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Jackie McGlew: One of the pillars of South African batting of the 1950s

Jackie McGlew (batting in picture) amassed 2,440 runs in 43 Test an average of 42.06 © Getty Images
Jackie McGlew (batting in picture) amassed 2,440 runs in 34 Tests at an average of 42.06 © Getty Images

 

Jackie McGlew, born March 11, 1929, was a dour, adhesive opening batsman who formed a pillar of the strong South African side of the 1950s and led the country in 14 Tests. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who has the dubious record of the second slowest century ever scored in Test cricket.

 

Three ducks and a ton

 

Jackie McGlew wanted to score a run. That was all that he wanted. Just one run.

It had been a distant dream for the 21-year-old to play for South Africa. It had turned tangible when he had amassed 138 for Eric Rowan’s XI against Dudley Nourse’s XI at Kingsmead that February —  by all intents and purposes the trial match for the forthcoming tour of England. The dream had been confirmed as real when he had been picked for Nourse’s team to England — later called ‘The Noursemen’.

And since then, three matches had been played.

At Maidstone in Kent against AG Clarke’s composite XI, Bill Edrich had uprooted his middle stump for a duck.

When he had batted against the Worcestershire team, Reg Perks had rapped him on the pads and the finger of the umpire had sent him trudging back to the pavilion. The score-sheet had remained blank.

The next outing had been against the Cambridge University. McGlew had opened with Eric Rowan and had been run-out, and the fault had been totally his. It had been yet another zero.

Now, as the train hurtled westwards to Cardiff, he wondered how long the team management would afford to persist with him. And how he would ever get that elusive first run in England.

Yes, the think-tank did play young McGlew. That Whitsun holiday saw a big crowd assemble for the tour match against Glamorgan. McGlew went in at 68 for one, after Rowan and Johnny Waite had given the visitors a solid start. For a long while he felt his way around, willing things to fall in place. And they did. Slowly, very slowly, the cuts, drives and glances started to trickle.At the end of the day, McGlew was still there, unbeaten on 80 — his highest First-Class score. The Kingsmead trial game had not merited First-Class status.

The following day he was run out once again, but by then he had 110 against his name. He had got rather more than the solitary run he had been looking for. He had secured a place in the side for the first Test match at Nottingham.

There would be plenty of highs and lows, euphoria and embarrassment in England down the years. He would score memorable hundreds, lead his side to wins in Test matches. Then again, he would bag a pair at Lord’s, be forced to defend his young fast bowler against allegations of throwing. He would even jump up and down in the pavilion at Cardiff, unaware that he was in public view and rather oblivious that he was in the nude after a shower.

There would be memorable showdowns in Australia, New Zealand and, of course, his native South Africa.

But, it all started with that hundred at Cardiff that showed the young man that he truly belonged. And it was a quaint coincidence that it took place at the Arms Park in Cardiff, the traditional centre of Welsh Rugby, where the cricket ground was immediately adjacent to the world famous rugger pitch.

McGlew could just as easily have been a champion rugby player.

Cricket and Rugby

Yes, when we go through his memorabilia, we come across a photograph showing McGlew as a boy of four, in full cricket attire, pads and all, holding a bat several sizes too big. However, during his days in the Merchiston Preparatory School and later Maritzburg College of Pietermatitzburg, Natal, he did show a slight preference for rugby over cricket.

At Merchiston, he strived for the scrum-half position. Being one of the boys with a lighter build, it was the most obvious role. At the same time, he was a regular member of the first XI from the time he entered Standard III.

A bout of rheumatic fever did ensure a ruined season in both the sports, but before he left school McGlew had led the cricket team and played as the vice-captain of the rugby First XV.

He was also a rather good middle distance runner, a useful high jumper and enthusiastic in hockey.

When McGlew moved to Martizburg College, he was afflicted by an attack of diphtheria. There were definite signs that his athletic career could be over. However, the recovery that followed was close to miraculous. He made immense progress, both as a batsman and behind the scrum. He led the College team in both the sports.

