2

One and Done

'The first thing you'd do was go out there and dominate the bowlers'

New Zealand's oldest living Test cricketer is far from a household name, but at the age of 90 he retains a strong interest in the game, including the shorter formats

Brydon Coverdale |

Barber was a batsman with the

Barber was a batsman with the "ability to portray cricket as a much more joyous spectacle than it has become in more recent times" © Brydon Coverdale

There is cricket on the television in Trevor Barber's Christchurch house: Afghanistan are playing Sri Lanka in a World Cup match in Dunedin. The two opposing teams, even the format itself, highlight how much the game has changed since Barber played his only Test nearly 60 years ago. But still it holds his interest. "Would you like a beer?" he asks as he keeps an eye on the match.

"It's just amazing how much the game has changed from my time," he says. "We only played Test cricket and Plunket Shield. Now there's T20 and 50-over, it's bash and slash. It might have suited me."

Almost certainly it would have. Barber was an aggressive batsman who liked to dominate the bowlers, sometimes a little too much. He scored just one first-class century and averaged 23 - not the sort of numbers you expect of a Test batsman. But he was a fine player to watch.

Now he is New Zealand's oldest living Test cricketer. He turned 90 in June 2015, three years older than John Reid, who he captained at Wellington and then played under in the New Zealand side. Reid remains even now a household name among sports fans in New Zealand. Barber is not.

But he was, is, and forever will be a New Zealand Test cricketer. The proof is in a suitcase of what Barber calls "memory ticklers", little bits and pieces that tell his story. There are handfuls of telegrams congratulating him on his Test call-up, newspaper clippings, team photos.

"It's just amazing how much the game has changed from my time. Now there's T20 and 50-over, it's bash and slash. It might have suited me"

One newspaper article from 1961 reviews the book New Zealand Cricketers by the renowned cricket writer Dick Brittenden. A photo of Barber accompanies the story, captioned with Brittenden's description of him: "A positive cricketer, but an off-drive does not make a Test batsman." Barber chuckles at the line.

There are more such assessments. From the Dominion Post in 1957: "Because of the beauty of his stroke-making many a cricket follower, relishing these magnificent displays, had often observed how much greater Barber would have been with more patience... His name will long be recalled for his pleasing and often dynamic approach to the game, and for his ability to portray cricket as a much more joyous spectacle than it has become in more recent times".

No wonder he enjoys watching the shorter forms even now. In his only Test match, against West Indies at the Basin Reserve in 1956, he was out to Sonny Ramadhin in both innings, going for his shots, for 12 and 5.

"Today I might have got away with it," Barber says. "But I went for sweeps to the leg side off short balls in both innings. My understanding as a captain and also as a batsman was that the first thing you'd do when you go out there is dominate the bowlers. Don't let the bowlers get on top of you. Get behind the line of flight, bat straight, and when they bowl one off the wicket, give it a go. I did that and I got bloody caught at square leg."

Bert Sutcliffe played the first two Tests of the series but could not play the third due to ill-health. Barber was 30 at the time and was given a chance at his home ground - he was captain of Wellington at the time. If he didn't score many runs, he at least made one memorable contribution.

Trevor Barber sweeps during a knock for Wellington against Central Districts at the Basin Reserve in the 1950s

Trevor Barber sweeps during a knock for Wellington against Central Districts at the Basin Reserve in the 1950s

"I caught Garry Sobers out," Barber says. "John Reid was bowling and he said: 'That's a nice way to start your career.' I was at gully - it was going past and I threw the hands up and it stuck. I was a bit of a show-off."

It wasn't the only brush he had with Sobers.

"I'm lucky to be alive, because I was fielding at silly short-leg and the bowler bowled a short one, Sobers hooked it and it went past my right ear, just touched right there, and went for six. I tell you what, had it been a little bit closer, I would have been gone."

Anyway, Barber was in the side as a batsman, and his returns were not considered encouraging enough for him to retain his spot. He was axed for the fourth Test, in Auckland.

"Walter Hadlee was the chairman of the selection panel," Barber says. "He said, 'You can be 12th man if you want to be in Auckland.' I said, 'Sorry, but I'm a working man.' If I was playing, that was a reasonable excuse [for not going to work]."

At the time, Barber worked for a mattress and upholstery company, although he moved to the Shell Oil Company the following year. Shell sponsored cricket and golf, and Barber enjoyed the sporting link. His final year of first-class cricket involved a moved to Central Districts, as captain - it was a part of the game that Barber loved.

"It's lovely to have some control of the game, and also the players... I used to put pressure on a new batsman coming in. I'd always have someone at silly mid-off, silly mid-on and one just behind square"

"I enjoyed captaincy. That was one of the things I found most satisfying. It's lovely to have some control of the game, and also the players... I used to put pressure on a new batsman coming in. I'd always have someone at silly mid-off, silly mid-on and one just behind square. They'd all be there looking at him."

After Barber retired from the game, he retained some involvement. He recalls once umpiring a match at the Willows Cricket Club in Christchurch, and the dangers that were involved.

"On one occasion when I was at square leg, the batsman hooked it and before I knew where it was, I was clutching my balls," Barber says. "I was very ill. That was the second time I got hit in the balls. The other one was by Sammy Guillen. I was fielding at mid-off - it went through my hands and they virtually had to carry me off the field. Fortunately I've still got my testicles."

Those are the painful memories. Being dropped after one Test doesn't count, as Barber considers it a great honour to have been chosen in the first place. He is New Zealand's 80th capped Test cricketer, although the cap itself was somewhat delayed in arriving.

"Later on in life they did present a cap," he says. "About 10 years ago at Lancaster Park in Christchurch. They had a function and I've got a box with a cap in it. Even got a blazer. Had I played any more than one Test I'd have worn it with pride."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

 

RELATED ARTICLES

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | August 7, 2015, 11:44 GMT

    Great article Brydone, Grampy (Trevor) passed away this morning I'm glad you got to meet him.

    Thanks Vindaliew, our thoughts precisely!

  • POSTED BY Ian on | July 30, 2015, 3:34 GMT

    Dear Trevor - wear that cap and blazer with pride regardless. You earned the right to do so!