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The best of Bevan Congdon

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Bevan_Congdon_New_Zealand_CricketFormer New Zealand captain Bevan Congdon passed away on 10th February, a day prior to his 80th birthday. Congdon famously led New Zealand to their first ever Test win against Australia, at Christchurch in 1973-74. He played 61 Tests and 11 ODIs in all, and will be remembered as one of the best all-round cricketers to come out of New Zealand. Here is a look back, in tribute, at five of his finest performances with the bat, in a career that spanned from 1964-65 to 1978.

166* v West Indies, Second Test, Port-of-Spain, 1971-72

Congdon’s second Test hundred, which rescued New Zealand from a precarious situation at the Queen’s Park Oval, epitomized his gutsiness. Coming in at number three in the first innings, he was the last man standing on a sinking ship. Wickets fell steadily around him as New Zealand collapsed from 66/2 to 99/6, but he remained undeterred.

Congdon shared a stand of 69 for the seventh wicket with Bruce Taylor (46) and one of 136 for the eighth with Bob Cunis (51) to steer New Zealand to a sturdy 348. He stayed on the deck till the end, finishing on an unbeaten 166 that took eight hours and 47 minutes. The Test was drawn, but without Congdon’s effort, it would most certainly have ended in a defeat for New Zealand.    

176 v England, First Test, Trent Bridge, 1973

The career-best innings from Congdon gave New Zealand hope to pull off what would have been a stirring victory chase. Having blown the visitors away for 97 in the first innings, England muscled to a position of strength, setting an improbable target of 479 with over two days left in the game. When New Zealand fell to 68/3 on the fourth morning, a sizeable defeat loomed large.

Congdon, however, was in his element, and produced a courageous display. Coming in at 16/1, he defied a knock on the head from John Snow and flayed the English attack for a regal 176, being a part of a fifth-wicket association worth 177 with Vic Pollard (116). He was dismissed towards the end of the day, which ended with New Zealand at 317/5. His innings was destined to be in vain though, as New Zealand lost their last five wickets for 38 to lose by 38 runs on the final day.     

175 v England, Second Test, Lord’s, 1973

Less than a fortnight after his Trent Bridge special, Congdon followed it up with an equally mettlesome 175 at Lord’s. With New Zealand at 10/2 in reply to England’s 253, Congdon got together with Brian Hastings (86) to put on 190 for the third wicket. He reached his century as the day drew to a close, and continued to frustrate the hosts the next morning with his unflinching determination.

Congdon was fifth out with the score at 330, having faced 454 balls in over eight and a half hours. His innings gave Mark Burgess (105) and Pollard (105*) the licence to up the ante, and they propelled the total to 551/9. A historic first Test win in England beckoned for New Zealand on the final day, but a fighting 178 from Keith Fletcher ensured a draw for the hosts. For the second match in succession, a Congdon hundred had guided New Zealand to the brink of victory.

101 v England, Second ODI, Wellington, 1974-75

A lesser known fact is that Congdon finished his ODI career with an average of 56.33, still the best by a New Zealander with a cut-off of ten matches. His only ODI hundred came as captain at the Basin Reserve in a rain-hit game, reduced to 35 eight-ball overs per side. Coming in at 13/1, he creamed 101 from just 110 balls – a strike-rate of 91.81 – to carry New Zealand to 227. The rain gods however had the final say, and play was called off for good with England 35/1 in reply.  

107* v Australia, First Test, Christchurch, 1976-77

A blitzing 250 from Doug Walters powered Australia to a first-innings lead of 195, enabling them to set New Zealand 350 in the fourth innings. Congdon and Burgess had pushed the score to 218/3 with a third-wicket partnership of 90, when the latter’s dismissal gave an opening to the Australians. This triggered the loss of five wickets for 42, and at 260/8, Australia had victory in their sight.

To New Zealand’s relief, the dependable Congdon, now aged 39 and in the twilight of his career, was still in the middle. He obdurately held out one end, batting for three minutes short of five hours to compile an unbeaten, match-saving 107. The pace of Dennis Lillee and Max Walker, and the swing of Gary Gilmour did its best to unsettle ‘Bev’, but he defended his wicket as if his life depended upon it, making sure that teams were locked at 0-0 going into the second Test.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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