Bev Congdon

'I knew you weren't going to be popular all the time with all the players'

Bev Congdon chats about a knock in the face from John Snow, cricket's unreasonable demands from modern players, and captaining New Zealand

Interview by Andrew McGlashan

It is 40 years since New Zealand came close to beating England in an epic run chase at Trent Bridge. Bev Congdon was the captain and was so nearly the hero

Congdon on his way to an unforgettable 176 at Trent Bridge in 1973

Congdon on his way to an unforgettable 176 at Trent Bridge in 1973 © PA Photos

I think 1973 to England was a defining tour in that Glenn Turner made 1000 runs and Richard Hadlee started his career. We could have won two Tests out of three, which was unusual for us.

I batted better in West Indies, where I averaged in the 90s. But they were totally different wickets and totally different bowlers. That's the guts of it.

I took a bang in the face from John Snow. I never blamed the bowler for that. I got myself into a position that caused the problem. I started to look to chip over the off side and it came back at me, I should have gone inside it, and it smacked me.

You talk about coaches, and how they might work with one guy or another, but when you are making reactions and shots that requires split-second decision making… Those are things that people train into their minds many times over. You don't suddenly say I'll hook today. It's instinctive.

You can't send every guy to bed early because some guys perform better when they stay up late. You then have to pick on the basis of performance, that's how it should be.

As far as going off the field, my view is that a lot of people look for excuses to walk off. It's far better when you front it out and try to do your best irrespective of whether you have suffered a knock or pulled a muscle. That's my philosophy. It worked for me, it might not work for everyone.

I can recall in Australia I played a guy called David Renneberg. He was as dangerous as dangerous can be. You got out and you thought, gee, I've escaped today. Then he came to New Zealand, he had health problems and he wasn't a fraction of what he had been in Australia.

I was working with a brother in a family furniture business, then I left to become an insurance agent, then I moved into a tobacco company. I was one of the few that had a contract that said when cricket interferes with work, then I'd give up cricket. I was there for work.

If there is a complaint I have nowadays it is that players don't allow themselves the luxury or the time to see what the ball is doing. There is the old idiom, that if it's a half volley you hit it no matter what part of the innings you are in but that isn't one I subscribe to. How do you know the state of your reflexes? What the bowler is trying to do? What is the track like? I'd prefer to wait a while.

I played 11 one-day games for New Zealand and still hold the average for them. You don't have to get out there and hit it straight away.

What I find about the modern game is that the bowlers are worse, they aren't as accurate, the batsmen are more innovative, the running between the wickets and the fielding, in particular, has improved. That's the impact of one-day cricket.

For my sins, I had a period as national selector and we were told at that stage that players had to have two disciplines. We could not pick a person just doing one thing any longer. Some of our brilliant New Zealand players were one-discipline players.

You don't carry anyone these days. Everyone has to contribute. It may be the person that fielded down at third man in our time now has to field in the covers.

Congdon (pouring the drink) and team toast New Zealand's first Test victory over Australia, in Christchurch

Congdon (pouring the drink) and team toast New Zealand's first Test victory over Australia, in Christchurch © The Cricketer International

What is a concern for me, is that people of my generation had another job to go to. Cricket was a second job. If you were injured or dropped, you had your other job to fall back on. Nowadays everyone is looking to make big money out of sport and they are looking at it to cover their future. Their future could be 30-35 years away. I do worry a little bit about the future generations.

A very small percentage of the cricketers take 90% of the money available. It speaks for itself. The other people are also-rans.

We played it for the enjoyment. We probably played with a little more passion than nowadays. It seems to be that you go through the motions.

If the team is not successful it blames the coach and they get replaced at a frequency that the game can't afford. We have to be prepared to retain coaches for longer.

I didn't think I'd have the career I did. The people who look too far ahead, and are too grandiose, have the problems. You do it by steps and move up to the next level. There are many who want to be a Test player before they have succeeded at the level below.

I did enjoy captaincy. I always knew that you weren't going to be popular all the time with all the players. You had to be a successful. That was the bottom line.

Players won't always get on, but they should all have the passion of playing for the country. A player has to have passion, I can't stress that enough.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo