Mark Burgess

'At no stage did I think I'd be New Zealand captain'

Mark Burgess led his country's cricket team (though he thought he was better at football), had to miss tours to keep his job, and remembers the days when one-dayers were a novelty

Interview by Brydon Coverdale

"When you've got the confidence to play the shot, it emerges" © Brydon Coverdale/ESPNcricinfo

I loved playing cricket and had great respect for the majority of the players I played against. I had fantastic experiences that someone else was paying for. It's not life or death, is it?

I had a reasonable first year for Auckland but hadn't scored a hundred or anything. And that was it. They stuck me in the side to go to Australia. There would have been a few who were probably annoyed they weren't chosen. Our expectations were quite low. We were a poor second cousin to Australia, because they were at that time unwilling to play Test matches against New Zealand.

At no stage did I ever think I would become captain of New Zealand. Congdon had been the captain, and Turner had been. And then instead of playing cricket in New Zealand that season, Turner was in Worcester preparing for his benefit season. The selectors suddenly arrived at a point where they thought, "Who the hell are we going to make captain?" I suppose I was last man standing.

Beating England in my first Test as captain was quite a moment. The best part was that guys like Walter Hadlee and John Reid, all those guys who had played in the past and wanted to get that win, they were actually at the ground. It was a good thing for the game here.

The celebrations weren't over the top. We opened some bottles of pretty inexpensive champagne in the dressing room. But then later that day John Parker and I were photographed up at John Reid's squash centre near the university having a game of tennis. We didn't contemplate inviting Boycott up for a game of tennis. It was his second Test as captain. He'd long coveted the England captaincy. He didn't exactly get away to a flyer!

"One of the players was expected to be the treasurer for the tour and help the manager. So if someone had an accounting background, they'd perform that task"

I was a bit more successful at football at school. It was the game I liked a little better, but it transpired that in the late '60s I got surprisingly put in the New Zealand cricket team. From there, there weren't many opportunities to play football for me. I played one game for New Zealand. I played a number of games for the Under-23 side.

My father played a little bit of first-class cricket. Like guys of that era, his cricket was interfered with by the war. He spent some time in Guadalcanal and places in the islands.

At no stage when I played did we have a coach. We went away with a manager and he did all the administrative stuff. One of the players was expected to be the treasurer for the tour and help the manager. So if someone had an accounting background, which Richard Collinge did, they'd perform that task. And you'd get different duties game by game, for making things tick over.

The best period I spent was in 1969, going to England, just watching how the better English Test and county players went about it.

We didn't go out with a five-day plan about how we were going to beat Australia or England, we just went out knowing that you had to go through five days of a Test and cope with whatever came along in each different session. You were expected to be self-sufficient.

They used to say that I played shots, but when you compare scoring rates with those of these days, we were very conservative.

It never even occurred to me until someone pointed it out about ten years later that I made hundreds in three consecutive Tests. It was over quite a period: Dhaka in 1969, then against England here in 1971, then the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1972. I was desperately lucky with the one here. Vic Pollard played the first Test in Christchurch where Underwood got 6 for 12 on a dreadful pitch. But there was Sunday play in the Test match here in Auckland. I was available for Sunday play and he wasn't. Quite a number of things combined for that weird statistic to emerge at the end of it all.

"All I ever want to see a New Zealand team doing, whatever the sport, is to give their absolute best" © Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

East Pakistan was a pretty impoverished place then. I made a hundred in Dhaka. It was the first Test series New Zealand won. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep at all the night after that. It wasn't because we were up drinking beer all night. It was almost impossible to get an alcoholic drink in India or Pakistan in those days. The only stuff we had was supplied by the New Zealand High Commission - they sent a few beers over. It was quite a moment. It was a big moment for New Zealand cricket, and it was an occasion for me as well.

The Indian spinners were the guys we found most difficult. They had Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkat. Ramakant Desai opened the bowling. He was a little medium-pacer whose only quick ball was his bouncer. We struggled against them. In the forefront of your mind was the dodginess of being hit on the pad. You'd use your feet and make sure you didn't dare pad the thing off.

You had to mix cricket with work. If Australia would come here, there'd be a Test match, then Australia would play another tour game and we'd all go back to work. Then the week after that there'd be another Test match. There sometimes wouldn't even have been Auckland practice going on, so I'd go down to Grafton club practice, in conditions that Test players these days would be very unhappy to be experiencing. But we had a lot of fun.

I captained New Zealand at the 1979 World Cup. The one-day stuff was still a bit of a novelty. I don't think we took it as seriously as they do now. We made the semi-final and lost to England at Old Trafford.

There were no neutral umpires. Maybe it just played on our minds more than it needed to, but it was something you could use as an excuse for things not always going as well as they might. That was no different than when people came here. When Lloyd brought West Indies here they had some serious trouble with one umpire in particular.

"We had India about 70 for 7 and were about to bowl them out and were on the point of winning. There was a big downpour quite early in the day and they just refused to clean it up"

The game is about discipline, but it's also about instinct. When you've got the confidence to play the shot, it emerges. The ball is bowled and you react to it. When you're out of form and you worry, that's when people get tense and you make bad decisions. You don't get two or three opportunities when the ball is on its way. You react and that's it.

I worked for an importing trading company called Bing Harris Sargood. Luckily the boss was keen on cricket. I was always fortunate that whoever I was working for paid me when I was away. But I wasn't able to go on every tour. I missed the 1973-74 tour to Australia. We'd been in England in 1973 and came back, and a few weeks later they were off again to Australia. I went to England with the understanding of the two principals of the business that I wouldn't be going on the tour of Australia. I knew that. Looking back on it, it wasn't that easy.

In India we were stuffed out of sight in Hyderabad, where we were winning the Test. We had them about 70 for 7 and were about to bowl them out, and were on the point of winning. There was a big downpour quite early in the day and they just refused to clean it up.

We went to Australia a couple of times and played in their domestic one-day matches against the state sides. I think we might have won the first one. But I didn't regard that as being a career highlight. The Australian players didn't seem to be taking it too seriously. It took a while for the one-day game to be taken as seriously as it is now.

When I played, Sri Lanka weren't playing Test cricket, Bangladesh weren't playing Test cricket, Zimbabwe weren't playing Test cricket. But now that they've been given opportunities, Sri Lanka have done fantastically well, and the others, to me, I think do very well for the size of the country and the available talent. It's just a matter of getting opportunities.

All I ever want to see a New Zealand team doing, whatever the sport, is to give their absolute best. If on the day they're good enough to win, that's great, if on a different day the opposition are better, take your hat off and shake them by the hand and go on to the next contest.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo