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Dick Motz: A truly tragic hero

May 03, 2007 18:55 IST

New Zealand's cricketing great Dick Motz, who was the first Kiwi to take 100 wickets in Test cricket, breathed his last in Christchurch on April 29. He was 67. A colourful character, Motz was dazzlingly popular with fans because of his flamboyant batting and ability to hit towering sixes on their demand.

Although dwarfed by several other Kiwi bowlers since, Motz's accomplishment was special in that it was achieved in an era when New Zealand was considered a Cinderella team and struggling for its credibility and identity in international cricket. This also explains why New Zealand won only four of the 32 Test matches he figured in.

But there was no denying Motz's class as a capable medium-pacer. He dismissed the obdurate English opener Geoffrey Boycott on no fewer than six occasions. But, for all his talent and achievements, Motz also had a dubious distinction of becoming, in 1968, the first ever Test bowler in history to be banned from bowling for running on the pitch.

In many ways, he was also a true tragic hero, as his post-cricketing life was very miserable. He died in penury with no one around him -- a reflection on the pitiable lives many star but amateur cricketers used to live in different parts of the world when there was no money to speak of in the sport.

Strongly built, Motz was a bear of a man. His powerful physique enabled him to strike the ball savagely and bowl hours on end. He had an economical run-up and an intense desire to be in the thick of the action. Despite his size, he showed tremendous stamina and always came back for more. He had an uncomplicated approach to bowling: bowled at a lively pace and usually moved the ball off the pitch. He baffled many batsmen with his effective out-swinger.

Graham Dowling once remarked that Motz in his pomp reminded him of Freddie Trueman, the first bowler to take 300 wickets in the heavyweight division of cricket.

"They were similar in style and action. They were broad-shouldered and tough. They both had big bums. Trueman moved the ball away from the right-handers a bit more frequently than Motz, although the latter bowled out-swingers with the new ball occasionally when the conditions suited him," said the former New Zealand captain.

Richard Charles Motz was born (on January 12, 1940) and bred in Christchurch into a family prominent in harness-racing. His father, an occasional Sunday cricketer, was one of the firsts to notice Motz's innate skills for cricket and tennis and encouraged him to seriously pursue the willow game. One night Motz came home crying with exhaustion and his father ordered him to choose between cricket and tennis. It was a decision that guaranteed him a place in the sun but no immunity from the harsher realities of life that an amateur cricketer like him had to face after retirement. Nevertheless, he always played sport with a vengeance.

Right-hander Motz's talent for pace bowling and big hitting truly blossomed at North New Brighton primary school, where he was voted the best all-rounder in each of his last four years. At 13, he played for Christchurch Suburban Association's third grade representative team. Then his all-round performances at Linwood High School brought him into national reckoning. He captained the school's first eleven in his final two years and scored three centuries and 76 not out in his last four innings.  He then joined Riccarton Club and continued to impress.

At 17, he began playing for Canterbury in the annual Under-20 inter-provincial tournament. Motz had been busy playing in Auckland when Tony MacGibbon, who spearheaded New Zealand's attack in the 1950s, withdrew from Canterbury's team, which was about to meet Northern Districts in the Plunket Shield competition in Christchurch in 1957-58. An SOS was sent and the teen-aged Motz was flown to Christchurch. Bowling within hours of his arrival, he took a wicket in his second over, two in his third and finished with 4 for 40 on his dramatic first-class debut. He then added 67 runs for the ninth wicket with Sammy Guillen.

Motz played that season in an inter-island match and in a final trial before the New Zealand team was chosen for the 1958 tour of England. However, he was considered "too immature" for international cricket, though he won a place in an unofficial "Test" against Australia a year later.

But Motz had maturity thrust upon him when, in 1959-60, he saved Canterbury from the jaws of defeat against Auckland. On a pitch where the ball was turning prodigiously and lifting awkwardly, Canterbury collapsed on the last afternoon and was 40 for 8 when Motz joined wicketkeeper John Ward. They demonstrated incredible sangfroid, put a dead bat to everything for 40 minutes under trying circumstances and eventually dashed Auckland's hopes.

In 1960-61, Motz took 7 for 48 versus Wellington. He hit 65 in 52 minutes with six sixes, including four off Don Wilson, for Canterbury against DRW Silk's MCC side. In the first unofficial 'Test' between New Zealand and MCC, he scored breezy 36 and 60, including three sixes in one David Allen over. He claimed 5 for 34 in the second unofficial 'Test'.

Motz was declared New Zealand's Cricketer of the Year in 1961 and was an automatic choice for the tour to South Africa in 1961-62. He was one of five Kiwis and seven Proteas to make their Test debut in the first match at Durban. He took 81 wickets at 17.7 on the tour and headed first-class averages. He played a pivotal role in New Zealand's most successful Test series with 19 wickets at 26.57 and virtually never looked back.

In England in 1965, he spearheaded New Zealand's attack and topped aggregates and averages with 54 wickets at 22.98, including 11 in the three-Test series. He also played a disciplined innings of 95 against Worcestershire. In 1966, Wisden named Motz one of its Five Cricketers of the Year. The hallowed almanac described Motz as "the cricketer of a schoolboy's dreams -- a fast bowler who hits sixes".

He took 8 for 61 against Wellington in 1966-67, his best ever bowling figures in an innings. He ran through the Australian second innings at Lancaster Park in 1967 and helped Canterbury register its first ever win against the Aussies. His seven victims included Norman O'Neill, Brian Booth, Paul Sheahan and Peter Burge. A few months later, he scored 103 not out in 53 minutes with 7 sixes and 8 fours against Otago. It was his highest first-class score.

His explosive 94 with 6 sixes and 10 fours at Adelaide in a game for New Zealand against South Australia in 1967 caught even the eye of Don Bradman, who described the effort as "an outstanding example of positive batting".  

A few months later Motz captured 15 wickets at 28.86 in four Tests against India. In the second Test at Christchurch, he claimed 6 for 63 in the first essay and helped New Zealand to its maiden triumph over Indians, although the latter went on to win their first ever series abroad.

He completed a century of Test wickets on the tour of England in 1969 when he trapped Phil Sharpe leg-before wicket at The Oval. Unfortunately, he had to retire exactly on 100 Test wickets after the tour as it was discovered that he had been bowling with a displaced vertebra for 18 months. He was only 29.

In 32 Tests, he took 100 wickets at 31.48. He scored 3 half-centuries – all against England. In 142 first-class matches, Motz claimed 518 wickets at 22.71 and scored 3494 runs at 17.22, including 1 century and 13 fifties.

Motz was troubled by knee and back pains almost throughout his career because of the considerable duress he put his large frame under. When he played Test cricket, he weighed 92 kilograms. His weight ballooned dangerously in later years and caused him serious health concerns. He was weighing around 140 kg when found dead by Dowling.

Motz, who was not much educated, was employed in a sports goods shop during his playing days. He then became a liquor salesman, had an unsuccessful stint as a publican at Queen's Hotel in Timaru and kept working in an around hotels and restaurants for years. He ended up driving cabs in Christchurch.

He did not have a happy personal life either. His first marriage with Loretta Todd, a right-arm fast bowler and a hard-hitting batswoman for Canterbury whose illness cost her a place in the New Zealand women's team, ended in divorce. He remarried but separated from his wife a few years ago.

In October 1989, his 22-year-old son Wayne was water-blasting Christchurch's Cathedral Square when a stranger shot him dead. The gunman shot himself after being released from Paparua Prison some years ago.

Motz, who was inducted to the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame in 1997, is survived by his daughters Debbie and Vicky.

Haresh Pandya