Essex vs New Zealand (lost radio coverage of international cricket match; 1927)
Between 14th-17th May 1927, Essex County Cricket Club hosted the New Zealand national cricket team at the Leyton County Cricket Ground, as part of the latter's 1927 tour of England. Essex ultimately won the two-innings encounter by five wickets, though it did contribute towards New Zealand being deemed worthy of Test cricket status by January 1930. The game is also historic for being the first cricket match to receive live radio coverage in the United Kingdom.
1927 marked the inaugural England tour for the New Zealand national cricket team. In the past few years, New Zealand cricket had expanded from a niche sport to a more national affair, though the national team were not yet considered worthy enough for Test cricket matches. Still, the tour would enable New Zealand to play 38 matches, with sixteen of them against first-class counties like Essex. The team was captained by Thomas Lowry, who had previously played for Cambridgeshire, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and Somerset. He recalled the prestige his team felt upon entering English soil in April, stating that they "felt like a lot of schoolboys who had got into long trousers for the first time". The team were also realistic about their chances, seeking simply to "learn the rules as England taught them" rather than necessarily expecting victories. New Zealand's match with Essex was its second tour encounter, after facing - and drawing with - MCC between 11th-13th May 1927. Meanwhile, Essex had just started its 1927 County Championship campaign, which would end with the club finishing eighth out of 17 teams.
Earlier that same year, the BBC officially became a Royal Charter, which allowed the corporation to finally cover live sports after being thwarted for years by print media lobbies against it. After becoming impressed with American baseball coverage that started in 1921, then-Head of Outside Broadcasts Lance Sieveking opted to have the BBC broadcast live cricket in a similar fashion. But unlike its inaugural coverage of sports like horse racing and football, the BBC were actually rather reluctant with carrying out this experiment. As Issue 188 of Radio Times stated in its match preview, the slow-pace nature of cricket would make ball-by-ball coverage impractical, expressing concern the average listener would not be interested in a long-running cricket broadcast. Similarly, The Guardian and The Daily Express also questioned the BBC's decision, though the print media's criticism could have been the result of dismissing radio coverage, a clear substitute threat of the time period. Still, Australian radio stations had been covering cricket since 1922, which indicated the experiment could be fruitful.
By late-April, it was reported that Reverend Frank Gillingham, a long-time Essex player, would provide live coverage, primarily thanks to his preaching experience. This gave him an advantage over Pelham Warner, who the BBC were concerned had a "too gravely melancholic" voice. He and a microphone were situated at Leyon's pavilion; starting at 14:10 pm on 14th May, Gillingham would provide a ten-minute opening to the occasion. Every hour, he would provide five-minutes updates, summarising the most notable plays and any interesting coverage occurring live. To keep listeners engaged and entertained, the London Radio Dance Band would play music in-between the broadcasts, which could be interrupted at any time should a key event emerge. Gillingham concluded the broadcast with a summary at 18:45 pm. Overall, the 25-minute coverage was met with mixed reception by the print media, with Western Daily Press lambasting the broadcast as "deadly dull".
Nevertheless, the Edinburgh Evening News' summing up the coverage as a "partial success" was perhaps a more fitting summary, as the BBC were encouraged to provide further cricket coverage that year, including Oxford vs Cambridge and Gentlemen vs Players. However, British radio coverage of cricket did not take off until the 1930s, especially as Sievking's appointment to Head of Drama and Teddy Wakelam's concerns that "cricket was impossible to commentate upon" following an August 1927 match between Surrey and Middlesex, hurt support for the cause. Still, new-Head of Outside Broadcasts Seymour de Lotbiniere began leading ever increasingly substantial Test cricket coverage starting from 1934, which ultimately proved successful. Reverend Gillingham was not part of this process, for his commentary career ended in June after an unfortunate incident where he read advertising boards at the Oval during a break in play, earning the wrath of BBC's Lord Reith. Gillingham was later appointed as Chaplain to King George VI in 1939.
The encounter itself began on 14th May at Essex's Leyton County Cricket Ground, and was played over three days. Both sides would play two innings each, with New Zealand winning the toss and electing to bat first. The visitors initially struggled, as opening batsman Roger Blunt was caught after scoring a single run, while Ken James was bowled out for four by Stan Nichols to leave them 20/2. However, a partnership between Jackie Mills and Lowry paid dividends, contributing towards New Zealand reaching 132 runs. However, both were unable to withstand slow spinner Jack O'Connor's bowling, who contributed to their dismissals in addition to three other batsmen. New Zealand therefore struggled to reach 200, eventually being on 194/8. However, Bill Merritt's 49 not out, as well as 23 by Bill Cunningham and 22 by Ernest Bernau, helped New Zealand reach 289 by the time all ten wickets were lost.
Essex's first innings began strongly, scoring 62/2 by the close of the first day. The team's scoring was strong if also significantly patchy. O'Connor and Jack Russell accumulated 65 and 76 runs respectively, before Hubert Ashton added another 52. O'Connor eventually suffered an lbw imposed by Lowry, while Herb McGirr bowled out the others. By this point, Essex were on 262/5. However, the team suddenly languished on 262/7, as captain Johnny Douglas and Whiz Morris were both dismissed for ducks. Two others were also out for ducks, reducing Essex's scoring potential as McGirr took six wickets. A further 61 runs by Stan Nichols helped continue the Essex charge, eventually being bowled out for 373 after 107 overs.
