It is with great sadness that South Canterbury Cricket must acknowledge the passing of our Patron and Life Member John Ward, a true icon of cricket in South Canterbury.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to Shirley, Barry, Jenny and the extended Ward family.
John had a truly outstanding career with cricket representing South Canterbury first in 1953 and played 124 ‘official’ matches in total.
John Ward started out his cricketing career as a pretty decent leg spinner and it was only because Timaru club side Old Boys decided to have a second senior side that Ward picked up the gloves.
John said that “No-one wanted to be the wicket keeper, so I thought okay I will have a go.”
That decision proved to be a very fortuitous one.
John went on to become the 99th Black Cap and stood behind the stumps for New Zealand in eight tests.
John was selected for the NZ side as just a 20 year old, even before representing Canterbury!
This came about in part due to Richie Benaud’s influence after John played a visiting Australian team in 1958 at the Caledonian Grounds for South Canterbury and unbeknown to him their management had been asked by New Zealand selectors to look out for any talented young players.
Later that year Ward was whisked away on New Zealand’s six-month tour to England, only the fifth Kiwi side to tour there.
He later undertook two further six month tours, one to South Africa (1961-62) and the other to India and on to England (1965) and if not for injuries may have played many more games for NZ.
John said that “It was a fantastic time and we saw plenty of the world. There was no money but it didn’t cost you anything either, as everything was supplied including cigarettes.”
John played 95 first class matches including 54 for Canterbury in a career spanning 13 years and snared a record 153 dismissals, scored 1117 runs with the bat including a century in the 1969-70 season against Wellington, and took 227 catches and 27 stumpings during his career.
His favourite Canterbury memory was taking a stumping off quick bowler Dick Motz in a pre-planned move.
“Usually things like that never quite work out so we were both happy” John said.
Ward’s favourite bowlers to keep wicket to were not internationals but Timaru locals Noel Dellow and Murray Jack, also both Life Members of South Canterbury Cricket.
John said that “We played a lot of cricket with each other and they also played for Canterbury but the three of us never did it together.”
They played as children too in their own test matches on the streets of Timaru, with one always keeping an eye out for a Police car!
John’s legacy was not just as a player as he stayed involved with cricket for the rest of his life in a number of different roles and just before Christmas spent a few hours at the Hawke Cup match between South Canterbury and Southland.
As well as captaining the South Canterbury side from 1959 – 1969 he also had two long spells as the selector from 1970 – 1975 and again from 1982 – 1986.
In 1982 John was recognised with Life Membership of the South Canterbury Cricket Association and since 2014 has also been the Patron, fulfilling any duties with a still keen interest and obvious love of the game that he continued to pass on.
He was recognised much earlier by the wider sporting community in South Canterbury when he was awarded Sportsperson of the Year in 1967 at the very first South Canterbury Sports Awards.
In 2008 John was further honoured, this time by Canterbury Cricket by having his image placed on one of the stadium’s `Pillars of Pride’.
The pillars, which held up the new stand at the AMI Stadium (formerly Lancaster Park), were used to pay tribute to Cantabrians’ favourite sons.
Ward joined Canterbury sporting icons such as Sir Richard Hadlee, Grizz Wyllie, Fergie McCormick and Robbie Deans.
Peter Sharp (Canterbury Cricket Chairman at the time) said Ward was thoroughly deserving of the honour, a cricketer who was a consummate professional and skilled craftsman.
“The pillars recognise legends, people who have really contributed something special to Canterbury cricket and rugby.”
“The people of Canterbury are connoisseurs of sport and sporting people and we are talking here about the real cream.”
Ward followed fellow cricketers Chris Cairns, Graham Dowling, Dick Motz, Tony MacGibbon, Paul McEwan, Walter Hadlee and his son, Sir Richard, along with Rod Latham who represents both cricket and rugby, on the pillars and was the 36th inductee.
Sharp also noted he did it all without leaving Timaru.
“He’s probably the only cricketer who hasn’t felt the compulsion to move to Christchurch and he was so good he didn’t have to.”
In 1968, the New Zealand Cricket Almanac named him player of the year along with Noel McGregor.
John’s cricket legacy will never be forgotten in South Canterbury and even worldwide where he made numerous friends whom he had still stayed in touch with up until today.
It will not be easy for his family at this time, but they can be assured all our thoughts are with them at this sad time and that they should be very proud of their husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather who was held in high esteem by all those who had the pleasure of meeting or knowing John, and that we will all feel the loss of him from our community.
For those wishing or able to attend a Service to celebrate the life of John will be held at Aoraki Funeral Services Chapel, 160 Mountain View Road, Timaru, on Friday, January 15, at 2.00pm. In lieu of flowers, donations to St John Ambulance would be greatly appreciated and may be left at the Service. Special thanks to all the kind doctors and nurses of the Medical Ward in Timaru. Messages to the Ward Family, c/- 77 Pukatea Street, Timaru 7910.