Central Districts veteran Greg Hay holds the record as the player with best batting numbers to never crack the Black Caps. Is he bitter or frustrated? Far from it. Brendon Egan reports.
Central Districts stalwart Greg Hay could be the answer to a sports quiz question one day. Who’s the only batter in New Zealand domestic history to have averaged over 40 in both first-class and List A cricket and not played for the Black Caps?
Unlucky, hard done by, shunned, Hay, who is still playing for the Stags at the age of 39, has heard them all. But he is far from bitter, grateful to be playing his 14th summer of domestic cricket and doing what he loves.
“It doesn’t annoy me at all now. It might have done when I was younger. I’m totally at peace with it,” Hay says of never cracking the Black Caps.
“You never know how you’d go at the top level. It would be awesome to represent your country, but it’s more for me that challenge of trying to get better and challenging yourself to get better each day and it’s a helluva hard game.”
Hay, who has been Central’s four-day Plunket Shield captain since 2018-19, joined an exclusive club in their match against Canterbury in November. He became just the second player to appear in 100 first-class matches for CD, joining Mathew Sinclair, and the 22nd player to reach 100 first-class matches for a single team in New Zealand domestic cricket.
It’s an achievement Hay never thought was possible after drifting away from domestic cricket for four seasons from 2009-13. At that time, Hay often wondered if he’d force his way back, or if club cricket was his lot.
Hay made quite the arrival in November 2006, hitting 98 in his debut innings at first-class level against Wellington.
Tailender Lance Hamilton, now Central Districts’ chief executive, was the last wicket to fall, feathering through to wicketkeeper Chris Nevin off Mark Gillespie, denying Hay a ton on debut – something he’s quick to remind him of.
Then a middle order batter, Hay scored heavily in his first two Plunket Shield seasons, hitting 593 runs at 45.61 in 200607 and 591 at 53.72 in 07-08.
There were calls for higher honours with Hay’s name touted for New Zealand’s three test tour of England in 2008. He missed selection, but was named in the New Zealand A squad.
A season later, Hay struggled for runs and vanished off the scene.
Then CD coach, former England international Dermot Reeve, “obviously didn’t rate my game and we didn’t get on that well” and Hay wasn’t retained.
During his four-year domestic hiatus, Hay played half a season for Fremantle in Perth club cricket.
He returned to New Zealand and spent a season with Suburbs New Lynn in Auckland, but didn’t make the Aces. A proud Nelsonian, he worked on the ground staff at Saxton Oval, “rolling the wickets for the lads”, also playing Hawke Cup for Nelson and with CD A.
The appointment of a new Central coach, South African Heinrich Malan, in 2013 proved a career-defining moment for Hay, who was recalled to the Stags.
“It certainly looked like I wasn’t going to get a look-in again. I was still averaging over 40 in first-class cricket and List A cricket and it was pretty frustrating at times, but I just had that drive to stick at it.
“If you look at the ages, I didn’t play between the ages of 25 and 29, which is sort of your prime years as a batsman. I still thought I had a lot to offer and stuck at it and luckily I got the opportunity.”
Hay’s career has been a story of two halves.
Returning for the 2013-14 summer, he quickly regained his red ball run-scoring ways as a top order batter. His most impressive run came over a three-season stint between 2017-20, where he was among the top three Plunket Shield runscorers in every campaign.
The New Zealand selectors began to take notice. While a Black Caps test callup was unlikely with Tom Latham, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor all cemented in the top four, Hay was picked in a New Zealand XI for a two-day match against touring England in March 2018.
Facing James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali, he scored 23 and 1 in the match. “It was fun to face those guys. It was an indication I was sort of on the radar, but I always knew age was probably a little bit against me.”
Mostly a red ball batter throughout his career, Hay could be considered the most unlucky domestic cricketer not to play for New Zealand, at least statistically.
Hay (41.30), CD team-mate Tom Bruce (49.85) and Northern Districts’ Bharat Popli (40.12) are the only three batters in New Zealand domestic history, averaging over 40 in first-class matches, not to play a test.
Averaging above 40 in first-class and List A cricket (40.33 from 32 matches) domestically for his career, Hay is in unique company.
“I’ve sort of heard it bandied around if that topic ever comes up, who has the best record that hasn’t played [for New Zealand]. It does come up, but it’s just one of those things.”
Central CEO Hamilton describes Hay as a Stags legend and says his impact on the association went well beyond his on-field contributions.
“His work ethic is the thing that sticks out. There’s no-one that prepares more meticulously than Haysy. He’s a great example.” Hay, who has degrees in finance and philosophy, has been lucky enough to be a fulltime cricketer for most of his working life, playing through the off-season.
Hay hasn’t put any end date on his Stags career, wanting to keep going while he was free of injury, scoring runs and still enjoying it. He has won three Plunket Shields (17-18, 18-19, and 22-23, the last two as captain), and a T20 title in 07-08, his second season.
So, what keeps him going?
“It’s finding those ways to try and get better is the challenge and probably what I enjoy the most about the game. “I wouldn’t say it annoys me [never playing for New Zealand]. It’s just part of the journey I’ve been on and it’s been pretty special having the baggy green cap on for CD.
“That’s what I’ll cherish the most when I finish up.”