As a boy, finance minister and cricket tragic Grant Robertson was given the nickname Jock, in honour of the big-hitting batsman Jock Edwards, by his older brothers. It was a name he carried with pride.
It must have been the summer of 1980/81. We were on a family camping holiday in Te Anau. It was awful. It rained most of the time. My father, not the most outdoorsy of men, was ill-prepared. He had recently come off his 50cc scooter that he rode to work. His back ached. He was scratchy enough in the sunshine, let alone in an unforeseen summer storm.
Our magnificent green-and-orange-striped family tent leaked like a sieve. We were ordered “not to touch the sides!”. Dad got up in the middle of the night in his undies to dig a trench. It filled up with rain. And leaked inside the tent. “I told you boys not to touch the sides!”
My two older brothers and I stole the moments between showers to play out a timeless test. The best cricketers of a generation were locked in tense battle. The thwack of tennis ball on blue plastic bat echoed around the camping ground. We all had our favourites to take on as our own. For me, that summer, there was only one choice. I had begun what would become a lifetime battle with weight. I was moving from solid to chunky on a route to podgy. I also fancied myself as a hard-hitting opener.
My brothers were quick to call me Jock in honour of Jock Edwards. Being an insufferable cricket tragic even then, I knew that his real name was Graham Neil Edwards. I followed every level of cricket and knew of his extraordinary performances for Nelson in a golden era of Hawke Cup cricket. He was in special form for Central Districts and had made his way back into the test team. Short, stocky, he had lurked around the New Zealand squad for a while. I remember him in England in the late 70s, but it was his comeback that made him my idol. The series against India saw him in his element – 50-over cricket. If Jock were playing today he would have dominated in Twenty20. See ball, hit ball. Running between wickets is for the weak. And the fit.
And so, for that summer, I was Jock. It was fleeting idolatry. Jock drifted out of the team as they could not slot him in when there was a better wicket-keeping option, like the young, blond and lithe Ian Smith. (Look at the photos. He only found his inner Jock much later in life.) And I soon found new heroes.
But Jock stuck as my nickname from my brothers. It was my first nickname. In later life I was Robbie or Rob to my friends, but I liked Jock. I think that’s because it came from the two people I looked up to, who I wanted to emulate, or even get the better of. When you are nine years old and the youngest of three boys, that’s your world.
Of course we got older, and the name Jock didn’t get used so often. And we did more of our own thing when it came to holidays – though we managed another disastrous camping trip before the tent was retired to the shed.
At this crazy time, the passing of Jock Edwards draws up more emotion for me than I expected. My brothers are far away in a land that is struggling more than most with this insidious virus. The distance seems beyond the miles.
For Jock’s family, we give our aroha in such a difficult time, mourning the loss of their husband, father and friend.
And fleeting though his place in New Zealand cricket history might have been, for a time I was him, and I carried his name with pride. Rest easy Jock.