By Jamie Bell
As Tom Latham and Jeet Raval steadily grew their partnership in the opening BLACKCAPS v Bangladesh Test, cricket social media turned to #statchat to chart the milestones as they went.
At 105 they had the BLACKCAPS’ best first wicket partnership against Bangladesh. To 155, 1000 runs in partnerships together. Past 181; the BLACKCAPS’ highest opening stand at Hamilton. 200; just the fourth BLACKCAPS’ first wicket pair to register a double hundred partnership.
When the scoreboard read 232-0, Latham and Raval had moved in to third spot on the BLACKCAPS’ opening partnership list. Ahead of them at the top was Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis’ 387, scored in the West Indies in 1972 in a Test best forgotten (Wisden remarked, “It would be hard to imagine a duller game of cricket than this”). Before that, their next target was arguably New Zealand’s greatest Test partnership: Stewie Dempster and Jackie Mills’ 276 v England at the Basin Reserve in 1930.
The scorebook shows that Latham and Raval’s stand ended at 254, and many cricket fans with a sense of the game’s history were happy to see that 89-year-old partnership retain its place as the highest opening partnership in a Test on our shores.
The precursor to Dempster and Mills’ stand was New Zealand’s first Test, a mismatch at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park. The local press announced “dull” weather for the opening day of the historic match and, with some 2000 people in attendance, expectations were high. After winning the toss and opting to bat first, New Zealand went to lunch seven down and with a Maurice Allom hat-trick marked against them. The mood matched the weather.
Roger Blunt dug in with a stubborn 45* but the home side were bundled out for 112. England were three down when they took the lead and finished the first day with six wickets in hand and a 35-run lead. The Test then took a two-day break as rain, and then Sunday, intervened. When they returned, New Zealand raced through the English tail, bowling them out for 181.
The home side’s second innings was only marginally better than the first, 131 all out leaving England 63 for victory. They duly scored the required runs, losing two wickets, ending the “sorry spectacle” for New Zealand.
At the aftermatch function, Dan Reese remarked that England had “a little too much weight for us”, but New Zealand had a little weight in reserve for the second Test in Wellington.
At Christchurch, Stewie Dempster had been the only New Zealander to reach double figures in each innings. At the other end, his opening partner, Herb Foley, could only manage a weak poker hand: a pair of 2s.
Foley, however, wasn’t the first choice opening bat for these Tests. That honour sat with Auckland’s Jackie Mills. The left-handed Mills was from cricketing stock – his father and three uncles were all cricketers of note – and he’d impressed in England in 1927, scoring four centuries. Illness ruled him out of the opener, but he was in for Wellington.
So, on Friday 24th January 1930 – an “almost perfect” day, after Tom Lowry had won another toss and again opted to bat, Dempster and Mills left the changing rooms in the Basin’s Museum Stand and made their way down the slope and on to the ground.
The following day, the Auckland Star would print a picture of the pair alongside the caption, “New Zealand Cricket Name Redeemed”.
Dempster bore the brunt of an early onslaught from Stan Nichols, the bowler opening the day with an array of shorter balls that peppered the batsmen’s hands, knocking the bat from them at one point. One bouncer cannoned off Dempster’s head, racing to the boundary. In the fight, the Wellingtonian’s innings was characterised by quick singles, while Mills used the pull shot that become a common sight in his innings for Auckland. The steady opening morning saw both men put their contrasting styles to good use as they went to lunch each having just passed 50.
The pair matched each other through the second session: the team’s 200 closely followed by Dempster’s century, in turn followed by Mills’ own milestone. The applause for Dempster’s hundred was notable, as the home crowd backed their man. It’s no real surprise, however, that Auckland newspapers reported the cheers for Mills’ century as being even louder.
The partnership ended with the score at 276 as Frank Woolley bowled Mills for 117 – the first century by a New Zealander on debut.
When we think of the great BLACKCAPS’ Test partnerships, it is easy to recall those we were there to see, those that were big, those that showed our fight; Crowe and Jones, McCullum and Watling, Astle and Morrison, you’ll have your own to add to the list.
The Dempster and Mills stand had all that: just our second Test, the disappointment of Christchurch, Mills on debut, Dempster on his home ground, fierce opening bowling, a record partnership (one that is still our best for any wicket against England). The only thing lacking is that we weren’t there to see it.
With the BLACKCAPS back at the Basin, and today’s opening pair in form, we might find ourselves counting down the milestones again. But, whatever they make, it won’t compare to what occurred on January 24th 1930, when Stewie and Jackie made history.
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