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by Lynn McConnell

New Zealand's connection with England is its longest-standing relationship in the game, which is hardly surprising given the game's origins in England.

What is a little surprising, given the relatively minor nature of the game in this country at the time, is that the first visit by an English team occurred in 1863/64 when George Parr's All-England side played in the Otago tournament.

Their visit lifted interest in the sport to a new level, and while organised inter-provincial competition was still many years away, the seeds had been sown. The side played four games against teams of 22. They beat Otago by nine wickets, drew with a combined Otago-Canterbury side, travelled to Christchurch and thrashed the Canterbury team by an innings and two runs and then returned to Dunedin to inflict even greater misery on Otago by an innings and 51 runs.

Another team, led by James Lillywhite Jr, called into New Zealand en route to Australia where they would play what is now regarded as the first Test match in 1877. The side played teams of 22 in Auckland, Wellington, Taranaki, Nelson and Southland, all of them being beaten by an innings. Games against Westland and Otago were draws while a Canterbury 18 were within 24 runs of denying the English a victory.

Alfred Shaw's side called in during their 1881/82 tour of Australia to draw with Wellington's 22 while teams from Auckland, Oamaru, Otago, South Canterbury and Waikato were all beaten. Again, Canterbury's 18 managed a draw with the tourists on Lancaster Park which was being used for the first time for a representative game.

The first visit by a recognised English team was in 1906/07 when Lord Hawke's English team arrived under the leadership of Pelham Warner. The team of 12 spent three months travelling the length of New Zealand before two matches were played against New Zealand selections. Lord Hawke's XI won the first match, at Lancaster Park, by seven wickets, and the second, at the Basin Reserve, by an innings and 22 runs. In the second game Dan Reese revealed the benefits he enjoyed from having two seasons in Australia by scoring 148 in New Zealand's first innings of 274.

By 1906/07, the MCC had decided to send a team to New Zealand captained by Charles De Trafford. Included in the team were two New Zealanders, Ronald Fox and Randall Johnson. Like their predecessors under Warner, they visited all corners of the country. They suffered a loss at the hands of Canterbury, as much to do with a rough Cook Strait crossing as anything else. They won the first of two matches against New Zealand, at Lancaster Park, by nine wickets but, at the Basin Reserve on a dreadful pitch, they were beaten by 56 runs. The tour lost money and it was not until 1922/23 that an MCC team returned.

Captained this time by Archie MacLaren, the side included well-known players Percy Chapman, Tich Freeman and Harry Tyldesley, as well as New Zealander Tom Lowry, who was studying at the time at Cambridge, and who would return to New Zealand to lead the side on its first tour to England in 1927 and to captain New Zealand's first Test team in 1929/30.

Despite the fact that he had last played international cricket in 1909, MacLaren took 200 unbeaten runs out of the New Zealand attack in the first international as his side claimed a win by an innings and 156 runs. Dave Collins was promoted to open the batting in the second match, at Lancaster Park, and his innings of 102 ensured New Zealand could compete on more even terms to have a draw.

But on returning to the Basin Reserve for the third match, New Zealand was on the receiving end of a century from Lowry, who scored 130 to help defeat New Zealand by an innings and 20 runs.

From these performances New Zealand was granted a tour to England in 1927. It was just the boost the game needed as several young players were emerging who needed more of a challenge. Their batting, especially in England, was highly encouraging. They included: Stewie Dempster (1430 runs on tour), Roger Blunt (1540), Jack Mills (1251), Curly Page (1154), Ces Dacre (1070). Leading them was Lowry, who scored 1277 runs.

Among the bowlers, Bill Merritt took 107 wickets and Blunt 78.

New Zealand was clearly not far from winning Test match status.