The name Richard Petrie isn’t one that sits amongst the upper echelons of New Zealand cricketing folklore. The bowling all-rounder who first took off with Canterbury, and later became a senior figure at Wellington, played just 12 ODIs – and while his stats weren’t poor, they equally didn’t lend themselves to greatness.
For those who didn’t follow New Zealand domestic cricket through the 1990s, he was simply the young lad tried out for New Zealand over a four-month stretch over the 1990-91 summer.
Yet Petrie was still a trailblazer in New Zealand cricketing terms. Towards the end of his career, at a time when cricket players in Kiwi domestic cricket rarely played beyond 28 or 29, Petrie was one of a very, very small handful of ‘senior’ players who continued cricketing on.
Mark Douglas from Central Districts, and Grant Bradburn from the district cousins Northern, were virtually the only others to do so at that period in time.
“Back then, if I played every single game for the whole season, I’d earn something like 12 000 dollars. So effectively, for four months you were a full-time cricketer, to earn 12 000 dollars – and if I didn’t play, if I got injured or got dropped, I would’ve earned less. So my take was that if I wanted a career in cricket, I would’ve been better off to go and get a job as a secretary at New Zealand Cricket down at Christchurch … and I’d be better off, putting away files, than I would as a senior First Class cricketer.”
It was, as Petrie puts it, “not a financial career”.
And Petrie was virtually the only man to make a stand on the matter; by the time the 2002 players’ strikes happened, Petrie was well retired from cricket. But he had been the first to vocalise the plight of the players of the time.
His comments to Lynn McConnell in late 2000, at a time when players simply put up with what they got and sniped behind closed doors, was – at the very least – a catalyst for what happened later. “Matthew Walker was awarded the player of the final, and there was nothing in his envelope either. It was all done for show,” Petrie told McConnell.
He described it succinctly to me:
“The older guys weren’t staying in the game, because they weren’t looking after the players. They were looking after the 30 people at New Zealand Cricket at that time, on the salary bill, all earning more than the highest-paid First Class cricketer.”
That’s changed now; with central contracts, and the healthy wage now paid to all domestic and international-level cricketers in New Zealand, the quality of cricket improves, and the encouragement to play the game increases.
A decade and a half earlier, the inspiration to play cricket certainly wasn’t the fiscal one. For Petrie, it was simply a matter of enjoying the game at high school, and playing because of that.
“[Age group cricket] was a stepping stone, but I suppose the training, and the stuff they put you through wasn’t really… It was just bowling in the nets for hours and things like that. It was all, I suppose, amateur – nowadays they go into camps, and academies, and really get grilled all winter. Whereas then, even First Class cricketers had their own jobs, working part-time or full-time as well as playing cricket.”
He made his way into the Canterbury side, and made his First Class debut (having played a handful of one-dayers) in the 1988-89 season, against Otago. It was a rain-affected affair, and Otago ran out victors by some distance, but Petrie enjoyed moving into that environment – he even picked up the wicket of the father of New Zealand’s current captain, an Otago cricketing legend in his own right.
“You’re always nervous, aren’t you, in your first game? It wasn’t too bad, I think I got a couple of wickets in one of the innings, and I got Stu McCullum out, caught at third slip. But once you get into it, it’s alright. What was the step up like? It was good; it was where I always wanted to be, it’s what you dream about.
“I played about 12 seasons, and a lot of people talking about wanting to be on the beach, but I don’t think I ever wanted to be on the beach – playing cricket was what I wanted to do, and that was the only place in the world to be.”
His first real shining moment in a Canterbury shirt came the following summer, when he and Mark Priest were the only standouts for the side during a rather dire Shell Cup (one-day cricket) campaign.
While the team came fifth (out of six sides), and no batsman for the side managed to average 35 or above, Petrie and Priest took nine wickets each – the former at 15.55 apiece, the latter at 14.88. And both had economy rates under three.
“That was just the result of being around a wee bit longer. And I think the wickets suited me – I’d just run in and bang it into the deck, there was a bit of variable bounce, and I knew the wickets weren’t as good as they should’ve been. If you can stop people scoring runs, you can usually get them out.”
So although he wasn’t first name on the team sheet, the decision to call Petrie up to the national one-day side for the Australian summer of 1990-91 wasn’t a huge surprise.
Here was a talented youngster showing his ability. Warren Lees, then-coach, and convenor of selectors Don Neely made a decision to invest in youth; a necessary, and wise, move given New Zealand’s then-lack of depth.
