One benefit of a life in journalism is getting to spend time with people who have made a significant contribution in their time. One of those people was Frank Cameron, New Zealand cricketer and selector. He may be unknown to more recent followers of the game, but his selection handprint is over everything surrounding cricket in the last 50 years.
Frank Cameron, who died on January 2, aged 90, could best be described as the common factor in New Zealand's outstanding period in the international game during the 1980s.
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Cameron was the most common denominator in success. Even more than Richard Hadlee, the player whose feats inspired the New Zealand side to previously unclimbed heights of winning consistency. First named as a selector in 1968/69, he was chairman of the panel from 1976 until 1986.
And, if his selection career was notable for its longevity, then his playing career was significant for its delayed start.
In the modern world, Cameron might have given cricket away to pursue the other love of his youth, athletics. But, instead, he waited nine summers after debuting in 1952/53, in the match after Otago batsman Sutcliffe scored 385 against Canterbury, against Auckland, before finally being selected for a New Zealand team. That was to play the unofficial second Test against Dennis Silk's touring MCC team at the Basin Reserve.
It might have been a long wait, but it was a much more satisfying start to international cricket than many New Zealanders had achieved. New Zealand won the game by 133 runs.
When selection finally did come. Cameron had almost given up hope of being selected for New Zealand. He acknowledged it was hard to break into the side during the 1950s. Players like Johnny Hayes, Bob Blair, Tony MacGibbon, and Harry Cave were extensively involved in the game. But, he did feel he might have a chance before the 1958 tour of England.
"There was a New Zealand trial in Wellington, and I took six for 29 in the first innings and three for 40 in the second innings. I was also to play in the second trial, which was to be in Christchurch. That was unusual because hardly anyone else was playing in the two trials. But I didn't play. It was only one of two occasions in my career when I couldn't finish a game because of injury."
Cameron knew that there was a good chance he was up to it. The season before, against Ian Craig's Australians, he took six for 95 for Otago.
Cameron had known frustration before. During his junior days in Otago, he had captained an Under-16 side which beat arch-rivals, Canterbury. Over the next three summers, despite being one of the better-performed bowlers in club cricket, he could never make the grade. Yet, a season after his eligibility ceased, he played in the Otago side in the Plunket Shield competition.
This was all achieved after never receiving any coaching.
"I never had anybody coach me. I never played organised cricket until I was about 11 or 12. I went to Christian Brothers Secondary School in Dunedin. When I was 13, I seemed to keep bowling fellows out at practice, so they sent me to the Otago Under-14 trials, and I got in the side. But, when I started playing [age-group representative] cricket, it was the first time I ever had a new ball to bowl with, and I couldn't get anyone out because the ball was swinging too much. Tom Flaws was the wicketkeeper, and he helped me work it out.
"An old fellow in the park showed me how to bowl the ball once. I was playing around with my friends at Tonga Park, and he came over and showed me how to grip the ball. I never held it any differently after that.
"My bowling never changed. I was a natural outswing bowler. Unfortunately, as they get older, many bowlers lose their swing simply because of defects in their action, falling away as they bowl, or differences in their grip. You can get into trouble when you start fiddling around with your options.
"I concentrated and swung the ball away for as long as possible. I could bowl an inswinger, but if I pushed it, my body could feel it. Few bowlers can swing it both ways easily. Ian Botham did for a short time, but he might have gotten a bad back out of it.
"If you get good outswing, you will get movement off the pitch, either way.
"That's the reward for moving the ball around, when you get them to misjudge what they are doing."
Cameron was aware of murmurings about his possible inclusion in the side to tour South Africa in 1961/62. They were the most successful New Zealand side during the early international history of the country. And it was built around the bowling ability of the side of which Cameron, with his ability to bowl for sustained periods, was a significant contributor.
"The year before, Dennis Silk's MCC team came to New Zealand, and I played for Otago against them. I bowled 22 overs in the first innings and took none for 22. Jack Alabaster took five wickets. Gordon [Leggat, chairman of New Zealand's selectors] had been down at the game, and Lankford Smith [former Otago captain and television commentator] came up to me at the end of a day and said: 'They've been talking about you.' Leggat had talked to Jim Parks, who scored 92 not out in MCC's first innings. He was a good bloke, highly regarded, and spoke well of my bowling. He said I would take a lot of wickets in English conditions. It was funny how their discussion came back to me straight away.
