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South Africa vs Australia, Past encounters — Part 4 of 7

Graeme Pollock © Getty Images
Graeme Pollock… by the time he ended the 1963-64 series, there remained few doubts regarding his pedigree © Getty Images

With Australia and South Africa about to engage in a much awaited Test series, we decided to look back at all the past encounters between the two nations. In the fourth installment of this seven part series, Arunabha Sengupta covers the story of three eventful series from 1963-64 to 1969-70.

1963-64 in Australia

Nos. of Tests: 5

Result: Australia 1 South Africa 1

 

 

It was a metamorphosed South African side that landed in Australia in late 1963. In the party was a 19-year-old left handed batsman obviously touched by genius and destined for greatness. Graeme Pollock made his debut at Brisbane. By the time he had ended the series with centuries in the third and fourth Tests at Sydney and Adelaide, there remained few doubts about his pedigree.

Also in the top order was a bespectacled strokeplayer, less orthodox but almost equally effective. Eddie Barlow hit three centuries in the tour including a double hundred at Adelaide.

Young Denis Lindsay made his mark as well, and Colin Bland proved scintillating on the field and often brilliant with the bat.

The bowling was spearheaded by Graeme Pollock’s elder brother Peter, a paceman of rare skill. Finally, there was the all-round ability and the calm assurance of Trevor Goddard the captain.

Jack Fingleton’s prophecy of 1952-53 was fast coming true, and the Springboks were on their way to becoming one of the greatest sides of the 1960s.

However, even the debut of a talent as sublime as Graeme Pollock could not prevent the first Test at Brisbane from being marred by undesirable controversy.

The 1963-64 series was the first played by Australia after the retirement of Alan Davidson. As a result, there was a giant void to be filled. As the leading wicket-taker of the 1962-63 season, Ian Meckiff was chosen as the man to step into the giant shoes.

This was surprising to say the least. After prolonged deliberations with the Imperial Cricket Conference, the Australian Board of Control had issued a directive asking umpires to “get tough” in enforcing laws of cricket – with specific focus on throwing. Meckiff had been called earlier and had been marked out as one of the principal offenders. The Englishmen who visited in 1958-59 had been vocal about his action.

When Richie Benaud’s side was announced, even Goddard expressed surprise at the selection of Meckiff. In the News of the World Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie wrote: “There is no room in cricket for throwers. Let us hope that…the Australian selectors realise this…otherwise the throwing war will be waged in earnest.”

At home, speculation was rife that the bowler was chosen so that he could be no-balled in a high profile Test match — thus improving Australia’s anti-throwing credentials. Many felt it was the brainchild of Don Bradman, the virtual supremo of Australian cricket as a Board member and selector. According to Keith Miller, the selection had “peppered this once drab-looking series into a curry hot-pot, with all the excitement and trimmings of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller”.

Miller also predicted that the umpires Col Egar and Lou Rowan would have sleepless nights, adding that he hoped that Meckiff was not being used as a scapegoat.

The predictions of Miller turned out to be eerily close to the mark, including the projected dilemma of the umpires. Egar was particularly flustered. Meckiff was a close friend. The duo had won a pairs lawn bowling competition just a few months earlier. However, the fast bowler and the umpire socialised freely at the pre-match function.

At Brisbane, Benaud won the toss and Australia batted. Brian Booth scored 169 and Peter Pollock picked up six wickets as the home side finished on 435. South Africa took strike just after lunch on the second day.

Graham McKenzie bowled the first over and conceded 13 runs. And then came the moment that had the entire cricket world at the edge of the seat. Meckiff started the second over from the Vulture Street End, bowling to Trevor Goddard. At the same time, South African manager Ken Viljoen set up a movie camera and started filming his action from the Gabba Hill.

Egar had officiated in three Sheffield Shield matches and two Test matches featuring Meckiff and had never had any problem with his action. In fact, he had told his friend that there was no point in changing his action after the rules had been modified.

Now, standing at square-leg, Egar called the second, third, fifth and ninth deliveries as throws.