In the second innings, Jackie Mills was dismissed for a duck, but New Zealand's early charge proved somewhat consistent. Stewie Dempster carried the team forwards, accumulating 79 runs before being caught by Laurie Eastman. His dismissal signalled the beginning of the end of New Zealand's innings, with no other batsmen being able to reach even 15 runs. Thus, the team began a collapse after 180 runs, being unable to cope with Eastman and O'Connor's bowling. New Zealand were all out after 208 runs, leaving Essex with a target of 125. Eastman scored 41 runs before suffering an lbw. The other batsmen slowly accumulated runs, although the team did lose three wickets in quick succession to leave them on 76/4. But despite Roger Blunt taking four wickets, Essex ultimately claimed victory by five wickets.
Following this defeat, New Zealand would lose to Cambridge University and Middlesex. However, the team enjoyed a strong run of form throughout the summer, including beating First Class county sides Derbyshire, Glamorgan, Somerset, Sussex, and Worcestershire, while also drawing against several others. Kent and Northamptonshire were the only other sides to beat the visitors. Thus, New Zealand's tour of England was declared a successful venture, and contributed towards the nation granted Test status by January 1930. Blunt was also declared among the Five Cricketers of the Year according to Wisden. New Zealand's first Test series was against visitors England from 10th January to 24th February 1930. England won the first Test, but the hosts were able to draw the final three.
The BBC's early years of radio broadcasts were almost all completely transmitted without any recordings being conducted. Prior to 1930, the corporation had limited practical means of recording output, until the Blattnerphone was introduced. Ultimately, regular recordings did not truly begin until the 1930s, with the oldest surviving sports radio clip being a 1932 re-enactment of the 1928 FA Cup Final coverage. Additionally, the oldest surviving BBC radio cricket broadcast within its archives originates from the 1934 Ashes Test. Thus, the BBC's first live cricket coverage will likely remain forever lost. Some newsreel clips of New Zealand during its 1927 tour have been preserved by British Pathé.
- 1924-1925 Ashes Series (lost radio coverage of Test cricket matches; 1924-1925)
- 1938 Ashes Series (partially found footage of international test cricket match; 1938)
- 1987 NatWest Trophy (partially found footage of one-day county cricket tournament matches; 1987)
- 1988 NatWest Trophy (partially found footage of one-day county cricket tournament matches; 1988)
- 1988 Refuge Assurance Cup (lost footage of one-day county cricket tournament matches; 1988)
- 1989 Refuge Assurance Cup (partially found footage of one-day county cricket tournament matches; 1989)
- Ashes Cricket 2013 (lost builds of cancelled home console ports of cricket game; 2013)
- Australian XI vs Rest of Australia (lost radio coverage of Test cricket match; 1925)
- Charles Bannerman testimonial cricket match (lost radio coverage of charity cricket match; 1922)
- Cricket Life documenting the history of cricket in New Zealand, including its accession to Test status. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- New Zealand – The 1927 Tour of the United Kingdom detailing New Zealand's successful 1927 tour and how it led to Test status. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- New Zealand History detailing how New Zealand were initially not considered good enough for Test status, which would all change thanks to its 1927 tour. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Cricket Country summarising the importance of 11th May 1927 was for New Zealand cricket and its game against MCC. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- 8th April 1927 issue of Otago Daily Times summarising the growing popularity of New Zealand cricket. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Wisden listing the matches New Zealand played during its tour. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- ESPNCricinfo biography on Lowry. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- ESPNCricinfo providing the result of the MCC-New Zealand match. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Wisden detailing the 1927 County Championship table. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC detailing its history as a Royal Charter. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- International Radio Journalism detailing the BBC's early attempts to cover live sports, which emerged in 1927 by becoming a Royal Charter. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC Radio and Sport detailing the BBC's early radio coverage of cricket in 1927. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Cricket Country detailing the timeline of events leading up to the match broadcast and its reception. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Wisden documenting the history of radio cricket, particularly in Australia and the United Kingdom. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Test Match Special: 50 Not Out detailing the birth of cricket radio coverage in the United Kingdom. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Issue 188 of Radio Times previewing the match and its radio broadcast. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- ESPNCricinfo biography on Reverend Gillingham. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- The Guardian summarising Gillingham's appointment over Warner, and how his commentating career abruptly ended. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times detailing the radio coverage of the match. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Issue 188 of Radio Times listing the BBC's coverage of the match. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- Bats, Balls & Bails summarising the early history of British radio cricket, and noting the oldest surviving radio coverage comes from 1934. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- ESPNCricinfo detailing the result and statistics of the match. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- ESPNCricinfo summarising New Zealand's first Test series against England in 1930. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC noting it had no viable means of recording sound until the introduction of the Blatterphone in 1930. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC noting it did not start recording radio coverage until the early-1930s. Retrieved 16th Jul '23
- BBC providing an extract of surviving radio coverage from the 1932 re-enactment of its 1928 FA Cup Final coverage, the oldest surviving sporting clip in its archives. Retrieved 16th Jul '23