Playing at Lord’s Alan Melville reached his fourth consecutive hundred against England on July 24, 1947. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an amazing record by the South African achieved on either side of the war.
Alan Melville’s short career was a rather distinguished one: in 11 Tests he scored 894 runs at 52.58 (fourth among all South Africans to have played ten or more Tests) with four hundreds. The astonishing bit about the four hundreds was that they had come in consecutive innings — spread on either side of World War II.
The first of these tons had come in the famous timeless Test of 1938-39 at Kingsmead. South Africa had decided to bat on after a 214-run lead and Melville (batting at six after opening in the first innings), still the captain of South Africa, had top-scored with 103 before England scored 654 for five chasing 696.
That was over eight years back. Melville was 28 then. He was 37 when South Africa resumed cricket after The War but was still leading the side. During his absence from international cricket had picked up a back injury in a car crash and a fall during his tenure for the South African Forces (this came after he had fractured a collar-bone while taking a run in 1932).
He had to wear a steel jacket for a year, and because of his grip he could only bat with specially padded gloves to protect his permanently bruised hands. Despite all that Melville was eventually declared fit to lead his country.
Melville got off to an emphatic start to the series at Trent Bridge after he managed to fracture the little-finger of his left hand early in the tour (am I the only one who is spotting a trend here?): after South Africa were reduced to 44 for two Melville combined with Dudley Nourse to put up a 319-run partnership, a national record stand for any wicket and the world record stand for the third wicket. The captain scored a career-best 189 — resuming things from where he had left them at Durban — while Nourse scored 149.
England were made to follow-on, leaving South Africa a stiff target of 227 in 140 minutes. The Test petered out to a draw as the tourists, not making any real effort in their comeback Test, reached 166 for one with Melville reaching his third hundred on the trot, finishing at 104 not out. Melville became the first South African to score two hundreds in a Test. The teams then proceeded to Lord’s for the second Test.
Day One: Edrich and Compton decimate visitors
Norman Yardley won the toss and elected to bat on an absolute belter. There was some slow batting from Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook, but once they departed Denis Compton joined Bill Edrich, and the pair shred the South African attack to pieces. Runs were plundered at will as the ebullient Compton batted in company of the efficient Edrich. The Test slipped away from the South Africans even before they realised what had hit them.
England were 312 for two at stumps with Edrich on 109 and Compton on 110. They had already added 216. South Africa had almost been batted out of the Test.
Day Two: Melville resurrects after more plunder
Both Compton and Edrich shed off whatever inhibitions they had regarding an all-out onslaught as runs came at a breakneck pace. The batsmen raced each other to their respective 150-marks. The 319-run stand between Melville and Nourse established in the previous was obliterated.
Edrich eventually fell for a 361-minute 189 before the pair had added 370 — still a third-wicket record for England and a record partnership for any wicket at Lord’s. Compton scored 208 in 354 minutes and eventually fell to Lindsay Tuckett, who then went on take the next four wickets before Yardley declared the innings closed at 554 for eight.
To their credit Melville and Mitchell put up a commendable fight. They scored against all bowlers at will, putting up 95 in 95 minutes. They had blunted out Alec Bedser, Edrich, and George Pope, and had managed to dominate the spin of Doug Wright and Eric Hollies.
Yardley threw the ball to Compton — who could possibly do nothing that day. He struck almost immediately, having Mitchell stumped with his Chinamen. Nine runs later Ken Viljoen walked back to the pavilion, bowled by a faster delivery from Wright. Nourse walked out.
Memories of the earlier Test came into the mind of the spectators as Melville and Nourse dominated the English bowlers. Both batsmen attacked the bowling. An aging Melville, never the swiftest of runners, and exhausted of his immense workload on the tour, mostly relied on hits to the boundary and comfortably run singles.
He ended the day four short of what would be a record-levelling hundred at stumps. Nourse kept him company with 24 as South Africa finished at 167 for two, 417 runs behind. He had offered a caught-and-bowled chance to Wright when on 40 and a caught-behind opportunity on 93, but other than that he had batted soundly, combining his élan with efficiency. Wisden commented that his “easy, elegant strokes charmed the purist”.
When he had reached his fifty, however, Melville had equalled the world record of six consecutive fifties (he had scored 78 in the first innings in the aforementioned Kingsmead and before that, 67 in the second innings of the previous Test at Old Wanderers) — a record previously held by Jack Ryder, Patsy Hendren, and George Headley. Everton Weekes would go past this next year scoring seven — as would Andy Flower and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the 21st century.
Day Three: record, collapse, revival
Melville reached his hundred with the third ball of the day. He became only the second batsman after Jack Fingleton to score hundreds in four consecutive innings (Weekes would go past this as well scoring five hundreds on the trot the next year, while Rahul Dravid would also score four over half a century later).
Melville eventually fell, caught by Bedser off Hollies, for a well-compiled 117 in 253 minutes with 13 boundaries. He had added 118 with Nourse. Nourse scored 61. South Africa still looked comfortable at 290 for four but once again Compton provided the breakthrough, having Tony Harris stumped. Wright then ran through the tail picking up five for 95 as South Africa were bowled out for 327.
Yardley imposed the follow-on. Edrich, bowling with furious pace, uprooted Melville’s middle-stump, then sent Viljoen’s middle-stump cart-wheeling two overs later. A cautious Mitchell and an aggressive Nourse, however, steadied the ship, and the tourists finished the day at 120 for two with Mitchell on 47 and Nourse on 58.
Day Four: South Africa surrender meekly
Day Four began with Edrich hitting Nourse’s stump with the first ball of the day. This time Ossie Dawson came to the forefront, helping Mitchell add 72; however, once Mitchell fell to Wright South Africa collapsed from 192 for three to 252. Wright picked up five for 80 to go with his first innings five-for, and ended with match figures of ten for 175.
Edrich finished with three for 31 and Compton came handy again with figures of two for 46. In addition to their massive stand the Middlesex twins combined to take seven wickets between them (Edrich also picked up four catches). It did not take Hutton and Washbrook to polish off the 26 runs required for victory as England went 1-0 up in the series.
- England won the next two Tests at Old Trafford and Headingley quite convincingly. The thriller at The Oval ended with South Africa on 423 for seven chasing 451: Melville scored 120 and 189 in the Test.
- Melville finished the series with 569 runs at 63.22 in the series. He scored three hundreds which was next to only Compton’s tally of four. He scored 1,547 runs at 40.71 on the tour with six hundreds. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. Melville retired from international cricket that winter.
- Two stands of Lord’s were later named after Compton and Edrich — an honour they share with Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen.
England 554 for 8 decl (Denis Compton 208, Bill Edrich 189, Cyril Washbrook 65; Lindsay Tuckett 5 for 115) and 26 for no loss beat South Africa 327 (Alan Melville 117, Dudley Nourse 61, Bruce Mitchell 46; Doug Wright 5 for 95) and 252 (Bruce Mithcell 80, Dudley Nourse 58; Doug Wright 5 for 80, Bill Edrich 3 for 31) by 10 wickets.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42.)