As Australia tour South Africa for one of the most anticipated series of the current season, we look back at the past encounters between the sides. Abhishek Mukherjee takes the readers through the three series between the wars.
South Africa vs Australia, 1921-22
No of Tests: 3
Result: Australia 1, South Africa 0
Warwick Armstrong’s Australians had already steamrolled the English home and away; the South Africans had probably prepared themselves to be mauled by the tourists. For Australia, Herbie Collins was a veteran of the First World War: he was appointed captain when Armstrong had been fell ill and was recovering in a sanatorium in Durban.
South Africa, led by Collins’s namesake Herbie Taylor, turned out to be a tougher opposition than the Australians had perceived them to be. Collins won the toss at Lord’s (the Durban one) and elected to bat and added 85 in 69 balls with Jack Gregory. The mysterious googly bowlers were not there anymore, but the medium-pace of Jimmy Blanckenburg and the left-arm spin of Claude Carter turned out to be more than a handful for the tourists.
Charlie Macartney scored a breezy fifty; Jack Ryder defied well as well; but Blanckenburg and Carter routed the best Test side in the world for 299. They still had to contend with the pair of Gregory and Ted McDonald as well. As things turned out, Billy Zulch was the only one who could put up some resistance; the hosts were reduced to 163 for eight, but once again Blanckenburg and Carter rose to the occasion, helping Tommy Ward take the score to 232.
Macartney then batted at his sublime best, scoring a 114-ball 116 (74 of which came in boundaries). Once again Blanckenburg and Carter combined to take wickets (they picked up 13 of the 17 wickets to fall) and South Africa were left to chase 392 for a win; one might have felt that Collins had delayed the declaration.
Gregory picked up two for 28 to go with his six-for in the first innings, but he could not get the South Africans out despite excellent support from both McDonald and Arthur Mailey. Though no one scored big, the batsmen hung around and finished on 184 for seven as stumps were drawn at five o’clock on the final day of the Four-Day Test.
Collins decided to bat again at Old Wanderers, and Gregory played the innings of his life: he tore into the bowling attack, hit them all over the ground, and reached his fifty in 70 minutes (still the fastest in terms of minutes batted) and 67 balls. It was an almost impossibly dominating innings: the 85-minute 119 involved 19 fours and two sixes.
Carter picked up six wickets, but Collins held firm and was ninth out for a 267-minute 203 as Australia scored 450 at a breakneck 4.59 runs an over. Gregory and McDonald then scythed through the hapless hosts, and it was only due to a 54-run ninth wicket partnership between ‘Buster’ Nupen and Blanckenburg that the hosts reached 243. They finished Day Two on 39 for one, still 168 runs behind.
Things changed in the second innings: once again Gregory reduced South Africa to 44 for two, but this time Charlie Frank came to the party; Taylor scored a quick 80 and helped Frank add 105 in 99 minutes: Australia might have thought they stood with a chance, but Dave Nourse dug in to support Frank.
The 206-run partnership changed the complexion of the Test completely. The innings defeat was saved, and Nourse went on to score 111 before he fell to the innocuous medium-paced bowling of Ryder. Frank batted 512 minutes for his 152 and was eighth out before Taylor made a token declaration 265 runs ahead. Could they hold the tourists at Newlands as well?
It was not to be. Though Taylor won a good toss and Frank and Zulch put up 50, the pitch took turn and Mailey, with some assistance from McDonald, routed the hosts for 180. Ryder then carved out a majestic 144, and once again Blanckenburg and Carter shared seven wickets between themselves as the tourists took a 216-run lead.
Sensing that the track would take turn, Collins threw the ball to Mailey and Macartney, who kept on picking up wickets at regular intervals. South Africa saved the innings-defeat, but only just: with a single run to make, Collins sent out Mailey and Sammy Carter; the ball was delivered by the appropriately named Phillip Hands, and it took a single ball for Mailey to seal the series.
Australia vs South Africa, 1931-32
No of Tests: 5
Result: Australia 5, South Africa 0
‘Jock’ Cameron’s South Africans were a weaker side than Taylor’s men, and more importantly, the Australians had a new star called Don Bradman, who had recently taken the world by storm. As a result, South Africa were whitewashed somewhat brutally.
It wasn’t even about the 5-0 margin: it was the way they had lost; they lost by an innings and 163 runs at The Gabba, by an innings and 155 runs at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), by 169 runs at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), by ten wickets at Adelaide Oval, and by an innings and 72 runs in the fifth Test at MCG. Seldom has a five-Test contest been as one-sided.
Some of the numbers were phenomenal: Bradman, for example, scored 806 runs at 201.50; Bill Woodfull managed 421 at 70.16 as well; but the most outrageous figures belonged to Bert Ironmonger, whose 31 wickets came at 9.54 a wicket — making even Clarrie Grimmett (33 at 16.87) look commonplace.
At The Gabba, Bradman scored 226 out of Australia’s 450; Bruce Mitchell with 50 (that included a scoreless phase of 70 minutes) was the only one to go past fifty as the tourists, caught on a ‘sticky’, were bowled out for 170 and 117; Ironmonger led the rout with match figures of nine for 86 from 77 overs, and that was that.
There was no respite for the South Africans as they were bowled out for 153 and 161 at SCG with no batsman going past the fifty-mark. Grimmett picked up eight for 72, Bradman scored his customary hundred (as did Keith Rigg) and it was over in three days.