At first the reason for the calls was unclear. After the second ball, standing at square leg Booth thought that he had sauntered behind the umpire and there were three men behind square leg now resulting in a no ball. Many thought the call had come from the crowd. At gully, Benaud’s eyes were popping out.

After the third ball, captain Benaud ran up to Meckiff and spoke to him. “We’ve got a bit of a problem here. Concentrate on keeping your arm as straight as you can.”  The fifth ball was called again – a full toss Goddard struck for four. Benaud ran down once more and said, “If you want to bowl underarm that’s okay.” Meckiff refused. The same thing happened after the ninth ball. The next three balls were not called and the over limped to conclusion.

The rest of the 133.5 eight ball overs in the innings were shared by McKenzie, Alan Connolly, Tom Veivers, Benaud himself, Bobby Simpson and Norman O’Neill.

The crowd stood vociferously behind the unfortunate bowler all through. Egar was heckled during the infamous over, and before the close of the second day’s play, chants of “We want Meckiff” grew louder. When play ended, spectators entered the field and carried the Victorian off the ground on their shoulders. Egar had to be escorted out by the Queensland Police.

Later Meckiff said that he not bear Egar any grudge. Yet, he added that although the umpire had done what he had thought was correct, the calls had felt like being stabbed in the back — more so because Egar was a close personal friend.

Barlow scored 114 and the Test ended in a dull draw — all its excitement provided by the Meckiff affair. At the end of the game, the Victorian pace bowler retired from all forms of cricket.

Several sections of the Australian cricket community believed that Meckiff had been the victim of a conspiracy. At a dinner for the visiting state captains hosted by Bradman in January 1963, it had supposedly been hinted that Meckiff might turn out to be a sacrificial offering. During the evening, Bradman had run a film showing bowlers with suspect actions — Meckiff among them. The legendary batsman definitely had his doubts over Meckiff’s action, yet he was one of the selectors who ensured the fast bowler’s inclusion in the Test side.

Phrases such as “smacks of a set-up”, “obvious fall-guy”, and “sacrificial goat” flew about.  Several, including Keith Miller, wanted Bradman to resign. Cricketer-turned-journalist Dick Whitington reported that Egar and Bradman had travelled from Adelaide to the Brisbane Test together, making it look very much like a plot. It was also revealing that Benaud did not try to bowl Meckiff from the other end.

The Australians played the Test with five regular bowlers apart from Simpson and O’Neill. This fact somehow hinted at prior knowledge of things to follow.

Veivers, who made his Test debut for Australia in that match, said that at the pre-match function, the other umpire Rowan had mentioned, “It’s going to be a very interesting game.”

However, Egar always denied any conspiracy.

On the eve of the New Year’s Day Test at Melbourne, Benaud was ruled out with a broken finger. Bobby Simpson was chosen to lead the side. It was not really a universally popular choice – Simpson had till then played 23 Tests without scoring a century and averaged just 33 with the bat.

However, he did not lack much in the dimension of daring. Winning the toss, he boldly inserted the South Africans. His decision was vindicated by Garth McKenzie and the other bowlers as South Africa fell for 274 in spite of another Barlow century. When Australia batted, Bill Lawry hit 157 and added 219 for the first wicket with debutant Ian Redpath. The 23-year-old Redpath fell for 97. The new captain scored a six ball duck, but Barry Shepherd’s 96 took Australia to 447.

The South Africans fought hard in the second innings, but eventually succumbed to an eight-wicket defeat.

By Sydney, the Springbok unit had started to flower. On a grassy wicket Peter Pollock and Joe Partridge kept Australia down to 260. And Graeme Pollock, fresh from 120 against New South Wales, hit one six and 19 fours in a fierce display of stroke making to score 122 out of 186 while at the wicket. However, with McKenzie yorking John Waite and Peter van der Merwe in the same over, only Bland provided Pollock adequate support. The lead was restricted to just 42 runs.

When Australia batted again, Lawry and Norman O’Neill took them to relative safety and Benaud and McKenzie added 160 from the lower order. The South Africans were left 409 to win in seven and a half hours. There was no serious attempt, but heavy duty half centuries by Goddard and Bland on an increasingly docile wicket took them to 326 for five by the time the Test was over.