There were already columns in the local newspapers which clamoured for McGlew as fly-half for Natal. With time, he did play fly-half for Natal and on to run launch attacks along the wing for the hockey club Wanderers.

By the late 1940s, however, he had decided on cricket. The decision had much to do with the chances of picking up injuries in rugby, which could curtail other sports.

Ironically, on the cricket field, McGlew went on to break a finger in three places, fracture an ankle, dig his thumb into the ground, displace a clavicular bone, bust the cartilage of a knee and then break a few more fingers.

Cricket promised greater things. He led the Natal Schools in his first Nuffeld week in 1947. The team contained Trevor Goddard, Roy McLean, Waite and Mick Melle — all future South African cricketers. A year later, in 1948, McGlew led the South African Schools’ XI against Natal.

Soon, he had been selected for Natal to play against Orange Free State. The first few matches were not extraordinary, but showed a gradually improving batsman who had the tenacity to stick around for a long, long time.

The first England tour

The hundred against Glamorgan at Cardiff was followed by 90 against Gloucestershire at Bristol and 99 against Surrey. McGlew was selected for the first Test at Nottingham and was slotted to bat at number three.

The innings was opened by Eric Rowan and another debutant in Johnny Waite. When the former was dismissed at 31, McGlew walked in. As he approached the square, he walked past the great Denis Compton. The Middlesex great looked at his parchment-like face and said, “There’s not much to worry about. Get your head down and get some runs – and good luck.”

The two greenhorn batsmen added 76 in an hour and three-quarters before Freddie Brown bowled McGlew for 40. The match was rendered memorable by Dudley Nourse’s epic 208, after which it boiled down to an exciting game with low second innings scores. Athol Rowan and Tufty Mann won it for the visitors by 71 runs. It had been a victorious debut.

The rest of the series was not so successful for our man. The three other Test innings produced 10 runs in all, and he lost his place in the side.

However, it was in the final tour game, against an extremely strong TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough, that he played his best innings. On a vicious wicket which Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey utilised perfectly, South Africa were bowled out for 95. McGlew carried his bat, remaining unbeaten with 64. The second highest score was eight.

 

The team no one wanted

 

Things had changed drastically by the time the second tour came along. The South Africans were set to take on the might of Australia in the backyard of the great cricketing nation.

The Australians had recently thrashed the formidable West Indians. On the other hand, the South Africans were in a state of transition. Eric and Athol Rowan, Nourse had all retired. Clive van Ryneveld was unavailable. Tufty Mann had tragically died after the England tour.

With an enormous chasm between the two teams,the Australian Board of Control (ABC) had doubts whether the matches would draw large enough crowds. To minimise financial risks, they asked the South African Cricket Association (SCA) to cover all the expenses of the tour.

Even at home, no one gave Jack Cheetham’s men a chance. And McGlew, with two Test matches under his belt and at the age of 23, was appointed vice-captain.

Cheetham, however, was a visionary. Before the voyage, he sat with manager Ken Viljoen to plan their conquest of Australia. McGlew and Russell Endean joined in to work on their methods of attack, fielding positions and the finer details of their strategy.

Danie Craven, a former rugby star, was now Professor of Physical Education at Stellenbosch University. Viljoen wrote to him, asking for assistance.  Craven sent across a schedule of exercises and hints at how to warm up before batting, bowling and fielding. Training commenced in South Africa itself.

The entire team subscribed to this scientific approach. John Watkins and Headley Keith even had cine shots taken of their batting and bowling at the nets to study and work on the faults. McGlew and McLean batted on concrete wickets, arranging for the fastest available bowlers to hurl down short pitched balls in order to perfect their hook shots.

On board the Dominion Monarch regular meetings were held to discuss strategies. Training sessions were arranged with all the Craven exercises bundled together. During the tour, Cheetham and Vijloen spent their evenings studying the scoring charts of batsmen prepared for them by the veteran scorer Bill Ferguson.

