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NZ vs SA – Tangiwai Shield, commemorating 1953 rail disaster, to go to winners of Test series

New Zealand and South Africa will play for the Tangiwai Shield, the trophy for the two-match Test series that’s set to begin on February 4 in Mount Maunganui. The trophy commemorates the tragic events of 1953, when 151 people on the train from Wellington to Auckland on Christmas eve – including Nerissa Love, the fiancé of New Zealand fast bowler Bob Blair – lost their lives in the country’s worst rail disaster.

The tragedy coincided with the second Test between New Zealand and South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on December 24, which Blair was part of. On the opening day, New Zealand’s seam attack reduced South Africa to 259 for 8. The New Zealand squad spent Christmas at their team hotel, but woke up on Boxing Day to the news of the accident.

Blair remained behind at the hotel to grieve. It was announced that he had withdrawn from the match, and flags at the ground were lowered to half-mast.

But Blair appeared out of the players’ tunnel after New Zealand lost their ninth wicket for 154 in the first innings, which left the players and the crowd at Ellis Park stunned. Along with Bert Sutcliffe, he put up a 33-run stand to drag New Zealand to 187. It remains one of the most defining moments in New Zealand sporting history.

“The background to this Test match is one of the most sad and moving and heart-breaking stories imaginable,” NZC chief executive Scott Weenink said. “It’s also an uplifting story of incredible courage and resilience, and in terms of the South African team and public, great compassion and empathy. I’m delighted to see this very important part of cricket history properly recognised and acknowledged.”

The Shield was created by carver David Ngawati (Ngati Hine), is made from the native New Zealand timber puriri, and includes an inlaid mere made from pounamu, a type of stone sourced from the Tangiwai region. An NZC release said that the shield will be blessed and presented to the teams in Tauranga today.

CSA chief executive Pholetsi Moseki said, “On behalf of CSA, I send my best wishes to everyone who was touched by this tragedy, and to both teams contesting the inaugural trophy. It’s important that the teams of today and tomorrow know where they came from, and I’m sure the Tangiwai Shield will do much to assist with that.”

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