New Zealand Women's Cricket team on England tour, 1935. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection

Plenty of Devil; the Blanche Te Rangi story

It’s a striking image: two young women stand with bats and caps in hand, the bank at Whanganui’s Cook’s Gardens rising behind them in the summer of 1934.

Blanch Te Rangi and Margaret Marks in 1934. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection.

The pair were posing to celebrate each having scored a century for Canterbury in the annual Amalgamated Theatres Shield competition.

Both were stars on the rise.

Margaret Marks, her radiant smile beaming, had just turned 16 and would play in New Zealand’s first Test against England the following summer.

[.richtext-box]Sporting a wry smile with her sleeves cut off and her tall frame slightly hunched, Blanch Te Rangi was arguably the brightest talent in New Zealand cricket.[.richtext-box]

Less than five months later, she was dead.

Blanch Ufarsina Te Rangi was born in 1916, the child of James Hanueri Hohepa Te Rangi and Sarah Ann Madams. James was Ngāi Tahu, while Sarah was the daughter of an English-born farmer, noted as one of the Otago region’s early settlers. The pair married in 1906 and eventually settled in central Christchurch.

Blanch spent her teenage years at Avonside Girls High School where she was commended for her efforts in French and arithmetic. Her real passion lay on the cricket field, however, and her talent was made obvious by the fact she was selected to make her Canterbury debut at just 15 years-old when the province travelled to Dunedin’s Logan Park to face Otago in March 1932. 

After batting “forcefully” for 8 runs, Blanch showed her talent with the ball in hand,

“Report [sic] concerning the bowling ability of Miss B. Te Rangi had preceded the Canterbury girl, and she certainly lived up to her reputation, taking six wickets for 17 runs. She bowled with plenty of devil, and few of the Otago girls were at home against her fast deliveries.”

Evening Star, 28 March 1932

The match was an excellent spectacle with several hundred spectators in attendance for a close game which Canterbury won by just five runs. Blanch was the hero for the visitors, coming back on to bowl at the end of the innings when Hazel Johnston was mounting her best effort to get the unheralded Otago side over the line. Johnston was the last out, caught off Blanch’s bowling.

Back in Christchurch, Blanch led the establishment of the Mai Moa Cricket Club in the early 1930s. The first newspaper reference to Mai Moa is a brief report from a match at the start of the 1932-33 season. Fittingly, the only player whose score is noted is 16-year-old Blanch – she hit 22 of the team’s total of 48.

Mai Moa Cricket Club scorebook from the 1939-1940 season. The cricket club that Blanch helped establish. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection

Throughout the 1932-33 season, Blanch would remain a constant in match reports: she claimed 5 wickets for 1 run with her “speedy leg break” in a game where Mai Moa’s opponents made a team score of just 3; an understated newspaper report called her return of 7 for 9 “praiseworthy”; there were three wickets, all bowled, in four balls against High School Old Girls; while she closed off the season with 58* and 5 for 12 against Argyle House.

[.richtext-box]Off the back of Blanch’s incredible contributions – she scored 200 runs and claimed 44 wickets at an average of 3.3 in the 1932-33 season – Mai Moa won the senior championship at their first attempt.[.richtext-box]

At the start of the next season, international cricket almost came knocking when the Christchurch Girls’ Cricket Association received a letter from the Australian Women’s Cricket Council suggesting an all-expenses paid trip to Australia in February 1934. The tour was to take in games against country and state teams before an Australia v New Zealand Test concluded the occasion.

With no national women’s cricket council yet in existence, officials in Christchurch sought input from other associations around New Zealand but the immediate feeling was that New Zealand’s cricketers were not quite ready for an arduous tour and the might of Australia. So, despite much enthusiasm across the Tasman – where they were especially excited about the Test making history as the first women’s international – the idea was scuppered.

“She set her teammates an example in every department of play.”

Evening Post, 18 July 1934 

The first New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council in 1934. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection
The first New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council in 1934. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection

Instead of travelling to Australia in February 1934, the Christchurch Girls’ Cricket Association instead played a Possibles v Probables trial match to select the Canterbury team to travel to Whanganui for the Amalgamated Theatres Shield competition.

Captaining the Possibles was the woman who, the following season, would become the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Team’s (now the WHITE FERNS) first captain, Ruth Symons.

Opposing her in charge of the Probables was Blanch Te Rangi.

Unsurprisingly, the pair were both selected for the Amalgamated tournament, Symons as captain and Te Rangi as her deputy.

The opening game of the tournament saw Blanch and Margaret Marks hit their centuries as Canterbury amassed 369 against Whanganui B. The home side could only make 32 in reply. It could have been worse, however, if Symons had decided to throw the ball to Blanch at any point.

[.richtext-box]Canterbury went on to win the Amalgamated Theatres Shield by beating Wellington Technical College Old Girls comfortably in the final.[.richtext-box]

Back in Christchurch, at the end of season club awards in April 1934, the DG Sullivan Cup was presented to Blanch as captain of the Mai Moa team, back-to-back winners of the senior championship. The awards ceremony also gave her a chance to show off one of her off-field skills as she entertained the crowd with several songs played on her ukulele.

It was an exciting time for women’s cricket in New Zealand, with the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council meeting for the first time following the Whanganui tournament, discussions starting regarding an English team visiting in 1935, and the creation of a true national competition being explored.

After standout performances with both bat and ball to her credit in provincial cricket, Blanch could easily have seen herself playing a major role in that exciting future.

Then, in May 1934, Blanch fell ill with tuberculosis.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be until 1942 that an effective anti-tuberculosis drug was discovered, and, on July 15, 1934, Blanch died at Cashmere’s Coronation Hospital at just 17 years old.

The brightest star in New Zealand cricket would never get her chance to show the world her talent.

Tributes were published around New Zealand, with cricket clubs and provincial women’s cricket council’s noting the passing of the teenager who was “largely responsible” for Canterbury’s provincial success. In the obituary printed in Wellington’s Evening Post, the last line left a fitting, humble, tribute to her influence,

The legacy of Blanch didn’t end with her death, however, as her extended family continued to shape the game.

Elizabeth Tini (nee Te Rangi), Blanch’s sister, had a long involvement in cricket administration, including as Vice President of the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council.

She was also an ardent supporter of her daughter, Mere Ana Tini, who represented Canterbury from 1949 to 1962. Although just four when Blanch died, Ana mentioned in an interview with Adrienne Simpson that her introduction to cricket came through the legacy left by her aunt.

In 1957, Ana got the chance to do what Blanch missed out on: travelling to Australia with the New Zealand women’s side to play in the Australian Women’s Cricket Championship.

The New Zealand Women’s Cricket team in Christchurch prior to their tour to Australia in 1957. Both Ana Tini and her sister-in-law Mary Rouse signed the back of the photograph. New Zealand Cricket Museum Collection

In that side she played alongside her sister-in-law, Mary Rouse, who would play Test cricket for New Zealand as well as for Canterbury alongside her sisters, Anne, and Jean. Another sister-in-law, Ethna Rouse, completes the cricket dynasty, having also played for Canterbury and New Zealand.

Blanch was talked about in Christchurch club cricket for many years after her death. When Pat Quickenden – a two-Test WHITE FERN born in 1930 – was introduced to club cricket in the 1940s, many of the older players would still speak of Blanch Te Rangi,

“When I first came into it, her name was that she was a tremendous bowler. Fantastic.”

If only we’d seen just how fantastic she could’ve been.

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