In the third Test at Adelaide, everything fell into place for the visitors. Peter Pollock removed Lawry and O’Neill in the fifth over. Peter Burge, Booth and Shepherd got half centuries, but the nagging medium pace of Goddard got five scalps and the innings ended on 345.

It was not a bad score, but looked increasingly paltry as Eddie Barlow and Graeme Pollock scripted one of the finest chapters in South African cricket. Coming together at 70 for two, the pair mauled the Australian bowlers at more than 80 runs per hour.

Barlow emulated the former greats Aubrey Faulkner and Dudley Nourse by scoring a double hundred against Australia. Pollock threw his bat with the joyous mix of youth and ability, striking 18 fours and three sixes in his 175. The 341 run stand was then the highest for South Africa, and was put together in just 283 minutes. The 595 run total ensured a winning lead.

Australia fought back with grim determination, and a fine sixth wicket association between Shepherd and Benaud took them past three hundred with five wickets still standing and half an hour remaining in the fourth day. Amidst increasing Australian hopes of saving the match, Goddard put Barlow into the attack. Almost immediately Shepherd skied him to wicketkeeper Lindsay to depart at 301. Benaud was castled at the same score. Barlow also had McKenzie hit a ball back to him and ended with three for six from five overs.

South Africans were left 82 runs to win, and they got there with all their wickets intact. Barlow, who could do no wrong in this Test, remained unbeaten on 47. It was Australia’s heaviest home defeat since the Second World War.

It was more by luck than merit that Australia managed to escape with a draw in the final Test at Sydney. After Goddard had inserted the home team, Partridge swung the ball in the heavy atmosphere to capture seven wickets. Only a tenacious century by Booth helped the hosts reach 311.

After valuable time lost through rain and bad light, when the sun ultimately shone through the South African response remained gloomy and drab. Bland did score a hundred, but his strokeplay matched his name. The lead was exactly 100, but it had taken them almost ten hours to accumulate the runs.

It was once again Booth who stood firm with a knock of 87, having been dropped by John Waite early in his innings. In spite of the slow approach to runmaking, dropped catches and interruptions due to weather, South Africa still looked set to win it when Australia were 225 for nine with quite some time to play on the final day. But Veivers and Neil Hawke batted 75 crucial minutes to add 45, and the ask of 171 runs in 85 minutes was too far-fetched to attempt.

The series ended 1-1, but South Africans came away acknowledged as the better side with the potential to grow into a great one. London’s Daily Mail announced, “Australia is in a blue funk about her cricket.”

1966-67 in South Africa

Nos. of Tests: 5

Result: South Africa 3 Australia 1

 

 

Booth, Burge, Wally Grout, Shepherd, Barry Jarman and O’Neill were among the Australians not available for the tour to South Africa in the summer of 1966-67. The squad that left Sydney under Bobby Simpson was described as ‘at a stage of rebuilding’ – a euphemism for ‘extremely inexperienced.’

Only McKenzie had more than 100 Test wickets. Only Lawry and Simpson more than 1000 Test runs.

Of course, Ian Craig’s 1956-57 team had been similarly untried, but there was a difference. The opposition that they met this time around were infinitely more gifted. Peter van der Merwe’s men were bristling with talent and hunger for Test cricket.

The tour started disastrously for Australia. Simpson’s side was beaten first by Transvaal and then by a South African Invitation XI.  For the first time in six tours to the Union had an Australian side been defeated in a First-Class match. The form of most of the batsmen and bowlers remained patchy.

However, the Australian contingent of journalists, a formidable team of Benaud, Ian McGilvray, Phil Tresidder, Bob Gray and Dick Whittington, started attacking the umpires. Hayward Kidson, the 41-year-old official, was particularly targeted by both the visiting press and captain.

