The Knight of the Cruise of Mr Gladstone (Sir Donald Currie); caricatured by Carlo Pellegrini in Vanity Fair, June 1884. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The Knight of the Cruise of Mr Gladstone (Sir Donald Currie); caricatured by Carlo Pellegrini in Vanity Fair, June 1884. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” — Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

Perhaps it would be just and fair to begin the narrative in the small Liverpool office of the Cunard Steamship Company in the year of our Lord 1844, when a young Scotsman, one Donald Currie, began his employment with the renowned shipping company as a humble clerk.

Recognising an energetic man of action, Fortune soon began to smile on Currie and by the year 1854, he had already established the Company’s additional offices at Le Havre, Paris, Bremen, and Antwerp.

In 1862, he resigned from Cunard and began his own North Sea shipping enterprise. He founded the Castle Shipping Line which began operations between Liverpool and erstwhile Calcutta.

By 1872, he had 10 ships as his disposal, including his first steamship, the Dover Castle. It was not long before Currie thought of expanding his operations to include the Cape Provinces of South Africa.

His interest in South African affairs grew rapidly, and he soon became the friend and confidante of several figures in high places of the South African political scene, in addition to coming into prominence in England of the strength of his business acumen.

He became a close associate of William Gladstone, no less, and entered Parliament as a Liberal member in 1880. In the meantime, his business ventures had given him the stature of a well-recognised and renowned shipping magnate in England. He received the KCMG Honour in 1881.

Sir Donald Currie, to give him his full name, sponsored the first ever England cricket tour to South Africa, the Englishmen sailing to Africa on one of his own vessels, the Garth Castle, in 1888. At a banquet on the eve of the English team setting sail, Sir Currie had made known his intention of donating a trophy, as a challenge cup, to the “team representative of the Cape Colony, Natal, Griqualand West and the Transvaal which excels the most against the visitors.”

The trophy was to remain behind in South Africa, to be contested for between the Provinces on an annual basis. And that was how the solid silver trophy, named the Currie Cup in honour of the generous donor, came to be associated with domestic cricket in South Africa. The first match for the Currie Cup was played between Kimberley and Transvaal in 1890, Transvaal taking the honours.

It was Thursday, December 31, 1925, and the Currie Cup match between Orange Free State (OFS) and Western Province (WP) was about to begin at the Ramblers Cricket Club Ground, Bloemfontein. This was to be the sixth (out of 18) Currie Cup match of the season.

Thomas Edward Holmes, wicketkeeper-skipper of the home team OFS, opted for first strike. This early in the season, it was to be the second Currie Cup game for both teams, each having lost the first.

The home team were 9 for 2 in next to no time, both opening batsmen being dismissed by Victor Veal before a mini-recovery followed in the form of a third-wicket stand of 54. Thereafter, wickets began to fall at regular intervals, to the discomfiture of the supporters. The ninth wicket (the fourth for Veal, who would finish with 4 for 68) fell on 188.

Things took anunexpected turn with the advent of No. 11 Lancelot Fuller, whose previous highest First-Class score had been 37. At the other end was the No. 10 Lindsay ‘Len’ Richard Tuckett, the right arm fast-medium bowler. Up till this point of the game, things had been going rather well for the visitors; WP skipper William Stephen may have been forgiven for having visions of a quick disposal of the last wicket and of his team coming in to bat soon.

Well, cricket has always been a game where the element of surprise waits just one step ahead. In an unexpected turnaround, Fuller launched a vigorous assault on the bowling, Tuckett lending sedate and sensible support, as WP gradually began to wilt under the onslaught. The 200 was on the board in next to no time, then 250. By the time 300 was raised, OFS seemed to be past caring.

Then, against the run of play, Theodore de Klerk had Fuller (84) out LBW. Tuckett remained unbeaten on 30 purposeful runs. The innings folded at 303, extras contributing 32, manna from heaven under the circumstances. The last-wicket pair had added 115 runs, invaluable under the circumstances; it turned out to be the ‘happenstance’ of the game.

A downcast WP were reduced to 91 for 7. Then, in a striking similarity with the home team’s innings, there was a 135-run partnership between de Klerk (hit wicket for 79) and Ian Goulden (60). The innings finished at 259, Tuckett capturing 4 for 99. The ‘coincidence’ bit had been played out with the face-saving century partnership.

OFS began their second innings with a lead of 44. The first wicket fell at 38 and the second at 81. There was no cause for alarm for them at this point, given their buffer lead of 44 runs. The next 7 wickets, however, fell for the addition of only 40, first-innings hero Fuller being ninth out for an ignominious duck.

At 121 for 9 the familiar feeling of despondency began to grip the home team. It was, perhaps, too much to expect that there would be a miracle again in the game. Debutant Frank Caulfield walked into a charged atmosphere, with the lead a mere 165 runs and 1 wicket to go. The man at the other end was the same Tuckett, the man who had anchored the last-wicket century stand of the first innings. Caulfield’s batting experience till this point of time had been the single he had scored in the first innings.

