Glasses ready to be raised for the Kaupokonui Terror

Glasses will be raised on both sides of the world tomorrow to honour a special day for a remarkable man when Tom Pritchard celebrates his 100th birthday.

 

Pritchard will become the first former Warwickshire player to become a centenarian, a milestone he will mark surrounded by his family at home in his native New Zealand.

Twelve thousand miles away in Birmingham, meanwhile, many toasts will be offered to a man still regarded with great warmth around Edgbaston, both for his fiery fast-bowling and his generous, immensely likeable personality.
Pritchard, from the small town of Kaupokonui on New Zealand's North Island, played for Warwickshire from 1946 to 1955, having met batsman and captain-to-be Tom Dollery while serving with the army in northern Italy.

"When Warwickshire suffered one of those days when nothing goes right, nobody worked harder than Pritchard to make the best of it."

Birmingham Mail

One of the quickest bowlers of his day, it was a mystery to many why Pritchard never played Test cricket, though it didn't help that he lost seven peak playing years to the war. Post-war, overlooked by his country, he towered for Warwickshire, playing 170 first-class matches for the county between 1946 and 1955 and taking 695 wickets, including 40 hauls of five or more, at 23.32 apiece.

He did not make his Warwickshire debut until the age of 30 but, in his second season, took 166 championship wickets - the second most in a season for the club, behind Eric Hollies'180 in 1946.

In his fast-bowling heyday, Pritchard was known as the Kaupokonui Terror - a nickname laden with irony. The 'terror' applied only to opposing batsmen fearful of having their poles knocked out (it happened a lot; of Pritchard's 172 first-class wickets in 1948, 95 were clean bowled).

To everyone else, Pritchard was just a true gentleman. Jack Bannister, not a man to bestow praise lightly, said: "No more popular man ever played for the club. It is a tribute to his popularity and unfailing unselfishness that he left the game without a bad word ever said about him."

Of how many people connected to professional sport can that be said?

Pritchard was the first overseas signing at Warwickshire to make a sustained impact on the field while also embedding himself at the heart of the club's affections. His virtues as both cricketer and person can be summed up by comparison with two other, much more recent, legendary Bears overseas stars.

A tall man and "big unit," as they say, Tom often bowled throughout whole sessions without sacrificing any pace or aggression, a display of sustained spirit and strength later to be the trademark of the great Allan Donald. On less good days for the team, meanwhile, as the Birmingham Post put it: "When Warwickshire suffered one of those days when nothing goes right, nobody worked harder than Pritchard to make the best of it." A big-hearted approach redolent of the Bears' current Black Cap, Jeetan Patel.

That Tom Pritchard never played for New Zealand was due to two factors at the mercy of which is any international career: luck and selectorial whim. He was unlucky to lose those key years of his career (ages 22-29) to the Second World War but the selectorial whim had arrived before then. Nineteen-year-old Pritchard was the quickest bowler at New Zealand's disposal as they prepared to tour England in 1937. As the selectors pondered the tour party, they arranged a scouting trip around North Island by rail. At Palmerston North, where Pritchard was playing, the selectors declined to get off the train. To widespread disbelief, Pritchard, the fastest bowler in the country, was not picked.

"He is completely family-orientated and loves hearing how his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are getting on. At one time he was concerned that he would not have any great-grandchildren. Now he has six - all under six years old."

Tom's daughter Adrienne

Instead, ahead lay service in the New Zealand Army and then with Warwickshire with whom he forged an immediate bond. Pritchard was, along with Charlie Grove and Eric Hollies, a driving force behind the formation, in 1958, of Warwickshire Old County Cricketers Association.

The association still proudly thrives and its newest recruits, the current Bears squad led by Ian Bell, have signed a card which has been sent to Tom with the warmest greetings of the club.

Warwickshire chairman Norman Gascoigne said:"At Warwickshire we have been very fortunate over many decades to have had some wonderful overseas players; excellent cricketers and, at the same time, excellent people. Tom set the template for that and, on behalf of the committee, members, players and staff, I would like to offer our enormous congratulations to him upon “bowling through” to the wonderful milestone of 100 years.

"We take great pride the pride in the history of our club and Tom's significant contribution to that history, for which he was awarded an Honorary Life Membership, is still remembered with great warmth and affection."

Tom went on to enjoy a successful business career before returning to New Zealand in 1986 to enjoy a well-deserved long and happy retirement. He remains in good health and still takes a close interest in sport, particularly his beloved horse-racing. He loves being kept up to date with his large and close family; daughters Adrienne and Julie, grandchildren Lynsay, Zoe, David and Ben and great-grandchildren Emily, Laura, Anna, Annabel, Amelia and Jessica.

"Sadly, our Mum died in 2009 but Tom is quite remarkable and keeping well," said Adrienne. "He is completely family-orientated and loves hearing how his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are getting on. At one time he was concerned that he would not have any great-grandchildren. Now he has six - all under six years old!"

And as soon as they are old enough, how proud they will be of Great-Grandad. Great guy. Warwickshire County Cricket Club's first centenarian. And very, very fine cricketer.

Perhaps it's time for New Zealand Cricket to come clean and explain - just why on earth did the selectors not get off that train?

Happy Birthday Tom from all at the Bears!

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Brian Halford

Brian is Warwickshire's Club Journalist and has reported on the Bears since 2000.