Jackie McGlew (batting in picture) had struggled to make his mark during the early part of his career © Getty Images

Jackie McGlew (batting in picture) had struggled to make his mark during the early part of his career © Getty Images

March 7, 1953. South African opener Jackie McGlew returned from injury in the Wellington Test  and scored his maiden Test century. For good measure he carried onto score 255 not out, then the highest score by a South African batsman. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the epic innings.

The Recovery

Jackie McGlew had not really got off to a blazing start to his Test career.

The Natal opener and the vice-captain of South Africa had played six Tests in England and Australia across a year and a half, and had managed just 300 runs at 25.00. A fighting 69 at Brisbane against Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston had been his only innings of note.

Added to that, he had injured his finger during the thrilling tour of Australia in 1952-53, and had arrived in New Zealand as a passenger. As Jack Cheetham’s men played Otago and Canterbury, he had sat in the pavilion, watching the rather inconsistent performances from the top order, urging his finger to recover quickly.

The South Africans had surprised all by drawing the series 2-2 against the mighty Australians. However, the batting remained a cause for concern. As the first Test in Wellington approached, the focus was on McGlew’s finger. It had healed well enough. The young man had diligently worked on his fitness as well, while spending the free hours cycling around the attractive riverside rides in Christchurch.

Hence, even though he was short of match practice, the selectors decided to play him in the first Test. Headley Keith, who had played the final victorious Test at Melbourne, was omitted to make way for him. When Cheetham won the toss, McGlew walked out to open the innings with wicketkeeper John Waite.

The epic innings

It was obviously much easier than facing Lindwall and Miller. The footmarks left by New Zealand opening bowlers Bob Blair and Eric Fisher demonstrated the softness of the surface, underlining the importance of batting first.

Generally noted for his dour approach, McGlew started with several polished strokes around the wicket. The long lay-off had seemed to work wonders for his batting, and the timing was crisp from the outset. Waite and he added 54 in quick time before the wicketkeeper scrambled down the wicket for a run and collided with leg-spinner Alex Moir. With his neck strained in the process, he retired hurt.

The brittleness of the line-up was soon apparent when John Watkins and Ken Funston departed quickly. However, McGlew found an able partner in Russell Endean. Another quick 85 runs were added in just under an hour and a half and during this period McGlew went past his personal best of 69. Endean was stroking the ball well when Blair produced an out-swinger to get his edge.

Yet again, there was a mini-collapse. Roy McLean did not survive for long and Waite returned to the crease only to snick one from Blair almost immediately. The local pace bowler was in the middle of a productive little spell and the score read 187 for 5, when captain Cheetham walked in with calm assurance.

At the other end, McGlew was not keen to offer the bowlers any opportunity. He reached his maiden century in just under four hours and raised his bat. The South African camp cheered merrily. A further 49 were added for the sixth wicket before left-arm spinner Tom Blurtt spun one past Cheetham’s bat to castle him for 17. 238 for 6.

Just over three quarters of an hour remained for the end of the day’s play, and all-rounder Anton Murray joined McGlew at the wicket.

Generally noted for his dour approach, McGlew started with several polished strokes around the wicket. The long lay-off had seemed to work wonders for his batting, and the timing was crisp from the outset

Murray had already given an indication of his batting form by slamming a hundred from No. 10 against Canterbury, lifting the visitors from 155 for 8 to 356 in the tour match. Now, with the day drawing to an end, he launched into a flurry of strokes and McGlew reciprocated with a few dashing drives and cuts of his own. The last 46 minutes produced 62 runs and South Africa ended the day at 300 for 6. McGlew was on 151.

The next morning, a 12,000-strong Saturday crowd crammed the Basin Reserve, some perching on the perimeter fencing. A glorious sun blazed down on the ground, and the South Africans liked the conditions that was so very much like home. McGlew and Murray scored at more than a run a minute. The bowling was decent enough, with John Reid being the peak of the lot, but the work in the field left a lot to be desired. The two batsmen were able to pick up singles and twos comfortably, calling and running sharply, hustling the fielding into occasional mistakes.