“I’d had a word that it [NZ selection] was possibly going to happen, but you never really believe it until it happens. I’d done reasonably well, but they picked me because I was a bit younger. So they picked a couple of younger guys, I think, I don’t know if we stood out particularly, but we looked like up-and-comers. You’re always surprised – it seems weird when you get picked to go and do something like that. When it’s been your dream, it seems a bit weird, and you can’t quite believe it – it’s an exciting time.”
It suddenly meant he was running in at batsmen like Steve and Mark Waugh, Dean Jones, Geoff Marsh, David Boon, and Allan Border.
“It’s nerve-wracking before the game, but once you get settled into it, it’s okay. But it’s weird seeing those guys on the same field as you, because you’ve only seen them on TV. And you do spend a lot of time thinking ‘what am I doing here?’ and then you get into it, and you just forget who they are, and you’re just bowling at a bat.”
On debut, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, rain marred the entirety of the match, but Petrie held his nerve, and put in a commendable performance.
The New Zealand side scraped past England to make it into the finals, in a strangely orchestrated tournament: all of New Zealand’s group games were completed by December 18th, before the side returned home. In early January, the final two group matches were played between England and Australia (which New Zealand needed to go in Australia’s favour if they were to make the finals) and then the finals finally occurred in mid-January.
In the meantime, with the players back home, they returned to their domestic sides – Petrie played five Shell Cup matches for Canterbury between the final group match and the first final.
“It gave us a little bit of a break, and gave us a chance to get away and I suppose take stock. We weren’t away for that long … and then we didn’t even know we were going back for the finals until the outcome of the Australia-England matches happened. So I don’t think [heading home] disrupted the team particularly.”
Petrie himself was dealing with significant injury problems at around that time, and they were issues that ended up plaguing him throughout his career – following that ODI tour to Australia, he played two subsequent ODIs at home during the same season, and never played international cricket (outside of CricketMax internationals) again.
“The next year…I had three stress fractures in my back, so while I played the season I was getting massaged every day, and really limping through the games with a broken back. So I played, because I knew if I didn’t play I had no chance, but really I wasn’t up to it. I needed a season off to heal the back. And then the season after that, I tore my Achilles. And that was probably a bigger injury – I kept getting tendonitis throughout my career. It really affected my bowling for the rest of my career.”
And tendonitis can’t be cured without rest – upwards of three or four weeks. Not great for a professional bowler, meant to be playing day-in day-out through the summer. But Petrie continued to play, and to bowl – he was just never quite as quick or quite as lethal as he had been up to then.
In the 1991-92 season, with all the injury issues he was having, he still had one great moment – his only First Class century, made when promoted to number three as a nightwatchman. It followed a very good bowling display, picking up a four-for, and saw him go to the close at 11 not-out.
“I remember when I got to about 40, and Roger Twose who was playing for Central Districts, was fielding at point – I never heard it actually – but he said, ‘if this guy gets a hundred, I’m Polly the Parrot!’. So that became his nickname at CD after that, all the players called him Polly the Parrot.”
Petrie has a bit of a laugh over what happened next – perhaps he took his success too far, because suddenly all his teammates down the order wanted a shot themselves!
“I was never allowed to do it again after that, they never let me do it again the bastards. After that, everyone else wanted go nightwatchman, so Mark Priest did it, Lee Germon did it, and I was never allowed to do it ever again for Canterbury!”
Admittedly, Petrie wasn’t around at Canterbury much longer – in 1993, he made the call to move north, and settled in Wellington.
“I wanted to bat higher in the order – Canterbury was stacked with batters, some of the games I was batting at nine, and Nathan Astle was at ten in his early days. So I wanted to bat more. You get a bit typecast, sometimes, in the place you start – Canterbury love to pigeonhole you, and put you in a box, and I wanted to be more of an all-rounder. But they weren’t providing that opportunity, so I thought I’d go to Wellington – it’s got a bit more opportunity, and hopefully a chance to bat up the order. It was probably a better place to go and reinvent yourself.”
He ended up becoming a senior player at Wellington – becoming the captain for the 1995-96 and 1997-98 seasons, as well as filling in for a few matches in the 1999-00 season. As captain, he attempted to be aggressive and “lead from the front”.
“I think [my captaincy intentions were to] be aggressive and play your strengths, they sound like clichés, but I was a ‘lead from the front’ type captain – so I’d get out there and have a good scrap with the other players, and be quite aggressive and competitive. So if the captain’s doing that, it’s easy for the rest to do that as well.”
