Saturday, November 6, 2010

Māori cricket in New Zealand

Little has been known about Māori cricket teams in New Zealand. In Australia, however, a famous Aboriginal team, the ‘All Blacks’, toured England in the 1860s. A poem about them appeared in Leslie Frewin’s The Poetry of Cricket anthology (1964) and the scorecards for their matches are on the English Cricket Archive website ( Here’s the anonymous poem about the ‘All Blacks’:


Aboriginal Cricketers of 1868 – The “All Blacks”

To Britain they came from the land of the South
   As strangers for honour and glory,
And now as true heroes intrepid and bold
   Will their names be recorded in story.

For not with the sword did they covet renown,
   The battle they fought was at cricket,
In lieu of grim weapons of warfare they strove
   With the bat and the ball at the wicket.

A further poem on the ‘All Blacks’ tour is by Rikki Shields and is anthologised in ‘A Breathless Hush’: The MCC Anthology of Cricket Verse (2004). Shields' poem, ‘The Last Over’, is written in memory of King Cole, ‘an Aboriginal cricketer who died on 24 June 1868’. It also names the other players in the team: ‘SUGAR, NEDDY, JELLICO, COUSINS, MULLAGH, BULLOCKY, TARPOT, SUNDOWN, OFFICER, PETER and CAPTAIN.’
Was there anything similar in New Zealand? I don’t think so - but recently I came across a photo of a Māori cricket team (Prefects Cricket XI, Te Aute College, Hawke’s Bay, 1880). It was published on the cover of the New Zealand Cricket Museum Newsletter, Summer/Autumn Newsletter 2009-10, by curator David Mealing. David tells me he discovered the photo in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref No. ½-061582-F).

Prefects Cricket XI, Te Aute College, Hawke's Bay, 1880

Further to this, in 2009 I wrote and published a poem in Landfall 219 about Māori cricket. The poem compares New Zealand to other countries where cricket flourished and notes that the sport was never as popular with Māori in New Zealand to the same extent as it was in India and elsewhere. Here’s the Landfall poem of mine:


Islands of Cricket

When cricket came to India,
the natives were at first left out,
then, after watching the English
play, looked to join in.

The English let them, as
something of a novelty. The Indians
soon grew competitive, seeing a chance
to beat their English rulers.

After a while cricket spread from Mumbai
to Kolkata like a virus, infecting most of
the locals. The English were content;
they were hooked, and it was easier to rule.

I think of how cricket first came to
New Zealand through the settlers,
but, unlike India, the islands
here did not effect the same results.

Māori didn’t take to cricket
like the other colonial countries. Whereas in
Australia a famous team of Aborigines
toured England in the 1860s,

Aotearoa offered no such
colourful touring party for the game.
I often think of what it would’ve been
like to have had a Māori cricket team,

or even one active in world sport today,
linking itself with other indigenous
teams in the Windies, Africa, Sri Lanka,
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

These Māori teams might have formed
warrior islands in the currents of
the cricket mainstream, bringing their
haka to Lord’s and the monarchy.

© Mark Pirie 2009

The discovery of the Te Aute College photo by David suggests there were Māori cricket teams active in New Zealand schools, if not at a national level. The full extent of Māori participation remains unknown but Adam Parore, the most well known Māori cricket player, played Test cricket for New Zealand. Parore, one of our best wicket keepers, remains the first Māori cricketer to make a Test hundred as poet Michael O’Leary has observed: “PARORE / Awha, nearly made a century, tipuna of Adam, first Māori to do so’.

Article © Mark Pirie 2010

Sources: New Zealand Cricket Museum Newsletter, Summer-Autumn 2009-10; A Corner of a Foreign Field by Ramachandra Guha (Picador: London, 2002); Leslie Frewin’s The Poetry of Cricket (Macdonald: London, 1964); Hubert Doggart and David Rayvern Allen’s ‘A Breathless Hush…’: The MCC Anthology of Cricket Verse (Methuen: London, 2004); the online Cricket Archive; Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington; Landfall 219 (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2009); and Michael O’Leary ‘WAIATA: a chant…’ in David McGill’s The G’Day Country Redux (Paekakariki: Silver Owl Press, 2009).

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