We can probably just sit back and laugh. Sporadically in-and-out of the test team between 2004 and 2010, Fulton never did much to convince anyone he wasn’t shit until 2013, when he scored a ton up in both innings at Eden Park. The encore from Fulton was to pass 50 thrice in his remaining 18 innings, against the might of the West Indies and Bangladesh, before the joke wore thin and even the selectors stopped laughing for long enough to exclude him from the squad. 

5. Blair Pocock (29.36, 22.93)

Again, I know he’s another opener, but delivering one of the greatest sledges of all-time is more than enough to cement his spot at five here. After making his debut against Australia’s lethal attack of McDermott, McGrath, and Warne in 1993 and etching out a genuinely battling combo of 34 and 28, the selectors stayed true to their clear mantra and persisted. The highlight of his career was sledging Aussie great Mark Waugh; looking completely at sea at the crease, Waugh pointed at Pocock and said “Oh yeah, I remember you. You toured Australia a couple of years ago. You were shit then too”. Blair wasn’t having a bar of this, dispatching the next ball to the boundary before turning to Waugh to saw, “oh yeah, I remember you too, you had that fucking ugly old girlfriend…and then you went and married her you dumb cunt.”

6. Kruger Van Wyk (39.61, 21.31)

One of the many to recently come over from South Africa chasing international cricket, Kruger won’t be remembered in the same light as the likes of Elliott, Wagner and Watling. Once Brendon McCullum decided he couldn’t be bothered to play anymore, the Black Caps went through a long line of wicket keepers, and this man has the honourable title of probably being the worst of a terrible bunch. With the look of a man who doesn’t have the power to hit a six, Van Wyk thrived on tip-and-run cricket throughout his domestic career, and now plays as a specialist captain for Central Districts. 

7. Jimmy Neesham (1000 social media posts, nowhere near as many runs)

Stats are irrelevant; I just don’t like you James.

8. Brooke Walker (Domestic Bowling Average: 32.46, International: 79.80)

One-half of this team’s unbelievably dangerous spin duo, Walker was your classic got-to-have-a-leggie in the team beneficiary. Unfortunately, Brooke found himself stuck behind the country’s greatest spinner of all-time, Daniel Vettori, and only got a look-in when Dan-the-man was filming new Specsavers commercials or the sub-continental pitches called for backup. No pressure, Ish Sodhi, but this man is probably the country’s greatest ever leg-spinner…

9. Mark Craig (43.15, 46.52 – honestly, hard to see why he was selected)

We all knew the ‘pie man’ was going to show up here, unlike on the international scene. After taking 8-188 on test debut in Jamaica, when Patel and Vettori were unavailable, he became known as arguably the worst spinner to ever tour Australia, taking 8-513 in 71 overs. From there he lost his spot to Mitchell Santner, and has had a back injury ever since. Definitely not from carrying the Black Caps. 

10. Brent Arnel (27.26, 62.88)

Once kicked out of junior cricket at the age of ten for bowling too fast, there was no threat of this happening by the time Arnel made it on to the international scene. In fact, the opposition batsmen would have shed a tear were he kicked out. To be fair to Brent, a double stress fracture in his back removing him from the bowling crease for three years played a major part in this. His 120km/h skidders will live long in the memory of the keen cricket fan.

11. Andy McKay (120, 31.88)

‘Beaver’ is definitely the worst of the two men to carry this nickname in national sporting circles; a distant second at that. Similarly to Walker, McKay was your classic ‘he can bowl fast so let’s chuck him in’ selection for the Black Caps, being able to consistently bowl at 140 clicks. The man only played the one test, but a combination of him and Arnel was simply too deadly to ignore. Like the ten before him, McKay presented a great hope for NZ (with his express pace), but like all battlers, never kicked on. 

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2017.
Posted 11:34am Sunday 30th April 2017 by Charlie Hantler.