Interview: Wendy Blunsden
In 2016 I interviewed Wendy Blunsden as part of my quest to write about the Australian women Test cricket captains. Wendy passed away earlier this month so I’d share this interview.
Why cricket? What drew you to the game?
I learned in the backyard with my father, brother, sister and the local kids. It’s just in my blood.
Was it a dream of yours to captain your country in cricket?
No. I just wanted to play cricket.
You made your debut for South Australia against a strong NSW team and were one of eight victims to Marjorie Marvell, the left arm quick bowler. You picked up a wicket, opening the bowling with Jill Need. What was it like stepping up from grade cricket?)
At that time SA & WA were weaker than Vic & NSW so it took a bit of time to build the team and confidence to compete. Vic & NSW had a number of Australian players in each team. But I am sure that just made me more a determined bowler.Embed from Getty Images
You are taking wickets consistently for South Australia for six seasons yet the call up to national duty was not forthcoming, although this was a period during which there was precious little Test cricket being played. Did you feel as though you were never going to play for Australia?
I didn’t have high expectations in those early days. Attitudes changed as we played more International matches.
You finally made your Australian Test debut in a one-off Test against NZ in 1972 at St Kilda. How good did that Baggy Green feel?
There was no Baggy Green when I played – that came later. However, when the letter arrived from the AWCC it was the best day of my life, but no one was home so I celebrated with the dog.
You were one of 8 debutants. It must have been tough for the eight of you not having much experience around you in the dressing room. What was that like and how did you deal with it?
It was not until we got together in Melbourne that I realized that all the players were nervous and we had a lot to learn at that level.
The skipper is Miriam Knee and it is her last Test as captain. Pat McKelvey won the toss for NZ and elected to bat and they collapse against Lesley Johnston’s slow left armers (7/24) to be all out for just 89. The skipper didn’t give you a bowl. I imagine that Lesley was in such command there wasn’t room for another spinner at the crease?
You get to know your place and wait your turn.
Australia started well but they also collapsed, all out for 129 with Pat Carrick doing the damage for NZ. I sadly note that the debutant Blunsden scored a duck. Nerves within the inexperienced batting line-up, or was Carrick that good do you think?
Probably both – no one batted well.
It was a different story for NZ in the second innings with a score of 335. The mountain was too big for the young Aussie crew to climb and they were all out for 152, although Blunsden was not out 23 as the tail desperately wagged to try and save the match. What are your memories from the Test match?
I only remember that I was dropped down the list to No. 11. So, I guess I had something to prove.
Probably a difficult question, because you only played one Test together, but can you give me any feedback about Miriam as a captain?
A good thinker and a good allrounder. A quiet person.
Miriam was again your skipper here and all went well until you bumped into Enid Bakewell and Rachel Heyhoe Flint in the final match against England. What are your memories of the World Cup, given that it was the first cricket world cup in history?
Very exciting tour. We were treated very well by the Brits, they loved to host the Aussies and we had a great off-field experience as well as playing against so many teams at a high level. It was the best thing to happen to women’s cricket and paved the way for an increase in international tours.
1974/5: Test Captaincy
By 1974/75 you are a senior member of the team and appointed captain of the tour to NZ in Feb/Mar 1975. What was going through your mind as it dawned on you that you were now the captain of the Australian cricket team?
I did not really want the captaincy, there was a lot of politics going on at the time and I got the job by default – not the best way to get the captaincy. There was no support for Manager or Captain.
Many of the team were players with whom you made your debut in 71/72 so by now the team should be feeling more settled. There were 10 lead up games to the first Test. Did you have a firm team in mind or was it a wait and see approach with the provincial games?
The program was not well balanced, we should have had a second test in the middle. From memory I think we had a few injuries and had to wait to see who was fit.
Who were your fellow selectors?
I think it was Margaret Jennings and Wendy Weir.
You are up against Pat McKelvey, skipper for NZ and she wins the toss at the Basin Reserve, Wellington, for the first Test and elects to bat. At your disposal, making her debut, is young tearaway Sharon Tredrea. At the other end, Raelee Thompson. They would become a formidable opening pair for Australia. Sharon picked up 4 wickets – what was it like seeing this young tyro in Test cricket for the first time?