"Out in the middle one day during the game, I was aware of some applause but didn't know why. They had announced the team for the internationals, and I made it. They were looking for a third man to go to South Africa because they had younger guys in Gary Bartlett and Dick Motz.
"I didn't play in the first game, and then in the second at Wellington, I spent the first-day bowling into a tough southerly with no luck. But the second day dawned beautifully and suggested the right conditions to get some of the swing that could occur at the Basin Reserve.
"Gordon Leggat said to me: 'Righto young Cameron, today's your day. Be in there like a rat off a sinking ship!' Jim Stewart was batting and from my first ball of the day an edge flew to Paul Barton at second slip. And Jim just stood there. This MCC team had come out and were making the first noises about walking, but he just stood there until we told him to leave. And in that wee spell that morning I took three wickets for no runs. [He finished up with three for 46]. I felt the selectors had been hoping I would do something in the game to prove them right."
Cameron took two more wickets in the second innings, and with Alabaster taking five wickets, New Zealand won the second match by 133 runs.
"So I made the team for South Africa and on the way over in Perth, the [Fremantle] Doctor was blowing and I took seven for 37, just like Guy Overton had taken seven there, bowling from the other end, in 1953/54. I thought to myself, 'bloody hell, I'm up to standard.' That was reassuring because I didn't want to go away and not perform well."
The requirement in South Africa was demanding. Only three seamers made the tour, and with Bartlett suspect to injury, that meant a heavy workload for Cameron. As it was, he bowled 721.4 overs to take 77 wickets at 22.09 and was second only to leg-spinner Alabaster for the total number of overs bowled.
Cameron found the repetitive nature of the cricket heightened his basic skills. His speed also quickened as the tour went on.
"They had to have someone who could bowl for a long time. There were only three seamers in the team. Bartlett was always suspect. Bogo [John Reid] did nearly all the off-spinning. John Sparling was underused. Bryan Yuile was in there, but there was one spinner too many and one seamer short. Things turned out right for the selectors, though. They brought back Zin Harris and [Murray] Chapple as vice-captain, and he did that job well. But, in my case, it was time for a new lot of bowlers. And they needed a stock bowler.
"Artie Dick did a wonderful job on that tour too. Leggat and Reid had both made enquiries about him. Gordon rang me to ask about him. They were looking for someone who could bat in the top order and who kept wickets. I said that Artie did. I just found out a year or two ago that Bogo rang [Otago commentator] Iain Gallaway to ask about Artie. So, they were cutting down their chances of making mistakes in the selection.
"They selected the team with a look to fellows who could play their shots. That's only good as long as they stay in.
"But Zin scored a century, and Paul Barton got a century, in Tests that we won."
"At the end of the tour, we sat around talking about when the next tour was and someone said 1965 to England and I said, 'That's too far away for me.'"
But he was still there. And he was a senior hand in a tour notable for the younger players it introduced for the next stage of New Zealand's development. Players like: Bruce Taylor, Richard Collinge, Terry Jarvis, Vic Pollard, Bevan Congdon, and Ross Morgan.
"Our team in 1965 was a very different team. The side wasn't as homogenous and we had to play in terrible conditions against India and Pakistan, and then go and play a very strong England team. They had [Geoff] Boycott, [John] Edrich, [Ken] Barrington, [Ted] Dexter and [Colin] Cowdrey who were in world class of all-time. Their bowling wasn't as great, but was good enough to do us."
The tour had been too demanding. Conditions in India and Pakistan were harsh, with illness common throughout, and to have to go to England immediately afterwards made it very difficult. However, it helped Cameron realise he had reached the end of the playing road.
"I played my last game for Otago in 1966/67. So, I wanted to finish when I was going well."
It was a playing career that resulted in 447 wickets at an average of 21.60, of which 258 were for Otago at 20.17.
Any thoughts of retirement were short-lived. Cameron became a member of the national selection panel two seasons later, which was no surprise. He had one of the better cricket brains in the Test side.
It was a significant move and the forerunner to New Zealand cricket's most successful years.
When he first joined the selection panel New Zealand, in 37 years, had won four Tests.
By the time he left in 1986, his teams had added 21 more to the list.
Cameron understood that he needed to learn the ropes and that the ultimate responsibility for selection rested with the chairman of selectors, the man who handed the names over to the Board of the day.