At 351, with his score on 175, McGlew cut Fisher and the outside edge flew to Fisher at second slip. The chance was spilled. It was the first opportunity McGlew had provided after six and a half hours of batting. It was a minor hiccup, though, and he continued to stroke the ball fluently. At the other end, Murray got to his half century. The partnership was flourishing. McGlew went past his First-Class highest of 186 he had scored against Western Province in 1951-52, and the partnership was 150 in just 135 minutes.

It was now that Windy Wellington started living up to its name. With a strong breeze blowing across the ground, John Reid came back with the new ball, to exploit the shine, seam and wind.

And then there were some nervous moments.

At 199, Blair seamed a ball across him, and McGlew played a casual glance. Once again, the inside edge flew towards Fisher, now standing at short fine leg. The unfortunate fielder got a hand to it, but could not hold on.

Murray walked down the wicket towards  McGlew. “Don’t be a darned fool,” rang out his harsh words. “You must get your double century and the Test record.”

The South African national record was then held by Eric Rowan —  the famous 236 at Leeds in 1951. McGlew was somewhat shocked by the admonishment. “I’m not playing for records, Anton.”

Murray shrugged, “Well, you can get it you know.” He walked back, suggesting that he could please himself. It seemed to McGlew that every member of the team was more eager about the record than him.

The next ball was short and McGlew neatly cut it for a single and the double century was up in exactly 7 hours with 16 fours and a five. The cheers were loud and joyous from the South African camp. It was a happy team under Cheetham.

At lunch the score was 431 for 6, McGlew on 221, Murray 87.

After the break, the scoring rate slowed down. McGlew grew palpably tense as he approached Rowan’s record. Murray got bogged down as well as he neared his hundred. A spate of defensive strokes drew some jeering from the crowd. “Memories are short,” wrote McGlew, observing that they had hustled the scoreboard in stirring style just before lunch.

There was a tense over from Burtt, during which McGlew nudged unconvincingly at the deliveries, his score tantalisingly on 235. Then the spinner over-pitched, and the batsman was down the wicket in a flash, taking it on the full and cross-batting it past mid-wicket. The record was his. The Kiwis clustered around to offer their congratulations, and the crowd cheered generously. McGlew had arrived, and had done so in style.

Murray got to his century and clouted a couple of balls before being stumped off Burtt. The two had put on 246 in 225 minutes for the seventh wicket, yet another South African record.

Percy Mansell went after the bowling before being run out, and Hugh Tayfield came in to hit Burtt for two successive sixes. When Cheetham called the batsmen in at 524 for 8, McGlew was unbeaten on 255. He had been at the wicket for 534 minutes.

What followed?

There were a few early chances missed when the hosts started their innings, allowing New Zealand to get to a respectable 80 for 1 by close of play. However, when the game resumed on Monday, the crosswind from the valley favoured South Africa.

Yet again, McGlew played an important role. At 92 for one, Bert Sutcliffe, the mainstay of New Zealand batting, hooked Watkins. The ball went high in the air, and McGlew ran full tilt on the leg boundary and held it on the run. The stalwart Kiwi batsman walked back for 62, and this virtually ended the resistance. Some fine bowling by Eddie Fuller and Murray ensured a low first innings score of 172.

Following on, the Kiwis enjoyed one bright spot when Sutcliffe went past Roger Blunt’s New Zealand record of 7,769 runs in First-Class cricket. But, Murray dismissed him for 33 and with Watkins and Tayfield among the wickets, the hosts collapsed to 172 all out yet again. South Africans had stamped their superiority with a big innings win.

Brief scores:

South Africa 524 for 8 decl. (Jackie McGlew 255*, Russell Endean 41, Anton Murray 109; Bob Blair 4 for 98) beat New Zealand 172 (Bert Sutcliffe 62; Eddie Fuller 3 for 29) and 172 ( Gordon Leggat 47; John Watkins 4 for 22) by an innings and 180 runs.

(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)