The result of all this preparation was fantastic performance. Against all expectation, the series was squared 2-2.

McGlew began spectacularly, scoring 182 against Western Australia at Perth. With Cheetham out with a strained groin, he led the side against Victoria.

In the second innings of the first Test, McGlew battled in a seesaw battle, scoring 69 against the threat of Ray Lindwall. He played another fine hand in the fourth Test at Adelaide, ensuring a draw with a gutsy 54.The series stood at 2-1, and the resilience of the ‘Team that No One Wanted’ earned praise from a gentleman called Don Bradman. The great man called briefly at the dressing room to say, “Well done, chaps.”

However, McGlew missed the final Test at Melbourne where South Africa brought off a historic win. In the match against Victoria that preceded the decider, he moved quickly in the covers to get behind a drive from Sam Loxton. As he placed his knee behind the ball and got his hands down to stop the ball, his little finger was pinned against his knee and broken in three different places. Loxton had only one comment — not necessarily of sympathy, “You had no business to get in the way.”

The force at the top

When the tour continued to New Zealand, the focus was on McGlew’s finger. The top-order remained brittle and he was definitely required as an opener. The man from Natal diligently worked on his fitness, while also spending the free hours cycling around the attractive riverside rides in Christchurch.

Even though he was short of match practice, the selectors decided to play him in the first Test. McGlew discovered that the break had worked wonders for his batting. He remained at the wicket for 534 minutes and amassed an unbeaten 255. With Anton Murray, he put on 246 in 225 minutes for the seventh wicket. McGlew had scored his first century in Test cricket, and for good measure had also gone beyond Eric Rowan’s South African record of 236.

When Geoff Rabone’s New Zealanders paid their return visit to South Africa the following year, McGlew continued his fine form. He did not get a hundred, but notched up scores of 84, 86 and 61. The South African side was on a roll with back to back series victories, preceded by the shared rubber with the Aussies.

The second tour of England

In the summer of 1955, they became the first South African team to fly to England. And the next few months turned out to be a remarkable time for McGlew.

In the first Test at Nottingham, he scored 68 and 51, batting over 500 hours in all, a lone crusader as Johnny Wardle and Frank Tyson routed the visitors.This was the match in which McGlew reached 1000 runs in Tests.

However, Lord’s brought forth a pair for the batsman and another defeat for South Africa. When the team had played at Cambridge, McGlew had become a close friend of the leg-break googly bowling all-rounder Gamini Goonasena. The man from Ceylon had worn a navy blue tie with a motif of two embroidered ducks facing each other above an ominous legend that read ‘The Pair’. Goonasena had explained that the tie was a Cambridge concept and had to be earned. He offered to send McGlew one, but the South African had said that he would rather earn it.

After the pair of ducks at Lord’s McGlew received a package from his friend, with compliments and best wishes. Obviously it contained the tie.

However, glory was to follow soon. Cheetham had met with an injury and as a result his arm was in a sling. At Old Trafford, McGlew walked out to toss with Peter May.

The third Test turned out to be a fantastic thriller. England scored 284, with Compton getting 158 of them. McGlew was struck several times by Frank Tyson’s express pace and retired hurt with the score on 147 for one. Paul Winslow and Waite plundered hundreds, and the acting captain returned at 457 for seven to complete his own century. The visitors led by 137.

In the second innings, Compton againstruck the ball superbly for 71, May went on to compile 117, Colin Cowdrey got a half century, and the South Africans were left with 135 to win in 145 minutes. McGlew abandoned his normal methods of attrition and scored a brisk 48. His team scrambled home by three wickets.

It was yet another see-saw game at Headingley. The visitors were bowled out for 171, but the fearsome Peter Heine and the wily Hugh Tayfield restricted the lead to just 20. In the second innings, McGlew batted 400 minutes with a damaged right thumb to score 133. South Africa piled up 500 in the second innings. Following this, Tayfield and Goddard bowled the hosts out with five wickets apiece. The series now stood at 2-2. The first two Tests McGlew had led had been victorious and he had also scored hundreds in each. It had been a dream start.

