Tom Pritchard becomes the first New Zealand cricket representative to reach a century of years today. Andrew Alderson popped into his Levin pad for a cup of tea.

Thomas Leslie Pritchard is 100 not out.

When the former fast bowler woke today he became the first New Zealand representative to reach the milestone. He will celebrate with his family in Levin.

The first impression of meeting this pace maestro? The size of his fingers.

Cricket balls must have resembled Black Doris plums when fired from his right mitt. No wonder Pritchard took 818 wickets at an average of 23.30 across 200 first-class games.

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Outswinging off-cutters were his forte.

He sits fourth on New Zealand's first-class wicket-taking list behind Sir Richard Hadlee (1490), Clarrie Grimmett (1424) and Syd Smith (955).

His 52.4 strike rate compares favourably against premier New Zealand pace bowlers such as Hadlee (45.3), Shane Bond (45.6), Trent Boult (55.7) and Jack Cowie (56.7).

Yet a post-war career in Warwickshire, and opting out of playing for the 1949 New Zealand tourists because he was concerned how it might affect his professional career, mean the right-armer is largely unknown in his own country.

Pritchard taps his prodigious digits together when considering his verbal line and length at a picnic table looking out on an expansive garden at his Horowhenua pad.

He returned from England in 1986 with his late wife Mavis, 41 years after the original plan.

The idea had been to play test cricket once he'd enjoyed a dose of demob happy delirium at the end of World War II. It never happened.

Beginning on his 22nd birthday, Pritchard played one rain-affected match for New Zealand against British furniture magnate Sir Julien Cahn's XI as war loomed in 1939. Signs of his promise were evident when he bowled former New Zealand opener Stewie Dempster for 44.

Like so many of the era, the war was a defining feature of his life.

He spent time preparing in the Middle East before serving in Italy. He formed a soft spot for the locals.

"They were marvellous people. On one of my birthdays they cooked me a pigeon, even after the bloody Jerrys had made holes in all their wine casks," Pritchard says.

"I remember getting on a train which was going so fast you could get off, pick some tomatoes, and hop back on again."

Unlike others, Pritchard's military ordeal ended positively. He met Mavis, the love of his life. They were married within weeks and he went on to a county career. Pritchard made a healthy living and brought up two daughters, Adrienne and Julie, in their 63-year partnership.

As a 20-year-old he was on the cusp of national selection to tour England in 1937 but missed out.

"I didn't regret it because I met my girl [at a London dance hall he attended with former provincial and future Warwickshire teammate Martin Donnelly in September 1945], and she was lovely.

"I found out where she worked, rang and said 'this is that cock-eyed New Zealander you danced with'. I was fortunate with the girl I got and the family I got. She was a great mum."

Sergeant Mavis Cheeseman was based in Kent during the war. The county was a popular target for German bombs and one of her jobs was as a plane spotter. The pair were married on December 22, 1945 at a registry office and Pritchard was demobbed on Christmas Day.

Mavis died in 2009 but Pritchard's conversations are peppered with references to her influence. Occasionally his sentences tail off with "lovely lady she was".

The pair set up home near Edgbaston, the home of Warwickshire cricket, and in 1946 he played through a qualification season in the second XI.

"I played for a team [the Mediterranean Central Forces against a Lord's XI] and 'Tiny' Freyberg [General Bernard, the future New Zealand governor-general] came up.

"He said 'Pritchard?' and I said 'Yes, Sir'. Then he said "How would you like to play for the New Zealand Services team at Scarborough next week?"

Pritchard agreed and found himself mixing with world cricket's elite. Warwickshire offered him a £525 per annum contract for five years as a result.

That led to him taking more than 100 first-class wickets per year from 1948-51.

Warwickshire won the county championship in that last year. He had a benefit season in 1952, granted after six rather than the standard 10 years. He made a tax-free £3800 pounds, the equivalent of four to five years' salary.

Pritchard's memory is ripe with anecdotes about travelling the county circuit. He has seen pitches dried with flamethrowers; a dressing room door removed to carry off a batsman with cramp; and opposition counties misplacing the keys to the roller when it was Warwickshire's turn to bat.

However, he insists the cricket was always played in a genial post-war spirit and he enjoyed a lifestyle having "at least two beers before I went out at lunchtime, some at afternoon tea and a couple afterwards. All with the magnificent people we played against". As a tip to longevity, Pritchard says beer and water are the only beverages he has ever drunk.

The fast bowler says he never played in any game in England, or here, where there were arguments.

"It was a totally different game. To see these people running down the wicket with their mouths open...

"The talk that goes on the ground should be sent through to those who are listening and watching. Then you wouldn't get any of that business."

However, he is upbeat about New Zealand's future, mainly because of what he has seen of the batting and general countenance of captain Kane Williamson.

"I think that lad's a great player. I tell you what: He must be if he's played for Yorkshire."

Former New Zealand cricketer Tom Pritchard who turns 100 today. Photo / Andrew Alderson
Former New Zealand cricketer Tom Pritchard who turns 100 today. Photo / Andrew Alderson
P

ritchard has

pictures of himself bowling, but has never seen any film footage despite playing international matches against South Africa, Australia, the West Indies, India...and New Zealand.

The Indian match in 1946 was his debut for Warwickshire because although he was ineligible for the county championship, he was free to play other matches.

He took four for 46 from 43 overs in a spell which had Indian captain Vijay Merchant dropped at gully off Pritchard's first ball.

"It was good because they realised they hadn't wasted their money," Pritchard grins.

In a subsequent 'thank you' letter to the county, Merchant wrote: "we also had the good fortune of playing against the fastest bowler in England at the time, Pritchard, but I wish the wicket had been really fast to enable us to get an idea of his real speed."

Pritchard decided not to contest selection for New Zealand's 1949 tour, but took a career highlight of six for 96 for Warwickshire in the first innings of their drawn tour match.

Most Pritchard images show an open-chested action which suggests in-swing, yet he generally got the ball to move away, something that flummoxed former England captain Gubby Allen. Allen came back into the dressing room one day and described Pritchard as "bloody impossible" to face.

"My outswingers would come back off the pitch," Pritchard says.

"I think I bowled 70 per cent of my wickets.

"I always bowled with three slips, two gullies, a silly mid-on, a short cover and a third man and a fine leg or leg slip. I bowled with two men in front of the wicket."

Pritchard is an engaging subject. His eyes twinkle, his crow's feet crinkle and he sports the sort of bristling moustache to redefine the term "stiff upper lip". He was immaculately dressed when the Herald popped by, ready to venture out for his weekly Friday lunch. He had minimal gripes with the world, apart from a wry observation that the current exchange rate is wreaking havoc with his UK pension.

Pritchard has cherished his role in cricket, because of how it shaped his life. He came from farming stock in the Taranaki, lived 43 years in England post-war and then returned to New Zealand where he entered the racing industry. A biography, Greatness Denied, was published with his consent in 2013.

"Cricket took me from being a young schoolboy whose family - my mother's side emigrated from Germany in 1875 - were not interested in the game.

"I'm pleased I wasn't [picked for New Zealand in 1937] because it would've messed a lot of things up."

That's worth a raise of the bat.

Oldest New Zealand representatives

100 years not out - Tom Pritchard
99 years and 226 days - Eric Tindill
97 years and 16 days - Noel McMahon
96 years and 150 days - Jack Kerr

New Zealand first-class cricketers who reached 100

103 years and 148 days Syd Ward (Wellington)
102 years and 101 days John Wheatley (Canterbury)

*Thanks to New Zealand Cricket Almanack editor Francis Payne for this information.