The third Test at MCG was the only occasion where South Africa put up a serious fight: the opening pair of ‘Sandy’ Bell and Neville Quinn helped rout Australia for 198, and had it not been for fifties from Rigg and Alan Kippax, Australia would not have managed 198.
The South African response was led by Ken Viljoen, who scored 111 to secure a 160-run lead for tourists. Grimmett and Ironmonger bowled tightly with figures of 112-49-172-5 between them, but it was not good enough.
Faced with a daunting task, Bradman took centre stage with a belligerent 167 as the second wicket put on 274 in 183 minutes; Woodfull scored 161 as well, and fifties from Kippax and Stan McCabe took the hosts to 554 despite some tight bowling from Cyril Vincent and Quintin McMillan.
Set to chase 395 in the timeless Test, Mitchell and Jim Christy helped South Africa reach 225 before Grimmett (six for 92) and Ironmonger (four for 54) ran through the opposition. The series was thus sealed.
The visitors put up another spirited fight at Adelaide despite Grimmett’s marathon seven-wicket haul and some spirited bowling from a debutant called Bill O’Reilly, who had replaced the unfit Ironmonger. They managed 308, but Bradman decided to take things in his own hands, scoring almost as many himself. The total was overcome easily, and amidst great anticipation ‘Pud’ Thurlow, the last man, was run out by Bradman as he scampered for the 300th run.
The 205-run deficit was daunting, but South Africa managed to reach 224 for two. Then Grimmett triggered another collapse, the last eight wickets fell for only 50, and seven more wickets meant that ‘Grimmett finished with a match haul of 14 for 199. Woodfull and Bill Ponsford chased down the 73 in 19.2 overs.
The final Test at MCG (that lasted five hours and 53 minutes) remains the shortest decided match in the history of Test cricket. With unreal figures of 7.2-5-6-5 and 15.3-7-18-6 (his 11 for 24 remains the cheapest ten-wicket haul), Ironmonger single-handedly routed the tourists for 36 and 45. Grimmett did not get a bowl, and O’Reilly had a go when things were being rounded off in the third innings.
Despite Bradman’s injury the Australians had reached 199 (then their lowest score against the Proteans); it was as convincing a victory could have been.
South Africa vs Australia, 1935-36
No of Tests: 5
Result: Australia 4, South Africa 0
Bradman was the obvious successor to the helm after Woodfull’s retirement: however, with Bradman pulling out of the series, the 41-year old Vic Richardson — a staunch supporter of the “anti-Bradman camp” along with Jack Fingleton and O’Reilly — was appointed captain.
The series is remembered for the first three of Fingleton’s four consecutive hundreds (he became the first batsman to achieve the feat); the series was generally one-sided with Australia winning four of the five Tests, but it was the drawn Test for which the series is usually remembered.
The first Test at Kingsmead was a one-sided affair: O’Reilly and ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith bowled out the hosts for 248; there were imposing hundreds from McCabe and Arthur Chipperfield; Australia secured a 181-run lead before O’Reilly and Grimmett routed the hosts for 282; and the tourists romped to a nine-wicket victory.
The Old Wanderers Test was, however, a different matter altogether. It began the usual way with O’Reilly, Grimmett, and Ernie McCormick bowling out the hosts for 157; the hosts, however, struck back through Chud Langton and a short burst from Mitchell and restricted Australia to a 93-run lead.
Grimmett took out the first three South Africans with 90 on the board as Dudley Nourse walked out to join Mitchell: what followed was sheer carnage. In an innings where nobody else scored 50, Nourse scored 231 in 289 minutes with 36 fours: the amazing pace at which he scored helped the hosts set Australia a target of 399.
Bill Brown was accounted for early, but McCabe then played one of the rampant innings Johannesburg has ever witnessed: as Fingleton held one end up McCabe went for everything, being particularly harsh on Mitchell and Ernest Bock. Fingleton was reduced to a spectator; by the time he was out for 40, McCabe had taken the tourists to 194.
Len Darling walked out, and played a great second hand as McCabe continued with the onslaught. Australia reached 274 for two and victory was in sight when ‘Herby’ Wade did the unthinkable: he called for bad light while fielding. The call was upheld (McCabe was not very happy) and the match finished in a draw. McCabe finished on 189 not out.
Both Brown and Fingleton scored hundreds and added 233 for the opening stand at Kingsmead, and with rain pouring down, Richardson declared the innings closed at 362 for eight. The hosts were no match for Grimmett, who finished with a match haul of ten for 88. South Africa were bowled out for 102 and 182.
The next Test at Old Wanderers went the same way: Fingleton scored a hundred, Australia scored 439, and South Africa were bowled out for 157 and 98. Once again Grimmett starred in the victory with figures of ten for 110.
Kingsmead was déjà vu all over again: Fingleton scored another hundred, Grimmett returned match figures of 13 for 173, South Africa scored 222 and 227, and lost by an innings and six runs. Grimmett finished the series with a phenomenal 44 wickets at 14.59: only Sydney Barnes and Jim Laker have managed more. The series was lightened up somewhat by the presence of Dave Nourse in the final tour match when he turned up for Western Province at Newlands.
The sides would not play another Test before the Second World War. After it ended, however, South Africa returned as a much-improved side.
(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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