ONE OF THE GREATEST UPSETS IN NEW ZEALAND SPORTING HISTORY

In January 2016, the Buller men’s cricket team became famous, overnight sporting heroes in a proud region that certainly knows how to celebrate success.

CHAMPIONS OF NEW ZEALAND The mighty victorious Buller cricket team following their epic Hawke Cup triumph, skipper Troy Scanlon holding the silverware with manager Pete Knowles on the far right.

They won the coveted Hawke Cup, the symbol of New Zealand minor association provincial cricket supremacy, first contested in 1910, after 106 years of waiting just for a challenge in a gripping three day contest that went right down to the very last delivery. 

Buller, one of the smallest associations in New Zealand with just four senior teams, one of those a schoolboys college team and all their matches are played on artificial turf. Their pool of players was around 25-30 and players paid for their own accomodation, lunches and travel, skipper Troy Scanlon the bus driver. Luckily for this trip, Buller team manager Pete Knowles got his name on the van license just in case the miracle happened then his skipper could celebrate with the team.

Pete had moved over to the Buller region from Marlborough as a school teacher and having worked with Marlborough cricket previously he described what he saw in Buller as “We talk about grass roots cricket, it really is the bottom of the root here in a good way.

“There are absolutely no egos here. There is no me. They don’t know what ego is.They play for each other with a goal of doing well for each other. To play for their province is the most important thing.

“It’s just a fantastic environment to be involved with. It is just, let’s go out there and have fun and play our cricket because we love it and do our honest best for everyone in the town and the past players.”

“There are absolutely no egos here. There is no me. They don’t know what ego is.They play for each other with a goal of doing well for each other. To play for their province is the most important thing."

THE COVETED HAWKE CUP

Commitment was never a problem for the Buller team with players travelling far and wide from Greymouth in the south and Karamea in the north just to train. They are proud to a man to represent their beautiful province and everything is kept to basics for Buller including, no coach, no flash warm-up routine, just kicking a rugby ball around and a few catches then into it.

In a heart-stopping see-sawing match, fittingly it was skipper and man of the match Troy Scanlon who bowled the last over, a man who had been trying for 17 years playing for Buller just to get a challenge in a competition which is fiercely contested. 

Troy typifies everything that is so great about this province. He is as fifth generation Buller man and the proud product of a wonderful cricketing family. His dad Kevin was chairman of the Buller Cricket Association in 2016, his cousin Craig captained Buller for 11 seasons before handing the reigns over to Troy.

Troy Scanlon - captain fantastic

Team manager Pete Knowles, a colourful character himself and a very handy medium-paced bowler originally out of Marlborough, summed up how hugely respected the skipper is. “He’s class. A natural leader. One of the best captains I have ever met and I don’t think he even realises it. You just naturally follow him. 

“Doing it for Troy, they actually do that. They admire him.”

It was nail-biting stuff on the final day of a weather interrupted epic, manager Pete Knowles was so nervous he couldn’t watch, waiting out the back puffing cigarettes until he heard the cheers of victory. The players themselves remarkably kept their cool although nerves were pretty frayed by the end, Troy admitted.

Troy and another hero of the campaign that year Andrew Duncan, said the trip home with manager Pete at the wheel was amazing and the team were given a heroes welcome, a civic reception in Westport.

It was nail-biting stuff on the final day of a weather interrupted epic, manager Pete Knowles was so nervous he couldn’t watch, waiting out the back puffing cigarettes until he heard the cheers of victory

CHAMPION TEAM ,CHAMPION BLOKES Skipper Troy Scanlon, left and ace batsman Andrew Duncan two of the stars of Buller’s amazing Hawke Cup success in 2016

Rain had interrupted play throughout the match and left what was usually a great batting surface at Mainpower Oval in Rangiora, a seamer friendly barely playable soggy mess and as Troy said, effectively evened the challenge up.

Buller battled through to 120 having been put in by the holders, Andrew Duncan top scoring with 32 and Canterbury Country bowler Will Williams returning the stunning figures of 9-38. But then Buller came out and demolished a star studded lineup for just 79 runs, Troy bowling magnificently taking 5-29 and backed that up with four more in the second innings.

Buller then made 146 in their second innings, opener Michael Grafton making a crucial 54 from 178 deliveries and cutting down the time Canterbury Country had to make the required runs to win outright and retain the cup.

GRAFTING - Michael Grafton scored a vital 54 in his side's second innings

"the cricket Gods were smiling on our totally unfancied team from the start but everyone needs a little luck"

By this time supporters from all over the South Island in particular from the Buller region had converged on Rangiora in the hope of watching history being made and they were not disappointed. Among them were former Canterbury and Black Caps coach Denis Aberhart who had helped coach Buller on occasions.

Canterbury Country required 188 from the final 27 overs at 6.96 runs per over to retain the cup and geez did they give it a nudge.

With one over left they required 19. Skipper Troy Scanlon took it upon himself to bowl that last over and given how he had bowled so well throughout the match, he was confident he could do the job. 

However after two deliveries, Andrew Robertson, one of several first-class players in the team, had sent the first one for four and whacked the second out of the park. Nine runs from four balls required.

“Geez surely not”, thought the big fast bowler but he kept his nerve nailed a Yorker length and Canterbury Country needed a six to win off the last ball. When that final ball was bowled and it didn’t go for six, Buller players and fans erupted in joyous celebrations which carried on for days afterwards. Another former Canterbury coach Garry MacDonald and a former Marlborough and Nelson Hawke Cup ace John Gully were among those who drove over from Nelson to Westport to join in the celebrations.

The team arrived back at the Criterion Hotel in Westport and 12.30am in the morning, greeted by what seemed like half the town including mayor Garry Howard.

The phenomenal result was compared to the famous 15-10 win by the combined Buller/West Coast rugby over the touring Wallabies rugby team in 1972.

Just getting a challenge is a victory in itself because to do so a team has to win their qualifying section and in Buller’s case it was the Hawke Cup holders Canterbury Country, Marlborough and Nelson. 

Victorious skipper Troy Scanlon reckons the cricket Gods were smiling on his totally unfancied team from the start but everyone needs a little luck to achieve great things and while Buller had some of that, their onfield performances through to and including the challenge, were outstanding.

WELCOME HOME - Buller is proud of you...

The round-robin match against Canterbury Country was rained off, they then defeated Marlborough narrowly on the first innings then caused another big upset by crushing Nelson at the Saxton Fields in Nelson with skipper Troy Scanlan and star batsman Andrew Duncan making big hundreds, Troy getting 118 and Andrew a magnificent 157 in a mammoth first innings total of 522-7.

Buller’s reign was short-lived, losing to North Otago in their first defence. They may never even get to challenge for the Hawke Cup again but in January 2016, 11 victorious players, their manager and 12th man became famous forever and nothing can ever take that away.

The victorious team comprised (in batting order): Michael Grafton, Craig Adams, Nik Cumming, Alistair Burnett, Andrew Duncan, Troy Scanlon (cpt), Frank Volckman, Max McDonald, Troy Adams, Michael Anderson, Clinton Harvey. 12th man Ben Pratt, manager Pete Knowles.

Listen to my (John Alexander) interview with Troy Scanlon and Andrew Duncan about that epic match, its a cracker.

 

Interview & Words by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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