Gallant bowling by McKenzie restricted the hosts to 199 in the first Test at Johannesburg. In response, Australia were at a virtually unassailable 204 for one, with Lawry on the brink of a century. At this point he drove at a wide delivery from Goddard. He missed it by miles but Kidson’s finger went up. It triggered a collapse and with the mercurial Barlow scalping three middle order wickets Australia folded for 325.

When an exuberant Graeme Pollock innings of 90, scored in 114 minutes, was ended by the part-time off-break of Bob Cowper, the home team were 268 for five with three quarters of an hour remaining on the third day. The lead was only 142 on a fast improving wicket. The tourists still held the upper hand.

Now wicketkeeper Brian Taber dropped a sitter offered by his counterpart Denis Lindsay. The batsman was on just 10. And the following morning, Kidson’s colleague Les Baxter rejected the most confident of caught behind appeals against van der Merwe. As Simpson stood mouthing oaths at slip, the next ball flew off the edge of van der Merwe’s bat and travelled to him waist high. And it bounced off his hands. In the next over, the South African captain promptly edged McKenzie to second slip and it was grassed. In McKenzie’s next over he feathered a glance and Taber failed to hold on.

Riding on this bonanza of fortune, Lindsay went on to score a scintillating 182 with five sixes off just 227 balls. Van der Merwe got 76. The two put on 221. South Africa’s second innings ended at 620, leaving Australia 495 to win. At 4.23 pm on the final day, Goddard had McKenzie caught by a young substitute called Mike Procter to end the match. The long serving all-rounder finished with figures of 32.5-14-53-6.

Australia hit back at Capetown. Simpson scored a masterly 153 and young Keith Stackpole hammered a jaunty 134 to help the visitors amass 542. In response, Graeme Pollock stood virtually alone, providing a supreme exhibition of batting with a great 209 as the rest of the innings collapsed around him. Following on, South Afica were boosted by half centuries by Tiger Lance, Lindsay, David Pithey and a hard hitting unbeaten 75 by Peter Pollock. However, the target of 179 runs did not pose much of a problem for the tourists.

After the match, Simpson created infamous history by lodging an official complaint against Kidson. Unfortunately, the formal and confidential communication was leaked to press and public. Simpson was flayed by the media, among them important voices such as Denis Compton. Even countryman Whittington was unforgiving. It actually made Kidson a celebrity. At the same time, Simpson received a summons for a defamation suit filed by Ian Meckiff. The former fast bowler was not happy with what the present captain had written about his bowling action in his autobiography.

The skipper refused to give in to the series of misfortunes, and went public with the prediction of a 4-1 win in favour of Australia. What transpired was almost a perfect backfire.

At Durban, it seemed Australia were on track to fulfil Simpson’s prophecy when Eddie Barlow chipped the first ball of the Test match back to McKenzie. However, once again Lindsay showed his phenomenal batting capabilities with 137. And Australian batsmen were disconcerted by the pace of the debutant Procter. Simpson, given out caught behind by Kidson in the first innings, batted with a lot of poise as Australia followed on. And at 94, the same umpire raised his finger to an lbw appeal with what seemed suspiciously like enthusiasm. The captain left the crease with the air of a martyr. Melbourne’s Sun reported, “Simpson and some of his players are playing like angry men.”

After the eight wicket loss, the Australian management invited Kidson and his wife for an Australia Day barbecue. Following this, the umpire was distinctly less conspicuously outrageous in his decisions, and even upheld some leg before appeals by the Australian bowlers in the fourth Test.

But, Australia continued to struggle. A small total of 143 was followed by yet another superb knock of 131 by Lindsay. Trailing by 189 runs in the first innings, Australia ended on 148 for eight in the second, the Test saved mainly because of weather – the entire fourth day and much of the fifth lost to rain.

In the fifth Test, however, the umpiring demons returned to haunt Australia. Van Der Merwe sent the Australians in on a difficult Port Elizabeth wicket and Peter Pollock, Procter and Goddard restricted the tourists to 173. For South Africa Graeme Pollock was the differentiator, with his class unperturbed by the difficult conditions. With his score on 93, he inside edged David Renneburg to Taber with a loud snick and took a couple of steps towards the pavilion. However, Kidson’s partner, Gordon Draper, was unmoved. When Pollock brought up his hundred, the public announcement system proclaimed, “It is Graeme Pollock’s birthday today.” The Australians responded, “You’d f***ing believe it.”

