Cricket legend dies
April 23, 2001
New Zealand cricket lost a great friend with the death of the legendary Bert Sutcliffe on Friday at age 77 after a lengthy illness...
A product of the sport when it was indeed the gentleman’s game, Sutcliffe retained a modest disposition throughout his life, remained an avid supporter of the game and enjoyed nothing more than a musical session and a game of cards with his wife, Norma, and family.
On March 5 the Bucklands Beach resident paid a tribute to the late great Don Bradman who had written a foreward to his book, Between Overs, ghost written by Dick Brittenden in 1963.
“Bert Sutcliffe was one of the finest left-hand batsmen the game of cricket has produced and some claim he was New Zealand’s greatest cricketer,” wrote The Don.
“Unfortunately, we in Australia, were denied the opportunity of seeing very much of him, but in my own State of South Australia we at least had one glimpse which left a cherished memory.
“The New Zealand team was returning home after a tour of South Africa, and on the picturesque Adelaide Oval, Sutcliffe, partnered by Miller, put on a third wicket stand of 229, a record for a New Zealand touring team.
“Sutcliffe’s share was 149 and those fortunate enough to see the innings compared it with the batting of such all-time greats as Clem Hill and Frank Woolley.
“A score of 142 in Perth and one of 117 in Victoria completed a treble against the Australian states and left people of this country in no doubt as to Sutcliffe’s class.
“History books will not only testify to Bert Sutcliffe’s skill – they will also tell of his courage.
“There was the notable occasion in Johannesburg when, in the second Test match, Adcock hit Sutcliffe a sickening blow on the head. He was taken to hospital but returned, bandages and all, to defy the bowlers in an unbeaten 80 which included seven sixes.
“Those who have felt the impact of leather on their skills know what sort of courage that takes.”
Another happy to pay tribute is his former Parnell and Auckland captain Merv Wallace, of Beachlands, who remained a great friend and for whom Sutcliffe had a tremendous respect.
Wallace’s introduction to Sutcliffe was when he offered some tips to the Takapuna College First X1.
“You could see he was a natural talent and he was a very correct, orthodox player, who was prepared to listen and learn,” says Wallace.
“A lovely balanced, stylish player, he played straight, didn’t give his wicket away cheaply, had all the shots and could score quickly.
“He was world class and showed it during our successful 1949 tour of England.”
That New Zealand team, captained by Walter Hadlee, remained like a family and enjoyed many reunions over the years.
“We stuck together and a number of us would gather at Eden Park for Test matches until the New Zealand Cricket Council decided they couldn’t afford it anymore once the professional era arrived,” says Wallace.
For Sutcliffe, Wallace, Geoff Raybone and Johnny Hayes, the last get together was at the Beachland’s home of Wallace’s son-in-law, All Black great Grant Fox.
“They really enjoyed one another’s company. There was a lot of humour and it was funny to hear these old guys calling each other by their nick-names,” says Fox.
“Bert is going to be sadly missed,” says Wallace.
“He was a lovely man and a loyal part of cricket.”
Sutcliffe scored 2727 Test runs for New Zealand from 1947 until 1965 at an average of 40.1, including five centuries and a highest score of 230 not out.
He played for Auckland, Otago and Northern Districts and had a first class record of 44 centuries and 17,447 runs at an average of 47.41 with a highest score of 385.
Last February on the wish of benefactor Michael Watt, New Zealand Cricket honoured one of its finest champions by christening its premier ground at Lincoln, the Bert Sutcliffe Oval.
“Unfortunately ill heath has prevented me from seeing it but I hope to one day,” he told me.
“Apparently it’s a lovely ground with an old village green atmosphere.”