They were a good combination for Australia. Sharon was very fast and Raelee had good movement. They were both very accurate and gave the batters no respite.
Despite your good attack, the Kiwis mustered 359 runs and it looks like it was tough going for the bowlers. Was the track a bit on the dead side?
The pitch was like concrete – the girls were not used to playing on such hard wickets and found it hard to move the ball.
The Kiwi bowlers also struggled. Wilson and Potter both made half centuries, but the highlight must have been Lorraine Hill’s 118 not out. She was well assisted by a stubborn lower order, which included 45 from Tredrea and the team ended with 362. You must have been satisfied that everybody contributed?
Yes it is a great confidence builder when the batting gets going.
New Zealand then seemed to put the brakes on with their own batting. McKelvey declared at 6/276 from 145 overs but it left you with only 21 overs to make 272 making the declaration a bit pointless. Do you feel that the Kiwis were not only defensive with their batting, but that McKelvey’s declaration was also about not losing rather than trying to set up a contest?
I am not critical of Trish. The conditions did not favour a result. At the time we played so little International cricket no captain was going to throw away a match.
That was your one and only Test as skipper and my guess is that with the return of Anne Gordon to the team it was a fait accompli that you would lose the captaincy. Any regrets?
No – I did not want to continue as captain and told the selectors I was not the person for the job.
Any special memories from the tour to NZ?
It was a good experience but the weather was a bit wet and affected a number of games. This made for a rather drawn out tour. However, things started to change with an increase in tours and a better balance of matches.
West Indies 1975/6
To the West Indies, 1975/76 a pioneering tour, the first to the West Indies by an Australian team, in fact it was the first time the two teams would meet in Test cricket. This had to be a very exciting prospect?
This was our second tour to Jamaica we also went there on the way to the World Cup. It was very exciting- there was a civil war in Jamaica at the time and we were escorted around by the army and given special treatment.
Where you played about 10 lead up games in the previous tour to NZ, the tour to the Windies was frustratingly short: First Test, tour game, second Test. Go home. Compounding that, the Test matches were only allocated three days. Knowing that there would have been severe financial constraints, as always, was that the reason for the abbreviated tour?
At the time we thought they were ‘unofficial tests’ but we were just happy to play. They had great crowds which we were not used to but it was a good experience as we were going on to England to play a Test series.
What did you expect from the West Indies? This was not just their debut against Australia, but their debut in Test cricket. Did you and your team mates feel that it might be easier going against such a fledgling team, as opposed to say, New Zealand?
No we soon found out they play the same as the men – hit hard and bowl fast.
The wickets you played on were not conducive to fast bowling and it was the spin of Lutschini (Cornish) that was most successful. Given that the West Indies has a strong history of fast bowling, was it a letdown to find the pitches as they were?
The pitch and grounds were a bit rough in comparison to Australian grounds but it was good experience and taught us to adapt to different conditions.
England Tour 1976
Travelling to England for a three Test series under Anne Gordon would have been a thrill, but also I imagine many fund raisers beforehand. Just how difficult was it in terms of juggling your life outside of cricket and the sheer volume of time needed for cricket – and that time not all devoted to practice but also fund raising. That must have been difficult?
Yes it was difficult, we paid to play at the time but that was not going to stop us from being available. We had good support from our home state to help raise money. However, I cannot say the same for my employment as I lost my job but it gave me the incentive to change direction and take up teaching.
That tour ought to have been a thrilling series with so many great players on both teams. Australia did well to mix it with the England team boasting some very big names, notably Rachael Heyhoe-Flint and Enid Bakewell. Yet frustratingly these two teams were forced to play 3 day Tests. I can see that both Anne and Rachael as skippers did their best in terms of declarations, but three days were simply not enough to finish four innings. What can you share about that and how difficult it was?
Things did change bringing about longer Tests and more tours. We had very little sponsorship at the time and we just had to work within the finances we could raise. It takes time to change and women’s cricket in any country had to work hard to get people to take them seriously.
Do you have any thoughts on the England captain?
A very talented cricketer and captain and had some very experienced players in her team. She had good influence off the ground to get changes made.
That ends the interview. Wendy Blunsden, died in Adelaide on 1st August 2020 age 77.