It was perhaps the most difficult decision Cheetham had to make in his career. Fit for the final Test at The Oval, he tarried long before deciding to play. It was acknowledged as the correct move by McGlew and the rest of the team.

On a turning Oval track, England were bowled out for 151, but Tony Lock and Jim Laker soon returned the compliments with plenty of interest. South Africa managed just 112, McGlew top-scoring with 30 made over two and a half hours with just one boundary. Tayfield now captured five wickets to restrict the Englishmen to 204 in their second innings, but the target of 244 was always going to be difficult against Lock and Laker in the fourth innings at The Oval. South Africa managed 151.

The series was lost, but McGlew was hailed as a premier batsman and a promising leader for the future. He was named as one of the Wisden cricketers of 1956.

The frustrations

The honour came his way soon enough. McGlew was appointed the captain of South Africa for the visit of the England side in 1956-57.

It was indeed a dream come true. At the age of four, waving a toy bat in front of him, McGlew used to tell his mother, “One day I will be captain of South Africa.” Now that he was officially appointed captain, it turned out to be one of the most frustrating periods of his life.

He picked up a knee injury early in the season while providing catching practice to fielders. It got worse with time and later became serious enough to necessitate a cartilage operation. And during the match between the touring Englishmen and Natal, he dived to cut off a drive from Colin Cowdrey and landed on his shoulder. Advised complete rest, he withdrew from the first Test.The X-Ray revealed a displacement of the clavicular bone. McGlew was replaced by John Watkins in the team and van Ryneveld became the captain.

He did play in the second Test at Cape Town with a heavily bandaged shoulder, but could not field for long.

McGlew was severely criticised for withdrawing from the first Test at the eleventh hour. And then he was criticised further for opting to play in the second in spite of his injury. There were also rumours, wild, unsubstantiated and untrue, that he had picked up the injuries during dressing room scuffles with an inebriated teammate. His perfectly cordial relationship with van Ryneveld was also questioned. McGlew was swamped with hate mail, and for a while contemplated giving up the game. However, his adhesive qualities, so very apparent when he was at the crease, now stood him in good stead. He persevered.

A dubious record

Van Ryneveld was retained as captain when Ian Craig’s young Australian side visited in 1957-58. However, this time tables were turned and an injury to the current captain resulted in McGlew leading the side in the first Test at Johannesburg.

It was a superlative comeback for the opener, as he added 176 for the first wicket with Goddard and compiled 108. He also his first Test match six off Richie Benaud to move from 84 to 90.The match was drawn.

When van Ryneveld returned to take over the reins at Cape Town, Australia went one up and McGlew had a bad Test match.

The tour moved to Durban, and Neil Adcock destroyed the Australian batting for 161. McGlew and Waite came together at a rather critical situation with the score reading 28 for two. But, the approach they adopted was surprising to say the least. McGlew took his staying powers to almost ridiculous levels, compiling the slowest ever century by a South African — then a world record as well before Mudassar Nazar limped past him in 1977-78.

His hundred took him 545 minutes and he proceeded glacially to 105 in another half an hour. Waite was not far behind, consuming 510 minutes over his 134. At a distinct advantage at the start of the third morning, the South Africans plodded through the hours scoring just 168 in the day. When it was announced that McGlew and Waite had broken another record, wicketkeeper Wally Grout chirped from behind the stumps, “Must be a long playing record.” The match was drawn.

About McGlew’s marathon effort, Wisden observed, “Although as a feat of endurance and concentration it was remarkable,it is doubtful whether South Africa benefited by it.”

South Africa lost the remaining Tests, but McGlew went on with his stroke-less ventures, spending nearly six hours over 70 at Johannesburg. At the end of the disappointing series, he was one of the few South African successes.

