'I was always in demand'

A. JOSEPH ANTONY

IN cricket's collective memory, he's out of sight and therefore out of mind. "I'm not really a name anymore," he says as if to support this premise.

K. RAMESH BABU

Captain of the Rest of the World team against England, the subject of three books and yet not good enough for a few bytes on TV! If he's in the news, it's when he pulls up someone.

A few famous lines on John Reid should put things in perspective.

John Arlott: .. a kind of Atlas-type figure of New Zealand cricket... a basically correct right-hander constantly prepared, when his side was in trouble, to hit his way out of it.

Neville Cardus: A club cricketer in excelsis. I do not mean that he is not endowed technically, but only that he combines with common sense against a good ball an unashamed appetite for a brawny blow against a bad one.

The Manchester Guardian called him the cheerful buccaneer of cricket.

Sword of Willow, Reid's biography by Alex Vesey sold 12000 copies and was New Zealand's 1963 best seller in sports. Million miles of Cricket, by Dick Brittenden was an update till his retirement in 1965.

The more recent, John Reid - A cricket life, by Joseph Romanos explores his travels in the realms of the game from the playing days to his role as match referee. The foreword is by Sir Colin Cowdrey and the title he had in mind was 'A referee without a whistle.'

It was county or country in his time, since cricketers were amateurs. Playing for Heywood in the Central Lanchashire league saw him rub shoulders with the likes of the three Ws - Weekes, Walcott and Worrell, Sonny Ramadhin and Ray Lindwall. An opening stand with C. S. Nayudu became a run feast as they raised a century in 40 minutes and put up 170 in 75.

"The status of the club pro astonished me," he says looking back. "Opening the vegetable show, presenting prizes at the local soccer club, at schools, for a band competition, speech making (which horrified me)... I was always in demand. Perhaps my greatest coup was to kick off at a women's soccer match," he says in typical self-deprecating humour.

Nor can one miss the mischievous glint in his eye, when he shows you his photo album. The exhibition begins with his query as to how good your geography is. A strategically placed left hand conceals a crucial part of his singular depiction.

"North Island," he points out and runs his finger down to "South Island," he then says, revealing a laughably lessened version of Australia, dwarfed beside his native New Zealand. "'It's enough to throw an Aussie into a fit," he says.

The pictures trace his life, rich in adventure. Not many would know that he has played cricket in the Antartic in a promotion for the U.S. Navy's Deep Freeze Operation in the forever-frozen continent. The J. R. Reid gate beckons cricket fans to a ground in New Zealand.

The John Reid Squash Centre revolved round a court of the racquet game, that served breakfast, lunch and snacks until 11 at night. Getting the Chairman of the New Zealand Stock Exchange to underwrite this venture that ran full for 17 years, he considers his biggest achievement.

Ranked next is the 'capture,' of his wife Norli. Down with his first attack of rheumatic fever when just 17, it took three years to convince her that theirs was more than a patient-nurse relationship. On January 19 last year, the couple celebrated 50 years of wedded bliss.

The heart murmur resulting from his next attack saw him give up bowling for keeping wickets. And till the rise of Sir Richard Hadlee. Reid was considered the best allrounder New Zealand had produced.

The septuagenarian now lives on the banks of the picturesque Lake Taupo, right in the middle of the North Island and the confluence of no less than 27 rivers. Volcanos, some of them snow-capped, provide the backdrop. "New Zealand experiences as many as 3000 tremors," he says adding that only half a dozen register an impact between 6.2 and 7 on the Richter scale.

Son Richard Reid, who opened for New Zealand in the 1992 World Cup with Martin Crowe is now Chief Executive of Canterbury Cricket. Strangely, Reid Jr. retired from the side soon after, baffling his father, who had returned from South Africa. Made Managing Director of Nike, the American multinational gave Richard no choice between cricket and the plum posting.

The 1955 tour of India and Pakistan was marked by one travail after another. Teammate and fast bowler Tony MacGibbon still suffers from amoebic dysentery. "If they were able to get to breakfast, they were selected," he says of his side, several of whom were on the sick list.

Names such as Lahore Looseness, Delhi Belly, Karachi Cork and Bangalore bowels provided the black humour and an outlet for their myriad frustrations. Ten years after, conditions were much better with a doctor travelling with the team, on whose advice soft drinks were used to brush their teeth!

In the third Test at Karachi, Reid was unbeaten on 80 at tea. During the break he was heard raving in a delirium that sometimes accompanies high fever. "I must have got to the century on auto pilot. I don't remember it," he reminisces. Of the present, he says Indian hotels are as good as any in the world.

The 1958 whitewash by England that included Trueman, Statham, Tyson, Laker and Lock spurred Reid to insist on the captain having a say in the selection of his side. The popular refrain in the 0-4 defeat in the five Test series was:

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, If Laker doesn't get you, Lockie must.

On the 1961-62 tour of South Africa, with the new scheme of things, his men acquitted themselves honourably, drawing the series 2-2.

John Reid was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to cricket in 1963.