Day Two ended with the home team at 212 for 9, Tuckett (51*) and Caulfield (38*) having eked out 91 excruciating runs for the opposition, and the team already 256 runs ahead. The alarm bells may already have started ringing in the WP camp. Was this going to be the case of ‘enemy action’?

It was WP skipper Stephen who ended the agony for his team in the first session of the third day by having Tuckett LBW for 70. Caulfield remained undefeated on a well-made 56 as the innings ended at 250. The tenth wicket had added 129 priceless runs for the team.

Among almost 58,000 First-Class matches till date, this is the only instance of a team posting century partnerships (115 and 129) for the tenth wicket in both innings of the game, a unique achievement, and Len Tuckett had been party to both historic efforts.

When a visibly dispirited WP began the last innings of the game, they were conscious of the 295-run winning target on the last day of the game. Caulfield, perhaps buoyed by his knock of 56*, disposed of the first three batsmen in the order for 63 runs in all.

The fifth wicket fell at 139, the sixth at 170. Denijs Morkel, who had scored a good 43 in the first innings, was dismissed for 39 by the ebullient Caulfield. A total disaster was prevented by Archibald Palm (75), who played a stoic innings, but whose resistance was negated by the lack of meaningful partnerships in the innings. Veal scored 33, but the innings wound up at 248. OFS achieved a victory by 46 runs, something that had seemed quite unlikely earlier on, thanks to the last-wicket heroics of both innings in general, and to Tuckett in particular. The Currie Cup was ultimately won by Transvaal that season, their eighth title overall till then.

Tuckett was born April 18, 1885 at Durban. A right-hand bat and a right-arm fast-medium bowler, he played 50 First-Class matches between 1909-10 and 1929-30, his career being interrupted by World War I. Primarily in the team as a bowler, he took 167 wickets at 30.07. He had 9 five-wicket hauls and a ten-wicket. He aggregated 1,219 runs as well, with 4 fifties, and at an average of 18.10.

The 22nd Test tour of England was to South Africa in 1913-14. It was also the seventh England Test tour to South Africa, the previous one having been in 1909-10. This time the team was led by Johnny Douglas, and consisted of 13 members. From historical records it is learnt that the original choice of captain for the trip had been Gilbert Jessop, but he was unavailable for the tour. The second choice had been Fred Fane, who, in turn, found himself unable to make the trip. The onus then fell on the Essex amateur Douglas.

History has rung with paeans of praise about the outstanding bowling of Syd Barnes and his record of 49 wickets from 4 Test matches in the 5-Test series, still a current record. History also records that Barnes had refused to play the last Test as he had felt that the accommodation provided by the South African hosts to his wife and himself were not up to his expectations. While England had gone through the tour with only 13 players at their disposal, South Africa had blooded 16 during the Test tour, many of whom were destined to play only one Test in their entire careers. One of these new players was Len Tuckett.

Len Tuckett’s only Test was the third of the series, against England at Old Wanderers. As Test debuts go, it was unremarkable in the extreme, Tuckett’s contributions with bat being 0 and 0*. His bowling figures read 10-1-45-0 and 10-3-24-0, hardly the sort of figures that would encourage the selectors to pick him again in a hurry. In Tuckett’s case, they had never gone knocking at his door again in his cricket career. All he had to show for his Test career was the No. 89 South Africa Test cap. His fellow debutant of the Test, off-spinner Cecil Dixon, was also destined to play only a Test, although he did capture 3 wickets. England won by 91 runs.

Lancelot Fuller, born April 2, 1902 at East London and first-innings hero of the Bloemfontein match, was never capped by South Africa. He had to content himself with playing 19 First-Class matches for OFS between 1924-25 to 1929-30, scoring 386 runs at 14.29. He also captured 42 wickets in all at 25.16. Fuller passed away at the young age of 44 in 1946.

Caulfield, born August 17, 1893 at Cape Town, the second-innings hero, had an even shorter career, playing only 3 First-Class matches, all in 1925-26. He took only 4 wickets at an expensive average of 50.25, and scored 81 runs at an average of 20.25. Caulfield’s life-span, like his cricket career, was also sadly short: he passed away in 1936, three months short of his 43rd birthday.

Tuckett’s other claim to fame was as father of Lindsay Tuckett, the right arm fast-medium bowler. Lindsay Tuckett represented South Africa in 9 Tests, claiming 19 wickets. Lindsay died in September 20, 2016 at the ripe old age of 97, the oldest surviving Test cricket at the time.

Len Tuckett, celebrated in cricket statistics for his magical efforts in the Currie Cup match of 1925-26 at Bloemfontein, himself passed away on April 8, 1963, having almost completed 78 years in age.