The disheartened side lost by seven wickets and were glad to leave for home nine days later.

1969-70 in South Africa

Nos. of Tests: 4

Result: South Africa 4 Australia 0

 

It ended in a comprehensive knockout. The cricket starved South African powerhouse, studded with glittering talent, steamrolled the Australian tourists into submission.

True, Bill Lawry’s men were not a happy bunch. Constant bickering with the management and discontent about pay-checks did not really boost the performance. However, the 4-0 rout was both unexpected and testimony to the phenomenal strength of the Springbok outfit.

Not having watched Test cricket since the 1966-67 tour of Bobby Simpson’s men, and with the threat of isolation hanging over their heads, crowds flocked to the ground in huge numbers.

The South African cricketers, a phenomenal collection of talent, were waiting for the visitors. Having been frustrated with the cancellation of England’s visit due to the Basil D’Oliveira affair, they were nursing voracious appetite for Test cricket. At the back of their minds they also knew this could be their last international series in a long, long time to come.

In contrast, as Lawry and his team landed on BOAC VC-10 at Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts airport in early January, Alan McGilvray reported, “They looked haggard. Their eyes seemed to be standing out of their heads and some of them looked positively yellow.”

They had arrived after a victorious series in India which had seen them battle heat, humidity, unruly crowd behaviour, poor hotels and constant bickering with the management over pay.

On arrival, Lawry did his best to sound upbeat. But, when McGilvray walked past the Australian enclosure at Pretoria’s Berea Park four days later, he found most of the team asleep on benches out in front only half an hour after the start of play.

At Cape Town, the first chapter of a repetitive tale was written in stark characters. Eddie Barlow’s 127 lifted the hosts to 382. In response Australia could manage just 164 against the combination of Procter, Pollock, Goddard and the others. Connolly and John Gleeson fought back with some quick wickets as Bacher chose to bat again, but in the end the first innings lead proved too much. It was a rout by 170 runs.

At Durban, the spectators were treated to some supremely majestic batting. Those who saw Graeme Pollock score 274 in the Test were united in their firm conviction that no amount of political obstacles should obstruct a player of such quality. And when he collaborated for an hour at the wicket with that other batsman of staggering talent – Barry Richards – the spectators witnessed something special and the Australians threw in the towel for good.

Richards, young, tall and elegant, saw the ball earlier and better than anyone else in the game, and used his wrists with grace and panache. Pollock by this stage of his career had no discernible weakness, and could destroy pace and spin with equal élan.

At lunch on the opening day at Durban, the home team stood at 126 for two, Richards on 94. Nine of the 80 First-Class hundreds scored by Richards were reached before lunch. In this Test, he got there in the first over after the break, off just 116 balls.

The following hour saw him put on 103 with Pollock — the passage of play that bore the signature of South African dominance on world cricket at that point of time. Richards, in only his second Test match, batted for three magical hours filled with beautiful drives and thrilling hooks. The only false shot in his effort ended the innings, when he swung at Eric Freeman with his head in the air to be bowled for 140.

Captain Bacher singled him out as: “The most complete batsman I have ever encountered.”

Graeme Pollock, however, continued the savage display for six more hours. Rodney Hartman wrote in the Wisden Cricketer: “Pollock was the broadsword to Richards’ rapier.” One of the first players to use a heavy bat, this left-handed run machine cover drove with imperious timing and with the years had developed a pull and on drive to counter his earlier inability to score on the leg-side. He continued to smash everything offered to him.

Paul Sheahan later recalled, “When Pollock came to the wicket, it felt like he said: “Well you’ve seen the apprentice. Now have a look at the master.” He penetrated the 7-2 offside field with remarkable ease, hitting the ball with exceptional power with minimal backlift. It was unbelievable.

