Test cricket coming to the BOP

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

The news that test cricket is coming to the Bay Oval has produced a big grin on the dial of Sideline Sid, with five days of twists and turns of test cricket being played in our own backyard.

Sideline Sid is an unashamed test cricket fan having witnessed his first test match when players took to the field in white uniforms, and one day cricket was considered a new fad that that wouldn't challenge the traditional form of the game.

He had to cast his fading memory back to the last day of the test match between New Zealand and England, at Eden Park, on the 8th March 1971. In those long ago days, New Zealand was considered second rate citizens in the international cricket world and were accorded four day tests.

New Zealand's status as a genuine test playing nation wasn't enhanced in 1955 when they were bowled out for 26 by England.

The 1971 test at Eden Park featured an English side with some of the best players in the game at the time. John Edrich and Colin Cowdrey opened the batting attack, with Basil D'Olivera, Ray Illingworth and Alan Knott in the middle order, while fiery pace bowler Bob Willis and Derek Underwood played havoc with the ball.

New Zealand had the foundations of a good team, with Glen Turner and Graham Dowling at the top of the order, Bevan Congdon at three and Mark Burgess at five, with Richard Collinge and Bob Cunis opening the bowling. In future years Richard Collinge and Bob Cunis would live and play cricket in the Bay of Plenty.

Day four was an inauspicious first look at test cricket for Sideline Sid with the game petering out into a draw. However, the test produced two big milestones earlier in the match with Alan Knott scoring his maiden test century whilst Bob Cunis took his best test wicket tally with a six wicket bag.

March 8, 1971 marked a huge day in worldwide sport with the Fight of the Century taking place at Madison Square Gardens in New York. World Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali squared up in the first of their monumental three-fight series between the two legendary pugilists.

The fight was seen by many as good against evil, with Frazier winning the title, while Ali was banned from boxing after refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. A brutal battle took place with both fighters visiting hospital after the contest.

While Frazier was given a unanimous decision, Ali claimed it was a "white man’s decision". The pair would go on to two more battles that ended with the "Thriller in Manila", with Ali defeating Frazier in their last two meetings in the ring.

The Fight of the Century also had controversy outside the ring. Another legend of his time in singer Frank Sinatra, who was a supposedly a keen amateur photographer, took a number of photographs for Life magazine with one shot landing on the front cover.

It was said that Sinatra was unable to secure a front row seat, so he approached a Life magazine to work for the world famous publication as a guest photographer, to get ringside.

Four of Sinatra's photographs including the cover shot were used to illustrate the story of the fight. This infuriated one of Life's regular photographers, who was incensed that an amateur photographers shots were used because of the celebrity status of the photo snapper, stirring up a media firestorm.

While we endure all the weather gods can throw at us during the depths of winter, Western Bay of Plenty cricket fans still have smiles on their faces as they look forward to the entrance of test cricket at the Bay Oval in November.


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