“It’s always been about the players” for retiring Wairarapa senior men’s cricket coach Neil Perry, who “hung up his coaching boots” after last weekend’s Chapple Cup tournament in Levin.
In his eight seasons in charge, Perry has coached the side to notable results over all other districts within Central Districts [CD], including first innings wins over traditional powerhouses Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, and Taranaki in the Furlong Cup [Hawke Cup zone two eliminations series], and a memorable eight-wicket win over Nelson in the 2018 Chapple Cup tournament.
When Perry first took charge, he felt like Wairarapa were there to make up the numbers and not challenge the bigger districts, but he instilled confidence in the players that produced some outstanding results.
“It got to a stage where we said we can win against these guys if we play well. and that sort of self-belief was a really good thing for me. Yes, we’re going to have tough gigs and come up against good players, and sometimes the conditions are against us, and we’re going to get beaten, but if we play our game, we can beat these guys,” Perry said.
“We beat every district, and I think we beat Manawatu three years on the trot, and we were beating top sides on a regular basis.”
A first-innings win over Manawatu at Rathkeale was one game where Perry felt the values instilled within the team shone through.
“There was an incident where ‘Forry’ [wicketkeeper Jack Forrester] dropped an absolute sitter to win the game, but not one person said anything bad or criticised, and some went to him and said lift your head. A couple of overs later, Manawatu needed four to win, and Daniel Ingham dived full length and stopped the ball, and next ball Stefan Hook nicked him off, and ‘Forry’ took the catch to win the game. If people had berated ‘Forry,’ he wouldn’t have caught it.”
Regardless of the results, Perry reckoned the role was all about the players and trying to help them play at the next level, enjoy the experience, grow as people and cricketers, and represent the district with pride.
“We’ve certainly done that, and talking to people outside the district, we’ve been recognised, certainly in the last few years, as the side that after the big two are the side to beat. In the pecking order for a small district with very limited resources it is an immense achievement, and I’m really proud of that.
“But I’m also really proud of how we’ve played and how we’ve grown, and it’s just been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me, and I’m sad to be hanging up my coaching boots, as it were. It needed to happen to get balance in my life back, but it’s a sad day,” said Perry, who holds a busy role as director of sport at Rathkeale College.
“The reason I’m going. with all my other commitments with school that job just keeps growing, and there’s so much competing demand for the same time, and it’s not really fair on both sides.” Perry believes the biggest issue Wairarapa Cricket has, like other codes, is that Wairarapa is a region that young people exit to attend university and for jobs in bigger centres.
“I stopped counting about five years ago at the number of quality rep cricketers that we have lost to that. I think there was somewhere around 40-50 at that stage, so goodness knows what it is now.
“We lose a lot of players, and there are less and less people playing club cricket. There’s no easy answer, and I have been struggling for the last eight years to try and work out what we can do to help that, but there’s no easy fix, and we’ve just got to keep creating a good environment that people want to be part of.”
He added that the loss of experienced players such as Stefan Hook, Andy Dodd, Gordon Reisima, and Jaco Vorster [for most of the season] made this season particularly demanding.
“A lot of the youngsters have come in, and that’s been a challenge, but it also creates opportunities. It’s really exciting, so many young cricketers are involved with CD, and that shows we’re doing a lot of things right.”
Looking to the future, Perry believes an indoor facility and grass training pitches are vital for the progression of Wairarapa cricket. He highlighted Horowhenua-Kapiti’s indoor facility in Levin as an ideal model to work towards.
“If we have our own facility indoors, people can access that when they need and they can train during the winter. That’s when you make technical progress because you’re not worrying about the delivery, and you can work on those things a lot easier in the winter, but we can’t do that because we don’t have those facilities,’ he said.
“Training on an artificial is not ideal and is hard on bodies. On grass, lengths are different, lines are different, you play a different game, and we talk about being disciplined, but it’s very difficult when you train all the time on a wicket where you can hit through the line and all of a sudden you do that on grass, and it’s nibbling around, and you’re caught at fourth slip.
“Those are the two things, and they cost a lot of money, and there are lot of challenges, but they’re the sort of things that would really help.”
Perry added that it was important for the future that Wairarapa Cricket tap into the knowledge of former Black Cap and CD veteran Seth Rance, who is in the twilight of his professional career.
“Every time Seth is around the group, he brings so much to it, he lifts everybody 10-15 per cent with his professionalism, his mana, and he’s without equal in the district. People respect him; his knowledge is great, his enthusiasm, his passion, his professionalism just rubs off, so it’s always been an absolute pleasure to have him involved.
“If we can garner his services, his time in any way, shape or form, that has to be a huge benefit for the district and for everybody involved.”
Perry said there are lots of little memories from the eight seasons, and every time he mentions one another, 20 come to mind.
Jared van Deventer scored 160, the second-highest score in Wairarapa rep history, and Rance’s record-breaking 9-26, both in this season’s Furlong Cup first innings win over Whanganui, Hook setting a new record of 148 wickets for Wairarapa in Hawke Cup cricket, Brock Price going from showing potential to scoring a couple of centuries in a year, and the joy of Ethan Childs hitting the splice of a Manawatu bat for a catch in the gully, with the players going ballistic for getting the first innings win are standouts.
“The joy of the players achieving things they’ve been striving towards is the biggest memory I will be taking away,” Perry concluded.