Thursday, May 23, 2024

NZC: Obituary – Jack Alabaster (June 11, 1930 – April 9, 2024)

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Photo Credit: New Zealand Cricket

Jack Alabaster, who died in Cromwell on Tuesday aged 93, will be remembered fondly for his services to education and cricket, having played in New Zealand’s first four Test victories.

A wiry leg-spinner who took 500 first-class wickets at 25.37, Alabaster played 21 Tests for his country, the first six of which took place before he was selected for his first-class major association, Otago.

Alabaster was 25 when selected for New Zealand’s maiden tour of Pakistan and India in 1955, at the time only the third non-Asian team to play Test cricket in the sub-continent following the chaos of partition in 1947.

He returned to New Zealand later that summer (some 16kgs lighter) to play against the inbound West Indies side and was in the eleven which registered New Zealand’s first ever Test victory, at Auckland, taking the prized wicket of Everton Weekes into the bargain.

Apart from the 1955 tour to Pakistan and India, he also featured in Test tours of England in 1958, South Africa in 1961-62 and the West Indies in 1972, the latter for which he was selected at 41 years of age.

When New Zealand beat India in Christchurch in the summer of 1967-68, Alabaster became the only player to have participated in New Zealand’s first four Test wins.

He retired from all first-class cricket following the tour of the West Indies, having taken 49 Test wickets at 38.02.

Probably the highlight of Alabaster’s Test career was the tour of South Africa in 1961-62, in which he took match figures of eight for 180 at Cape Town as New Zealand registered its first overseas Test win, before helping to level the series 2-2 at Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth).

In total, he took 86 wickets in 16 first-class matches on that tour, including 22 at 28.04 in the Test series.

Born in Invercargill, Alabaster undertook his teacher training in Dunedin and returned south, where he was later the principal of Kingswell High School and, between 1981 and 1988, the Rector of Southland Boys High School.

A New Zealand basketball rep between 1950 and 1954, his cricket career initially failed to thrive, mainly because the Otago side was already graced by Test incumbent leg-spinner Alec Moir and the local selectors couldn’t see the value of including a second.

However, once Alabaster was brought into the fold upon his return from the 1955 tour of the subcontinent, he had a massive influence on both Otago and Southland cricket, featuring in multiple teams which won the Hawke Cup and the Plunket Shield.

Between 1957 and 1961, Alabaster and Moir played 20 matches together for Otago, taking a combined total of 212 wickets.

When Otago won the Plunket Shield in 1957-58, Alabaster took 28 wickets at 16.32, and when they won it again in 1971-72, he took 22 at 14.95 – leading to his New Zealand recall for the maiden tour of the West Indies.

Alabaster played in Southland’s Hawke Cup team from 1954 to 1975, including an outstanding season in 1973-74 when he took 36 wickets at 8.02 as Southland successfully defended the title.

His younger brother Gren was also a successful first-class cricketer, touring Australia with New Zealand in 1973-74 but not playing a Test – and later managing New Zealand teams.

Both brothers moved to Central Otago in their latter years, with Jack coaching the Otago Central team to Hawke Cup success in 1995-96.

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