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Meet the Sneddens, New Zealand's cricketingest family

Michael Snedden, the fourth generation of Sneddens in first-class cricket, made his debut in the Plunket Shield in October 2019, playing for Wellington Getty Images

Imagine walking into a sports ground knowing your great-great-grandfather once owned the land on which it stands. Imagine watching your father pilot the country's successful hosting of the rugby World Cup final, as head of the organising body for the event, on the same ground over a century later, in 2011. Sixty-one thousand anxious fans gasped through the heart-stopping last minutes of that thrilling game, which New Zealand won, bringing unparalleled joy to a nation still reeling in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Christchurch earlier in the year. Watching the game firmed Michael Snedden's resolve to play for New Zealand.

Why are we talking about Snedden? Well, in October 2019, when he turned up for his new side, Wellington, at the Basin Reserve, four generations of his family had played first-class cricket in the country.

The Sneddens are one of the most accomplished sporting families anywhere, not just New Zealand. Except, in the cricketing world, they're not nearly as celebrated or as well known as the Chappells or the Hadlees.

Martin Snedden, Michael's father, is a former Test cricketer, who retired in 1990, two years before Michael was born. Martin has been a cricket administrator for close to two decades; between 2001 and 2007, he was chief executive of New Zealand Cricket.

ALSO READ: Michael Snedden becomes fourth-generation Snedden in first-class cricket

"Coming from a cricket-mad family would've invited scrutiny [for Michael] and that much focus elsewhere in the world, but for us Kiwis, it was a very normal thing," Martin says. "We had the freedom, space and time to pursue the game we loved, without there being any pressure. As such, the unwritten law was that we had to have careers outside the game, because just your surname isn't a ticket to represent the country."

Martin's great-grandfather Alexander was one in a group of cricket-crazy friends who acquired a piece of stony, swampy land in the Sandringham suburb of Auckland in the early 1900s and spent money turning it into a cricket ground. Alexander, by virtue of being one of nine people who personally guaranteed the loan they took, became one of the registered owners of the land, which today stands as Eden Park under the Eden Park Trust.

Martin's father, Warwick, played for Auckland. Warwick's brother Colin played a Test for New Zealand against Wally Hammond's MCC team in 1946-47. Their father, Nessie, had a decade-long career for New Zealand, interrupted by the First World War.

Martin's grandfather on his mother's side, Bill Quane, was New Zealand's 100-yard hurdles champion in the 1920s. He was also a renowned athletics coach who built a long-jump pit and high-jump bar (with mattresses to land on) in his vegetable garden at home.

That backyard was the scene of many cricket matches between Martin and his three older brothers. "As the youngest of them, I had to bowl and they batted, which is why maybe I grew up to become a bowler," laughs Martin, who took 172 international wickets. Years later, young Michael too would spend his summers playing backyard cricket there with his dad.

As a ten-year old, Michael also spent a lot of time in his father's office at Eden Park, making his way to the nets area whenever the national team trained. "I was particularly fascinated by Shane Bond," he says. "The smoothness of his action, run-up, pace, swing, everything was magical. I used to be awestruck watching him. I used to be lost at times and had to be pulled away from the nets area so that I didn't end up being hit by the batsmen at the other end. Later, I'd go home and copy his action while bowling to my brothers in the backyard." These days Michael is a fast bowler in the Matt Henry mould, though he brushes aside any comparisons, saying he has "still got lots to prove".

Michael was on course to make his first-class debut for Otago five years ago, but it wasn't to be. He opened the bowling in a tour game against the visiting Sri Lankan team in 2014, sent down a few overs and then felt a pop in his shoulder while throwing the ball from the boundary. He didn't play for another three years. It has taken him a good eight years of trying in all, and three shoulder surgeries, before the first-class cap has finally come his way.

"I'm really proud that, at 27, he's still managed to retain his cricket dream despite the injuries," Martin says. "His surgeries knocked him a lot. It tested him, but his love for cricket was too deep, even if he was only a club cricketer.

"He was well looked after at the time. He had access to all their support programmes. The only thing was, he wasn't being paid to make a living out of the game, but it didn't bother him because he had the confidence of being able to support himself."

Michael used the time away from the game to complete a degree in education, and started working at a primary school. "It took my mind off cricket," he says.

"I always had the passion to go and try as far as I could, and the teaching course was good in that sense. When the recovery period is so long, you start to wonder if you can ever be back at full strength. It is hard being a professional cricketer because there are so many people trying to do the same thing. I realised while I still had that desire to play, I couldn't put all my energy into it. You have to have stuff outside of that to grow as a person outside the game."

