•: BRIAN DUNNING
IN 1959 an epic movie called Ben Hur hit the silver screen, a rampaging film that at the time broke all sorts of records.
It ran for an age - well, more than three hours anyway _ included a cast of thousands but had one definite star, some swashbuckling bloke called Charlton Heston.
That same year a Northland sportsman started his own version of an epic, a career that continued for so long it almost defies belief, included a cast of team mates and matches that were simply staggering and involved thousands as well.
That sportsman could also be described as a swashbuckling star - he might not admit it, mind, because Brian Dunning is not one to skite.
But when you consider he played cricket 159 times for Northland, scored 7164 runs, hit 18 centuries (at one stage twice as many as any other cricketer had for the province) and, with 93 in total, has caught out more opponents out than any other Northland cricketer, perhaps he has no need to boast.
His career statistics speak for themselves.
In 1959, the year he made his Northland cricket debut, Dunning was 19 years old. Not until 30 years later, at the age of 49 and hovering dangerously close to his 50th birthday, was he forced to retire. We say "forced" because if the man himself had any choice in the matter he would have kept on playing.
Arthritis forced the issue, so he stood aside as a player, and almost immediately started an equally impressive career as a cricket selector.
But it wasn't just on the cricket pitch that Dunning showed sporting prowess.
In his formative years living in Rodney district he simultaneously played senior hockey and senior rugby. He would play for the Rodney senior hockey team in the morning, have lunch, then front up for a game of senior rugby in the afternoon.
If that isn't stunning enough, Dunning later represented Northland at hockey (at the time the provincial team played as Whangarei), playing in a Challenge Shield final, no less. The final was drawn with Canterbury.
Dunning then turned his attention to rugby, linked up with the Kamo club, and soon made a name for himself as a goal-kicking fullback who was good enough to play Harding Shield games for Whangarei.
At the time the fullback spot in the Northland (then North Auckland) team was filled by NZ Maori representative Muru Walters. Walters was shoved aside by a man called Ken Going.
So Dunning made the decision, with some coercion from cricket folk, to concentrate on the leather and willow. Cricket now became his primary sport.
Already in the Northland team, he was soon selected for Northern Districts, in short order became captain and in 1972 became the first Northland cricketer to win national honours.
Despite his efforts as a batsman for ND _ he scored more than 3898 runs at a 29-run average _ Dunning never played a test match for New Zealand.
Even today his non-selection to the New Zealand team that toured England in 1973 is a talking point.
He never played for New Zealand again after that, but he did continue building his reputation as a diehard Northlander.
His career with ND lasted 17 years, and finished when he was recalled for a one-day game in which he was bowled out by a young player called Martin Crowe. It was noted at the time Crowe had not been born when Dunning started his first-class cricket career.
But once his duties with ND were completed, Dunning returned with some force to become the main man in the Northland cricket team. He led the way, mostly with the bat, in many a Northland triumph and entertained countless cricket followers with his hefty treatment of opposition bowlers.
His whirlwind batting blitzes were a thing of legend. One of them, a 123-run innings for Northland against Auckland at Cobham Oval in Whangarei in 1970, is still spoken of with some pride down at Northland cricket headquarters.
Dunning was at the crease for 187 minutes, and smacked 15 fours and three sixes. His best hit, a rocketing six, sailed over the boundary, over the fence and landed just a few metres short of the rising tide in Hatea River.
Even Dunning reckoned that was one of his biggest hits on Cobham Oval.
When the name B.Dunning was included on team sheets in club and Dargaville Shield fixtures, the bowlers quivered.
Dunning and Len Wyatt put on 429 runs for the second wicket against Maungakaramea in 1963, in just 240 minutes; Dunning scored 251 in Rodney's record 621-run total the same year; Dunning scored 257 against Whangarei in just 300 minutes; and so the list goes on.
These days Dunning is still held in high regard in cricket circles. As president of Northland cricket he had the honour of opening the new Cobham Oval facility and bowling the first ball on the new pitch.
That was fitting, because when it comes to Northland cricket, Brian Dunning is bigger than Ben Hur.