Obituary: a New Zealand cricket winner

Jack Alabaster and wife Shirley celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in Alexandra in 2018....
Jack Alabaster and wife Shirley celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in Alexandra in 2018. They are in front of a peach tree grafted from one which had borne fruit on their anniversary every year since they were married. Photo: Pam Jones


Jack Alabaster was one of the finest leg-spin bowlers New Zealand has ever produced.

He could drop the ball on a dime and plug away with uncanny accuracy.

The right-armer also enjoyed a long and respected teaching career. He was the rector at Southland Boys’ during most of the 1980s.

But he was also seemingly capable of minor miracles.

Somehow, despite a bunch of commitments, he was able to squeeze in family camping trips and was fond of fishing as well.

Alabaster died in Cromwell on April 9, aged 93.

His son, John Alabaster, still marvels at how his dad was able to fit so much into every summer.

The Hakataramea and Matukituki Valley were favourite spots for those family camping trips.

"Looking back on it, I’m not quite sure how it fitted around cricket," John said.

"Dad played for New Zealand the year after I was born and he was still playing cricket when I went to university. We must have gone to a lot of cricket games but I don’t remember them that much."

Carisbrook was a fertile hunting ground for empty bottles which you could exchange for cash in those days. John and his younger brother Mark would spend hours searching for what, to a child, must have seemed like gold nuggets just lying about.

"The other thing I remember is we used to come to Alexandra quite a lot ... and go ice skating on the Manorburn Dam."

Jack Alabaster, a star for both the Otago and New Zealand cricket teams, in action late in his...
Jack Alabaster, a star for both the Otago and New Zealand cricket teams, in action late in his career, both bowling and batting. Photo: ODT files
The Oreti River was another favourite haunt. The fishing was good.

The family also lived on the grounds of Southland Boys’ for years which was "like having a playground in your backyard", John said.

"As kids we never felt his cricket or school teaching had any impact on us, really. We just seemed to be a normal family other than that."

A normal family where the patriarch was a spin wizard who captured 49 wickets in 21 tests for his country between 1955 and 1972.

Alabaster was the only New Zealander to play in all of the country’s first four wins. He also played six tests before he was selected for Otago.

In all he took 500 first-class wickets at an average of 25.37.

Alabaster, who also represented his country in basketball in the early 1950s, was 25 when he was selected for New Zealand’s tour of Pakistan and India in 1955. He also toured England, South Africa and the West Indies when he was 41.

He shone on the 1961-62 tour of South Africa. He took match figures of eight for 180 in Cape Town to help New Zealand post their first overseas test win.

He also made a solid contribution in game five to help level the series 2-2 as well.

John Chaloner (Jack) Alabaster was born in Invercargill on July 11, 1930.

His father Harold worked for the Public Trust and his mother Mary was a home-maker. The couple had four children — Molly, Jack, Gren and Derek.

Gren was an outstanding cricketer as well. He played almost 100 first-class games and is considered one of Otago’s best all-rounders.

Former Otago Daily Times sports editor, the late Brent Edwards, wrote their careers were notable "both for their longevity and their quality".

"Both played the game hard, both were fighters to whom lost causes were merely a challenge.

"They were both school teachers of distinction and, as such, they were keen students of cricket who played the game with inquiring minds.

"They often bowled in tandem for Otago and, between them, they claimed 469 wickets in 134 matches."

Alabaster married Shirley Kemp in Alexandra on January 10, 1953. They were married for 71 years. The couple had three children, John , Mark and Kathryn. Mark died in a motorcycle accident in 1976.

Alabaster did his teaching training in Dunedin and earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Canterbury.

He taught science and mathematics at Southland Boys’ High School from 1955 to 1975 before leaving for a stint as principal of Kingswell High School.

He returned to Southland Boys' in 1981 as rector until his retirement in 1988.

Alabaster initially struggled to get into the Otago team. His pathway was blocked by test incumbent leg-spinner Alec Moir. 

He made his debut for the Southland Hawke Cup team as a 19-year-old and Walter Hadlee eventually spotted him and called him into the national team.

Otago followed suit shortly after and Alabaster and Moir forged an impressive partnership, snapping up 212 wickets between 1957 and 1961.

He played in several successful Plunket Shield and Hawke Cup campaigns. He also coached Central Otago to Hawke Cup glory in 1995-96.

But there was one game in particular which stood out for his son, John.

"Our first XI at school played against the staff and he caught me out with a diving catch on the boundary, which I thought was pretty unreasonable," John said.

Other than that, Alabaster was a very supportive father.

Alabaster is survived by wife Shirley, and his children John and Kathryn.