Standing in the outfield of Eden Park, before more than 40,000 pairs of eyes, 70-year-old Liz Allan felt “quite self-conscious – and a little odd”.
It wasn’t that she was intimidated by the size of the crowd – she’d played cricket in front of a similar legion of vociferous Indian fans at the Women’s World Cup in 1978. And loved it.
But this time, Allan was in the spotlight for something that had taken place 47 years earlier; that turned out to be one of the most significant moments in New Zealand cricket history.
White Fern No. 59, Allan was at the front of the line-up of Kiwi women greats to be handed their black caps, for representing their country in test cricket.
Their male counterparts, the Black Caps, had long since received their test caps. This summer, New Zealand Cricket recognised that it was finally time to acknowledge all those players who’d made their mark in the women’s game.
Around the country over the last fortnight, during the historic T20 double-header matches, caps have been presented to our women test cricketers. In some cases, family members collected the caps for those players who have passed away.
The women of Canterbury will receive their special hats – in the style of the traditional English cricket cap – this weekend, between innings in the Black Caps’ second one-dayer with Bangladesh. In all, 74 women will be honoured.
Test cricket is no longer part of the international women’s game (except for a biennial series between Australia and England). It’s 15 years since New Zealand last played a test match.
In the present White Ferns side, only wicket-keeper Katey Martin has test experience. She lined up on Eden Park last Friday behind Liz Allan to receive her cap, just moments after helping the White Ferns beat India to take out the T20 series.
Although initially uncomfortable with the attention, Allan was “really chuffed” to have her cricket career recognised before an appreciative cricketing crowd. And in front of the current White Ferns team – who walked along the file of women to shake their hands or high-five them.
“When I saw what it meant to my family too, it was quite emotional,” Allan said, quickly wiping away tears. Her sister and brother, a niece and nephew, and even a grand niece were cheering loudly from the stands.
A medium-pace bowler, Allan made her debut for New Zealand in 1972, in a one-off four-day test against the Australian women in Melbourne. Although the White Ferns made a paltry 89 in their first innings, they struck back on the second day, eventually winning by 143 runs.
It was the first test victory by any New Zealand side over Australia – and it would take another two years for the Black Caps to replicate that feat.
That victory – wrote cricket author Adrienne Simpson – ensured that “women’s cricket could no longer be ignored by the New Zealand cricketing establishment. The 1972 New Zealand Cricket Almanack became the first to include reference to the women’s game.”
Allan, who went on to play four tests and seven ODIs for her country, would have loved to play the swashbuckling 20-overs game. “I would have gone for the Big Bash – the whole thing,” she said.
“When I was the manager of the Auckland Hearts [domestic cricket team], some of the girls would say ‘I bowled 10 overs on the trot.’ I used to say ‘Woo-hoo – try 30 overs in a five-day test’. They’d never make it. There’s a different mentality now.
“Personally I think we were just as good, if not better, than the girls I’m seeing out here today. We always fielded as if every ball was coming to us, but they don’t seem to play with that same urgency anymore. I find it quite frustrating, but that’s just the way that it is.”
Among the band of former White Ferns decorated in Auckland were the current New Zealand coach Haidee Tiffen, and manager Catherine Campbell.
Tiffen’s playing career spanned a decade including New Zealand’s last test – a draw with England in 2004. She realised the importance of current White Ferns acknowledging those women who had gone before them.
“We talk a lot about respecting the past. It’s because of these women that our game is where it is today,” she said. “A lot of these players today would love a test cap too – but they may never get the opportunity, because of where the women’s game is going. Our society wants to see fast cricket.”
Tiffen also paid kudos to Campbell – the unofficial ‘mother of New Zealand cricket’ – who wrapped up her tenure as the White Ferns manager at the end of the Indian series.
“She’s a legend. She’s brought some of those old school values to the team, things she learned from these women here,” said Tiffen.
Tears flowed as Campbell, known in the team as “CC”, received her cap. Her incredible contribution to cricket in New Zealand has reached across all facets of the game for almost three decades.
She was a player at four World Cups over 12 years, earning the nickname “Dot” for her miserly off-spin bowling.
She’s had a couple of stints as the White Ferns manager, and she will continue in her role as general manager of cricket operations for NZC – organising all elite competition in the country.
Often her roles have intersected. Campbell spent a year organising the 2000 World Cup in Christchurch, and then played a major role on the field – her “evergreen arm” helping New Zealand to their historic first cup victory. (It’s an achievement the Black Caps have yet to tick off).
She’s off to a Future Tours and Programmes meeting with the International Cricket Council in Dubai later this month, which meant she couldn’t tour with the White Ferns to Australia for the Rose Bowl for her last time.
So it was, Campbell said, a “really nice feeling” to be capped alongside old team-mates, with her most recent team watching on.
“In a funny sort of way, the fact that it took such a long time to receive our caps made it even more special,” she said. “It could have been in another forum, or just among ourselves, but I think it was really special how it was done.”
Campbell, now 55, has obviously witnessed an evolution of the women’s game since her test debut in 1990. The players are more powerful and athletic.
“But I’m not sure they’ve had the volume of cricket behind them, in terms of their understanding of the game,” she said after her capping.
“Because less women are playing cricket, a number are selected to play for New Zealand a lot younger. They don’t have a history of club or domestic cricket behind them.
“And that’s just purely a numbers thing, and we need to build up the bottom of the pyramid. It’s difficult, we’ve struggled to do it. But to be fair we’ve always tried to do it using the men’s model, which hasn’t worked.”
That’s why NZC last year created the role of national female participation manager, filled by former Football Fern Michele Cox, to grow women and girls’ involvement in the game.
“I’m sure there are young girls who watched tonight’s game on TV. We have to provide them with opportunities to play,” Campbell said.
“It’s exciting that for some, cricket will be a career. For us, it was a hobby. We trained all year to play three games.”
But nevertheless, they created history, and laid down a better path for future White Ferns to follow.