Although Petrie’s name hasn’t been implicated, the Wellington dressing room of the late 1990s was (according to some) not always a perfect one, with some “dominating figures,” according to Chris Nevin (in an interview with Dan McGrath, soon to be published on Mind The Windows!).
Jeetan Patel and James Franklin, in particular, found the entrance to the side difficult. They found it “a really hard dressing room to be coming into,” and felt uneasy speaking up, lest they be put down.
“Well, that’s their perspective – I can’t argue if that’s their perspective. But I certainly wasn’t aware of it, or didn’t notice it. I never perceived we had too much of a hierarchy. But that’s always the case with junior players coming in – it was the same when I went into the New Zealand team. As a junior player you always feel a bit intimidated and uncomfortable – that’s what it’s like coming into a sports team as a junior player. I certainly don’t recall anything in particular, but if they felt they way, they must have felt that way.”
Having become a senior player, Petrie entered a second format as an international – Cricket Max. Martin Crowe’s pet creation was a burgeoning event on the New Zealand cricket calendar, but disbanded following the events of the 2002 players’ strike, and was eventually supplanted by Twenty20.
“Wellington won a lot of Cricket Max titles – there was a lot of strategy in Max, and I think we played quite smart. A lot of people say I would’ve been better off playing today, because the Twenty20 type of tournament probably would have suited my play. Probably right, but I’m off doing other things now.”
Although Petrie finished in First Class cricket at the end of the 1999-00 season, and finished in one-dayers the season following, he continued to play Max until 2001-02 – then came the players’ strike, which saw the 2002-03 competition abandoned, never to return.
Whilst Petrie stayed in club cricket, and later represented New Zealand at the 2006 Hong Kong Sixes, he faded out of the frontline game.
“You get to an age where you’re a bit stiff and sore too much, and you know physically you’re not quite there. So you get to a time where you know it’s time to do other things. Your bowling’s not quite there, you know if it’s a flat-track you’re going to struggle.”
Petrie achieved a lot in the game, despite never quite reaching significant international representation: he broke numerous domestic one-day records, played his part for over a decade, and captained, batted and bowled with aplomb.
“I suppose I’m satisfied [with my career]. Everybody can look back and say they could’ve done better – and they could have. I gave it everything, I played for New Zealand, I played First Class cricket for ten or twelve years, and I’ve now done a bit of Test commentary and Sky TV commentary. I’m fairly pleased – it opens doors, it teaches you all sorts of things that you wouldn’t have learned if you weren’t a professional sportsman. It was great, I hope my son gets to play First Class cricket and international cricket.
“Could I have done better? Yeah. My Achilles held me back, that’s what stopped me from playing more international cricket, I believe. But – but – I played international cricket, and great – once you’ve done that, you’ve got that for the rest of your life. I enjoyed my sporting career, it teaches you a lot.”
One thing that Petrie never achieved was a Plunket Shield (or Shell Trophy) title. Although he won one-day titles, and with Wellington had a trot of three consecutive Cricket Max titles in a row, the four-day competition spoils alluded him. But it’s not something he regrets.
“I don’t really have any regrets from my career – you win some, you lose some! … Nah, doesn’t worry me. You always want to win, but you don’t win them all, do you?
Petrie’s most recent return to the field was during the ‘Fill The Basin!’ event held a few years back. That match, played between Canterbury and Wellington invitational sides, and held to raise money following the Christchurch earthquake, was a great success.
“I played for Canterbury and Wellington, and was working with Stephen Fleming on a project at the time, so I suppose I was top of mind.”
His career outside of cricket sees him running his own company – Speed Marketing. It’s about helping people work towards business marketing success, and his professional sporting career has taught him lessons which have proved invaluable in his post-cricketing life.
“Oh definitely, definitely. What do you learn playing sport? You learn to back yourself, and be confident, you learn how to be courageous and do stuff even if it’s scary, you learn to be focussed, you learn that it’s not all going to go your way and you have to dig in and fight – even though it’s not easy.”
Summing it up succinctly – and proving the value of sport, if correctly applied post-playing – Petrie says that; “Everything I’ve learned is based on what I’ve learned from cricket.”
But it’s not just what you learn – just as playing isn’t just about ability. So in each regard, Petrie must be admired for his capacity to apply as well as possess the skill and ability he holds, and to use it to such great effect on, and off, the field of play.
Few people make it as successful businessmen, fewer make the grade as professional sportsman. Petrie might not be a household name, but he’s done both.