Obituary: Geoff Rabone

businessman, cricketer, raconteur
Born Gore, November 6, 1921. New Zealand cricketer 1949-1955. Captain 1953/54 to 1954/55.
Died Auckland, January 19, 2006.

Geoff Rabone first came to the attention of cricket followers when he was selected in a squad of 14 for a New Zealand tour of Australia in 1939. Regrettably the commencement of World War II prevented the tour going ahead.

Educated at Palmerston North Boy’s High School he came to Wellington and joined the Shell Oil Company.

As a 20 year-old he played his first game of first-class cricket for Wellington against Canterbury on New Year’s Day, 1941.He batted at nine and captured three wickets bowling right-arm medium pace. Later that year he joined the RNZAF and in 1942 was stationed in Canada, where he completed his training with an RAF squadron of Bomber Command.

In 1944 at the age of 22 he was the skipper of a Lancaster Bomber that had successfully completed 10 missions over enemy territory.

On the night of August 7-8, they left Metheringham, Lincolnshire, England at 9.30 pm and were shot down over Normandy, France. With two crewmembers shot dead and three engines on fire, Geoff was the last of the remaining five crewmembers to parachute to safety. He landed in a fruit tree near the small town of Beuzeville.

He walked for the next eight hours then asked a young man pitching hay for assistance. The French Resistance hid him in a barn for the next 18 days before he was taken back to England, where he continued to fly Lancaster bombers over Germany until the end of the war. He attained the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Returning to civilian life he was posted by Shell to Gisborne and made centuries for Poverty Bay against Waikato and Fiji.

In 1948 he was in Head Office in Wellington and opened the batting in the Plunket Shield with Eric Tindill. He had six innings- four times scoring over 31, with a top score of 74. His medium-pace off-spinners were sparingly used and he only bowled 37 overs and he took no catches in the field.

Hardly an impressive season and yet he was included in the New Zealand side to tour the United Kingdom in 1949. Along with Fenwick Cresswell from Marlborough, Geoff Rabone was a surprise selection.

On the boat to England Rabone asked his captain, Walter Hadlee, what was he selected to do on the tour. “To score 1000 runs and capture 50 wickets” was the reply.

When the tour concluded five months later, ‘Bones’, as he was called by his team-mates had obeyed orders, scoring 1021 runs and capturing 50 wickets. He’d played in all four tests and scored 120 not out against Nottingham, curiously five years to the day that he had leapt out of his Lancaster Bomber.

Critics were won over by the rapid improvement in all sectors of his game, his mental poise and sense of duty. His character and temperament enabled him to compete against others possessing greater skills. He was always at his best in a crisis where he relished the opportunity to frustrate, infuriate and blunt the opposing bowlers.

On returning to New Zealand he shifted to Auckland for family and business reasons and became a partner in a service station in Ellerslie. Thus began a long association with Auckland cricket and Eden Park. He was to play 22 games, 10 as captain and when his playing days ended he selected their teams for 13 years.

New Zealand toured South Africa for the first time in 1953-54 with Geoff Rabone as captain. He was a thoughtful and sound leader who was at all times conspicuously considerate towards the members of his team. His quick wit and great sense of humour made him popular with his hosts.

In the first test his indomitable fighting spirit and courage came to the fore as he scored 107 and 68, a total of 48% of the runs that the team scored in their defeat by an innings. A week later he was still black and blue from the bruising he received.

In the third test he bowled a Herculean 38.7 overs in capturing his best test figures of 6 – 68. A broken bone in his right foot saw him return home before the last two tests.

During the first half of the 1950’s New Zealand’s batting lurched from crisis to crisis and this had the effect on Geoff’s batting to cast him in the role of occupying the crease, partly because it suited his nature but mainly because of necessity.

His final test was against one of the great England sides at Eden Park in 1955. A tightly fought contest over the first two and a half days is forgotten because superb bowling lasting less than two hours saw New Zealand dismissed for 26.

In recent years Geoff’s courage and determination were put to their greatest test – combating failing health, which he did so without complaint.

In all he did there shone his great devotion to his family, companions and to cricket.

Bert Sutcliffe best summed up his old skipper’s qualities best when he said, “For sheer guts he stands alone and nothing but the best was ever good enough for him.”

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