The third and final tour of England

And in 1960, he was reappointed skipper for the tour of England.

It was not a happy voyage. McGlew managed a measly 189 runs in the five Tests, with a highest score of 45. England won the first three Tests to clinch the series.

Apart from the dismal results, dark clouds hung over young Geoff Giffin. The South African umpires had not had a problem with his action. Neither did the English umpires call him in the first few matches. However, in the game against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord’s, he was called for throwing by John Lagridge. When McGlew changed his end he was called by Frank Lee.

Griffin tried to change his action at Alf Gover’s indoor school, and was not called during the first Test. However, in the second Test at Lord’s, Frank Lee and Syd Buller proceeded to call him repeatedly. He was no-balled five times on the first day and six times on the second. However, he came back for a final spell and dismissed MJK Smith with the last ball of an over, and then bowled Peter Walker and Fred Trueman with the first two balls of his next over. This was the first ever Test cricket hat-trick claimed by a South African cricketer.

The match was over with Brian Statham skittling South Africa out with 11 wickets in the match. A 20-over exhibition match was now arranged to fill the period until the scheduled presentation of the players to the Queen at tea.

During this light-hearted game, Griffin was again repeatedly no-balled or throwing. Hetried to complete the over by bowling under-arm and was again no-balled for failing to notify the umpires of this change of action. The young bowler later recounted that Don Bradman came into the dressing room to console him, and let him know that the umpires were acting on order from MCC president Gubby Allen.

This meant that Griffin could not be used as a bowler for the rest of the Test matches. McGlew was left with one spearhead in Adcock. South Africa lost miserably. The captain had to stand down from the match against Leicestershire, travel to London and discuss the throwing problem. That night he dined with Don Bradman and WJ Dowling. The two were in England to represent Australia at the Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC), where the agenda was all about eliminating throwing from the game. The focus was elsewhere. McGlew and South Africa both suffered heavily because of it.

The only innings in which McGlew got going in the series was at Trent Bridge, and he was run out by a direct throw by Statham after colliding with bowler Alan Moss. England captain Cowdrey tried to call him back, but the umpires decided otherwise.

End of his career

McGlew played one more series, leading the South Africans at home against New Zealand in 1962-63. The result was a 1-1 draw, perhaps disappointing from the South African point of view. However, as a batsman, he was tremendously successful, scoring an unbeaten 127 at Durban and 120 at Johannesburg.

He retired from Test cricket after this.

McGlew continued to play First-Class cricket till 1966-67, batting low down the order and getting some useful runs while leading Natal to Currie Cup triumph.

In 34 Tests, McGlew scored 2440 runs at 42.06, with seven centuries. His 190 First-Class matches got him 12,170 runs at 45.92 with 27 hundreds.

His occasional leg-breaks were unsuccessful in Tests, but got him 35 wickets at 26.62 in the First-Class game.

Schooled during the Cheetham era of scientific cricket, McGlew was a superb fielder and often electric in the covers.

After retirement, he covered matches as a correspondent and wrote the tour books Cricket Crisis on the 1964–65 series against England and Six for Glory on the 1966–67 matches against Australia. His Cricket for South Africa is one of the more enjoyable cricketing autobiographies.

Down the years, he briefly flirted with politics. His stand was pro-apartheid, which was slightly strange given his close friendship with men like Goonasena and his respect for legends like KS Ranjitsinhji. He quoted abundantly from Ranji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket and wrote — “The Jamsaheb was a prophet”.

In 1991–92, after South Africa was re-admitted to world cricket, McGlew was appointed manager of the Under-19 team during the first visit to West Indies by a South African side.

McGlew also stood as the International Cricket Council (ICC) Match Referee in two Tests and two One Day Internationals (ODIs) in 1992, all the matches between Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

In June 1998, the 69-year-old Jackie McGlew passed away in Pretoria after suffering from blood disorder.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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