His first-class selection eventually came in September 2019, nearly five years after that shoulder injury. "It all happened very quickly," Martin says of Michael's move to Wellington. "At Otago, he was not on contract and breaking into the first-class set-up was becoming increasingly difficult. In comparison Wellington has less depth and they were encouraging him to come down, put in performances and be considered for selection. It was a chance he had to take."

The circumstances of his teaching career helped Michael decide to make the move. "I wasn't contracted to one particular school, which made my decision easier. You're registered with schools across the country, and whenever there is a need for substitute teachers or relief teachers, I step in. It wasn't like I had to apply for a transfer and keep waiting. I could simply move at a week's notice."

Martin keeps track of his son's progress without getting too involved. "We're in touch but I don't go too deep into the intricacies of the game," he says. "I trust the coaching staff to help him out completely, so I don't really worry about the cricket side of things. Also, he's busy with his cricket while I'm busy in my current assignment with New Zealand Cricket."

A qualified lawyer who gave up his practice to be a sports administrator, Martin is now director of NZC's cricket programmes, working with New Zealand's cricket associations to modernise coaching structures in the country. Between 2007 and 2011, he spent time understanding the rugby system and successfully delivered the World Cup in that sport. But the chance to return to cricket, his "first love", had him excited.

In his time he was an accurate wicket-to-wicket bowler with the ability to nip out crucial wickets. He speaks about a catch that he took that, if it had been given out, might have given the game in New Zealand a boost back in the '80s. It was in the famous "underarm" game at the MCG in 1981. Fielding at deep midwicket he dived to complete a catch that Richie Benaud on commentary described as one of the best he had seen, to dismiss Greg Chappell. It should by rights have earned Martin, still a law student at 22, a Toyota car for the best catch, but it wasn't given.

"The umpires told our captain, Geoff Howarth, that they were watching both batsmen ground their bats inside the crease while running," Martin remembers. "He went on to make 90. Who knows, had that catch been ruled out, we wouldn't have had to chase the target we did, and the underarm incident may have never taken place," he remembers.

"All I remember from that incident now is how cricket went from being a middle-of-the-road sport to absolutely taking off. I think that series was also the first time games were televised across New Zealand. Coloured clothing, white ball, floodlights - it was a first."

What does he do in his new NZC role as program director? "To [create programmes that] suit the taste of kids and adults alike, as opposed to what was put in place 10-20 years ago," Martin says. "While cricket is popular in New Zealand, there are so many other sporting and recreational opportunities. So we have to work doubly hard to ensure we're able to sustain this interest and growth, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, where Brendon McCullum's side just captivated the nation, which has now been taken forward by Kane Williamson's side. So that is a big part of what I do currently.

"The men's game seems steady, but our women's programmes need work. We don't have enough participants at the junior level. There are far too many dropouts from girls aged 12-17, and that is because there are many other avenues. We've got to make cricket a lot more attractive. It's still largely semi-professional, but upgraded state contracts, better access to facilities and more games is a start."

ALSO SEE: List of related Test players

Michael too was fascinated by the country's "overnight switch over to cricket in 2015", as he puts it. "Everyone knew McCullum, Vettori, Taylor, Williamson. That is when cricket became a huge part of everyone's life in a different way. Not that it wasn't popular earlier, but just the team success and New Zealand's co-hosting of the tournament made it a grand spectacle. Now you see so many kids wanting to take up cricket in the summer."

It's impossible these days to not ask any New Zealander or Englishman about their memories of the World Cup final at Lord's in July this year. Where were the Sneddens at the time?

Michael was at home, having stayed up all night watching the game with his friends. "It was insane. Our heart rates went through the roof when the Super Over started," he remembers. "It was heartbreaking to lose firstly on boundary count and then that overthrow, but the way Kane and company conducted themselves as thorough role models somewhat soothed us all. They're real ambassadors, the ones you want to emulate on the field and off it. It was tough to sleep off that loss."

Martin was on an overnight trek in the interiors of Vietnam. "The internet reception was patchy, and I was just refreshing different cricket apps for online scores," he says. "New Zealand's acceptance of the circumstances was startling in a good way. Man, you lose the final that way and yet retain the magnanimity in defeat to that extent. Heroes."

If Michael were to feature in the final four years from now, would Martin do everything he could to be there for his son's biggest moment? "Why a World Cup final, maybe it can just be a New Zealand debut," Michael says.

"Look, it's still a dream. I've been taught to say 'Never say never.' Whenever someone asks me if it will just remain a dream, I remind them of Will Somerville [who made his international debut at 34] and Michael Hussey. It's as simple as that, I'll keep playing and doing my best when opportunities come about."