He reached his double hundred in just over five hours, and put on a record 200 for the sixth wicket with Tiger Lance. His concentration did not waver even after that. Graham McKenzie, Connolly, Freeman and Gleeson were all pulverised to resignation before he hit an innocuous delivery from Keith Stackpole back to the bowler. His innings had encompassed almost seven hours, and contained 43 boundaries and one five.

Ali Bacher recalled: “There was one thing that was absolutely certain about Graeme. If you bowled a bad ball to him, it went for four.” Having watched the innings, Don Bradman simply said that Pollock was the best left handed batsman he had ever seen. This was high praise indeed from the greatest batsman of all time, moreover someone who had been enchanted by Arthur Morris, had seen Neil Harvey develop into his full bloom and had followed the career of Garry Sobers closely.

The total of 622 for nine declared improved on the highest ever scored by the South African cricket team in their Test history. And then Mike Procter, Peter Pollock and Eddie Barlow bowled them to a resounding innings win to go up 2-0 in the series.

Another rout followed at Johannesburg, Peter Pollock and Procter proving too much of a handful for the visitors. Graeme Pollock and Richards had to be satisfied with fifties this time around, the former getting two of them. The hundred was scored by Barlow. And Lee Irvine scored two half centuries as well, underlining the depth of resources in the side. By now there was little fight left in the Australians and Keith Miller had taken to writing match reports while spending his day at the races.

The final Test at Port Elizabeth emphasised the tale of South African dominance.

Barry Richards led the way with 81 in the first innings before running amok in a spectacular display of brimming potential in the second. The 126 in the second essay contained 16 fours and three sixes.

The enormous all round versatility of the side was once again in display with Lee Irvine scoring a hundred and Denis Lindsay getting 43 and 60. Lindsay kept wickets, and Irvine played as a batsman. They could have as easily turned out with their roles reversed.

In the Australian first innings Peter Pollock and Mike Procter struck telling blows with the ball. In the second, the premier fast bowler of South Africa limped off the ground with a torn hamstring, unable to finish his second over – which turned out to be the last of his career. Procter knocked over six Australians and Pollock’s absence was not even felt.

Captain Ali Bacher was chaired off the ground, borne on the shoulders of the proud team. The side oozed flair, genius and confidence.

Thankfully, endless negotiations about money failed and the Australians could not be forced to play a fifth Test match. They departed a disgruntled, unhappy team with their sporting prides battered and bruised.

Barry Richards had scored over 500 runs in his first Test series. Graeme Pollock was perhaps the best batsman in the world alongside Garry Sobers – with an average over 60. Brother Peter was one of the great fast bowlers of the era with 116 Test wickets already under his belt.

Mike Procter had played seven Tests capturing 41 wickets at just 15 apiece. He would go on to stand alongside Don Bradman and CB Fry with six consecutive hundreds in First-class cricket. A genuine all-rounder equally gifted in all departments.

Eddie Barlow was a fantastic batsman who could open the innings, an aggressive medium pacer who often pleaded with his captain to have a bowl, and a slip fielder of uncanny reflexes.

Lee Irvine was coasting on a fabulous start to his Test career. Denis Lindsay was touted as the greatest batsmen among wicketkeepers since Les Ames.

Pat Trimborn had performed the role of the economic seamer to perfection, carrying on the job Trevor Goddard had done so ably all these years. And on the spinning front, a young man named John Traicos had just started to turn his off-breaks.

In 1970, man for man, this was by far the strongest side in the world. Among them, only Traicos would manage to play a few more Tests — for Zimbabwe.

As the capacity crowds cheered the victorious side through the series, even the happy stands spoke eloquently of the political situation. The spectators sat segregated according to colour, in line with the Separate Amenities Act of 1953. The cricket loving blacks turned out in large numbers, especially in Cape Town and Durban. However, it was apparent that most of them were cheering for Australia.

And all through the series, dark clouds gathered over the cricketing future of the nation.

The next time the country appeared in a Test match was in April 1992.

Read Part 3 of the series here

Read Part 2 of the series here

 Read Part 1 of the series here

 (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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