New NZ-South Africa Test trophy acknowledges 'great sporting courage'
Test series between New Zealand and South Africa will now be played for the Tangiwai Shield, a trophy that commemorates the tragic events of 70 years ago, when 151 passengers on the overnight Wellington-Auckland express, including Nerissa Love, the fiancée of New Zealand fast bowler Bob Blair, lost their lives in the country's worst rail disaster when a railway bridge over the Whangaehu River collapsed beneath the train.
The tragedy, which occurred on Christmas Eve 1953, coincided with the second Test of the series between the two national teams that was being played at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, where Blair was opening the bowling for his country.
Just 21, Blair was woken in the early hours of the second morning of the Test to be told he'd lost the love of his life. He stayed at the hotel grieving as his team-mates resumed the match on Boxing Day, with the flags of both countries lowered to half-mast. However, his unexpected appearance out of the players tunnel after New Zealand lost its ninth wicket stunned the knowledgeable Ellis Park crowd into silence, and left players from both sides in tears. He made just 6 in that innings (it actually being a hit for six), and helped his teammate Bert Sutcliffe put on 37 for the last wicket.
Today, his story of tragedy and courage, and the manner in which the South African team, board and public rallied around to support him and his team-mates, remains one of the defining chapters of New Zealand sport. Blair, now 91, lives in Cheshire, UK, with his wife Barbara, and is the only surviving player from either side that played in that Johannesburg Test. The events of that week have since inspired hundreds of articles, many books – several authored by South African scribes, some by New Zealanders; a TV film produced in New Zealand, and a play called "The Second Test".
NZC chief executive Scott Weenink said the Shield was a fitting acknowledgement of what he considered one of the great stories of Kiwi sporting courage, saying: "The background to this Test match is one of the most sad and moving and heart-breaking stories imaginable. It's also an uplifting story of incredible courage and resilience, and in terms of the South African team and public, great compassion and empathy".
Cricket South Africa chief executive Pholetsi Moseki welcomed the initiative and sent his "best wishes to everyone who was touched by this tragedy, and to both teams contesting the inaugural trophy. It's important that the teams of today and tomorrow know where they came from, and I'm sure the Tangiwai Shield will do much to assist with that".
The first game of the current two-Test series was completed at Bay Oval on Wednesday 7 February 2024. The Black Caps won by 281 runs with a day to spare.
Sources: NZC / Stuff New Zealand