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Oldest Black Cap passes on

By Playing Straight: Richard Becht

Published: 12:54PM Tuesday February 17, 2004

For the second time in just a few days, New Zealand has lost a famous sporting figure.

Rugby league great Jock Butterfield (72) died in Brisbane last Saturday and yesterday Don Cleverley, the world's oldest surviving test cricketer, also passed away in Southport on Queensland's Gold Coast, aged 94.

While Butterfield fashioned a long and impressive career as a rugby league international, Cleverley's test career was the exact opposite. A right-arm fast-medium bowler, he appeared in just two tests 14 years apart and never captured a wicket.

Instead he became renowned as one of world cricket's senior citizens.

His former New Zealand and Auckland team-mate Gordon (Dad) Weir owned the honour as the world's oldest surviving test cricketer until his death at the age of 95 last October.

So the mantle passed on to another Kiwi in Cleverley, a claim that would be his for little more than three months.

Yet his passing means a New Zealander still replaces him as the great survivor - legendary Wellingtonian Eric Tindill, 93 years 64 days old, a man who distinguished himself as a double New Zealand cricket and rugby international and later as an international rugby referee and cricket umpire. And the next on the list is yet another New Zealander Jack Kerr, 10 days younger than Tindill.

Cleverley, born in Oamaru on December 23, 1909, played for both Auckland and Central Districts in a first-class career spanning 23 years from 1930 to 1953.

His test debut came in the first match of the 1931-32 home series against South Africa in Christchurch. New Zealand was beaten by an innings and 12 runs, Cleverley making 10 not out and seven with the bat while returning figures of 0-79 off 22 overs. Among his team-mates were the brilliant Stewie Dempster, Kerr and Weir.

With the Second World War impacting heavily, Cleverley's second and last test was the one-off encounter with Australia in Wellington in 1945-46, when New Zealand was routed by an innings and 103 runs in less than two days. The outstanding leg spinner Bill O'Reilly had figures of 5-14 and 3-19 although New Zealand's exceptional quick bowler of the times Jack Cowie distinguished himself with his test-best return of 6-40 when Australia batted. Cleverley went wicketless with 0-51 from 15 overs while he was unbeaten on one both times he batted.

Apart from Cowie, the New Zealand team for that test also included Walter Hadlee, Verdun Scott, Merv Wallace and Tindill.

In all Cleverley played 30 first-class matches and took 99 wickets at 29.08, his best return being 8-75 for Auckland against Wellington in 1945-46. He played for Auckland from 1930-31 to 1950-51 before finishing up with Central Districts in 1952-53.

He was also a national amateur boxing champion.