"Murray Chapple asked me if I would like to be a selector, and the first year my name went forward, I missed out by one vote. But I got in the next year, Chapple was the chairman with Ken Deas the other selector. Chapple tossed it in, and Deas became chairman. In 1975, Deas dropped off, and I was chairman. It was up to us as selectors to get a winning team."
Having toured in 1965 with several of the players introduced to international cricket around that time, Cameron was well-versed in their abilities.
Results showed the benefits of more consistent selection policies after 1968.
From 1969-73, New Zealand fielded a competitive side built around Glenn Turner's emergence as an international batsman as the result of his county experiences and the sheer skill and experience of players like Graham Dowling, Bevan Congdon, Mark Burgess, Vic Pollard, Bruce Taylor, Dayle Hadlee, Ken Wadsworth, Hedley Howarth and Richard Collinge.
By the time Cameron became chairman of selectors in 1976, it was evident rebuilding was needed.
"I knew it was going to take time. I couldn't see us getting a strong team in the immediate future. We'd lost a lot of players by 1976. In the early-70s, we lost fellows like Hedley Howarth to work commitments, and Bryan Yuile, Bruce Murray and Vic Pollard opted out from playing on Sundays. Glenn Turner dropped out occasionally, and Graham Dowling got injured and finished. You can't lose the guts of a side like that and recover quickly. That side from 1969-73 was really good.
"We still had a viable seam bowling group and we beat India easily enough in 1975/76. I can still remember Hedley's face when I told him he was 12th man in Wellington. He looked really unhappy and I don't blame him. It didn't look a good pitch, but the gamble was to play Richard Hadlee, who expected to be 12th man."
The choice was vindicated, as Hadlee's second innings 7-23 was the first of his 36 five-wicket bags Tests, and victory by an innings. But, satisfying as that was, Cameron was still concerned that New Zealand wasn't doing well overseas.
"So, from 1975-79, we were trying to rebuild and, in the 1980s, we went to another peak. The '83 side to England was good, but the 1985/86 side against Australia was a bit better.
"If you look at how long those guys in 1985/86 had been playing: Stephen Boock eight years, John Bracewell six years, Lance Cairns 13 years, Ewen Chatfield 12 years, Jeremy Coney 13 years, Jeff Crowe four years, Martin Crowe five years, Bruce Edgar eight years, Richard Hadlee 14 years, John Wright nine years, Ian Smith six years, Martin Snedden six years, and John Reid eight years. The average number of years was around eight.
"That is lots of experience and that takes time to build up. You can't do it in a year or two years."
That is a tough ask in today's instant society, and plenty of recent New Zealand coaches, Geoff Howarth, Turner, Steve Rixon, David Trist and Denis Aberhart, would all attest to the demands of a public expecting success at every turn.
However, Cameron had a goal in mind, and he stuck to it with a firm stance as chairman of selectors based on the principle that the selection buck always stopped with him.
His method was simple.
"You don't keep dropping players. You don't want to be in a hurry. You win Tests when you can, but you also have to keep an eye on the future. And your players need to have at least two or three first-class seasons.
"The 1980s didn't come out of the blue," he said.
It wasn't just about getting the right batters, bowlers and wicketkeeper in a side. There was the captaincy factor and the fielding options, especially the all-important slips cordon when a bowler like Richard Hadlee is in the attack.
"You have got to know what you are looking for, and keep encouraging players. It might take five or six years till they reach maturity. But you get the team and keep them."
As a result, New Zealand was unbeaten at home during the decade of the 1980s.
While the overall outcome of his selection policy was immensely satisfying, especially in a New Zealand context, there were also some individual moments he recalled with pleasure.
The punt on Richard Hadlee against India at the Basin Reserve in 1975/76 was one. Refusing to bow to public pressure and drop Geoff Howarth before the third Test against England in 1977/78 was another. Howarth went out and scored a century in each innings at Eden Park.
A hunch was borne out in his first year of selection when Chapple decided Wadsworth might be worth more of a look. He was selected for the South Island team to play against the West Indies at Carisbrook and scored a century, and did well enough with the wicket-keeping gloves to be taken on the tour to England, India and Pakistan that season.
That South Island match was also notable for the decision to pluck from nowhere three young Canterbury bowlers, Alan Hounsell, Trist and Dayle Hadlee.
Cameron watched all three with interest and went with Hadlee as the bowler with the immediate potential to harness for New Zealand.
"It was obvious that Hadlee was the bowler we wanted because he could move the ball, and I knew that being a Hadlee, he would be competitive. It was unfortunate he had problems with injuries. But he came back from them, a still reasonable bowler.
"Murray also felt that Hedley Howarth was ready and predicted he would come back from the 1969 tour the country's No1 spinner. At his best, he was one of our best.
"I remember a year or two later we needed to pick a team to go to Australia while the New Zealand team was in the West Indies. I asked Martin Horton who was the best young fast bowler around, and he said Richard Hadlee. I went and watched him and knew after seeing him take a wicket that he was quick with a loose action. We had him picked in the team before he took a hat-trick just before the side was announced and that was what everybody thought got him in the team."
Cameron also made it a policy to keep an eye out for emerging talent and was a regular visitor to national Under-23 and Under-20 competitions.
There was never a "bolter" that Cameron didn't know.
With no coach appointed to the team in those years, Cameron had a lot to do with the side, and he never left a pitch cover unturned in doing his homework. He always talked with groundsmen, and a classic instance was at Carisbrook, early in the morning before the first Test against the West Indies in 1980.
When the covers were removed, there appeared to be a ridge down one side of the pitch. So, he had it moved to take the ridge out of the match equation.
"It is in the interests of everyone to get the best pitch. It came across about a foot. It was one of the more worthwhile exercises. We didn't like the idea of them having four seamers against us."
There was also some deception from the chairman, who was usually a reluctant communicator with the press.
He was sure the West Indies would have been well aware of Carisbrook's past reputation as a spinner's pitch, which it wasn't on this occasion.
"I wanted them to play Derick Parry because he had looked to be an average off-spinner in the one-dayer in Christchurch. So, I called the press over the day before at practice, and said we were going to add John Bracewell to our side because we thought the track might take spin. And the West Indies fell for it."
As Lance Cairns clubbed three balls in one over from Parry for six runs, they were to turn out to be vital runs in New Zealand's exciting one-wicket win.
Another notable occasion was when the Board of New Zealand Cricket overruled the selectors. It concerned Brian McKechnie, who had suffered a broken finger after being named in the New Zealand team for the 1976 tour of Pakistan and India.
McKechnie, who had already represented New Zealand at the 1975 World Cup, was to become a double All Black, a dual rugby/cricket international, by the end of the following year.
"We had been getting some serious stuff from the Board about not playing injured players over the previous year or two. McKechnie injured his finger and as the tour got closer I was told there was a question mark over McKechnie as far as the Board members were concerned. So I arranged a fitness test. I rang Gren Alabaster and got him to arrange it. Gren rang me back and said he got McKechnie to bowl, he hit the ball to him in the deep and up close, he had him fielding and batting in the nets, and none of it seemed to be affecting his finger. He was in no pain and would be able to bowl all right. I reported that back to the Board and that was the last I heard of it."
In the meantime, the Board named Geoff Howarth as the replacement for McKechnie, who they said, had failed a fitness test.
Within a week or two, McKechnie was playing rugby for Southland in a Ranfurly Shield challenge match, a tougher test of a damaged digit, it is hard to imagine.
For many outside the game, the thought of being a national selector in cricket when New Zealand wasn't doing well must have seemed like an exercise in futility.
It was the job of someone who truly loved the game. Cameron was never perturbed.
"As a selector, you got rubbished everywhere because we never won. There weren't too many queuing up as selectors. You knew when you stood, and you were going to take punishment. It got so bad at one lunch I attended at Eden Park that I got up and walked out.
"Generally, I tried to avoid the media. However, I had enough responsibilities as it was. So, I always put the media onto the captain."
No one could deny Cameron made his impact by sticking to his plan and gaining the rewards. But, just as he had a long wait to play for New Zealand, his selection plan took time.
But he got his rewards in both; and left when it suited him, still on top of his game. Not all who have been associated with cricket can say that.
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A very interesting read, Lynn. Thanks.
Great article Lyn. When I arrived at Christchurch Boys High School as Headmaster in 2003, Frank was one of our great team of day relievers. He was a wonderful character and the boys loved having him if one of their regular teachers was away. The teachers who were away weren’t quite as enthusiastic! The boys knew full well if they asked ... “ Mr Cameron tell us about the test v South Africa in .... “ at the start of the lesson that very little of the work that the regular teacher left got done! I used to appease the staff by saying that Franks stories were most likely more valuable than the work they left anyway 😂