On February 15, 1932 South Africa were bowled out for 45, following their 36 in the first innings. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a Test that got over in 5 hours and 53 minutes – the shortest in the history of Test cricket.
Cricket has often managed to come up with results that sound too incredible to be true. The fifth Test of the Australia-South Africa series of 1931-32 was one such occasion. Several records set in the Test stand till today.
Bowled out for 36
Trailing 0-4, Jock Cameron went out to toss at Melbourne for one final time in the series. He won the toss on what looked like an otherwise harmless pitch. Laurie Nash, the Tasmanian fast bowler, was making his Test debut, along with Jack Fingleton. Bill Woodfull gave Nash the first over.
Nash was slightly erratic to begin with. The occasion had probably got to him. He pitched shorter than what was expected of him; however, he managed to find bounce off the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) pitch, and started with a maiden over.
Stan McCabe, bowling from the other end, began well as well. Soon after, in his second over (and the fourth of the match), he found Bruce Mitchell’s edge, and Keith Rigg took a sharp catch at first slip. Jim Christy walked out, and edged one in the same over: it was a rather straightforward chance to Nash at second slip, but he grassed it.
McCabe bowled accurately, but it was Nash who attracted everyone’s attention. His line and length were impeccable, and at his pace he often beat the bat, and was unfortunate not being able to break through. Tired of being bogged down, Syd Curnow tried to clear the in-field off Nash, and was fortunate to survive.
Meanwhile, McCabe’s medium-pace gave way to the slow left-arm spin of Bert Ironmonger. Australia still had Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett to bowl, and things looked ominous for South Africa. The introduction of Ironmonger meant that the Springboks were tied down from both ends.
Soon, Nash bowled a slower delivery, and Curnow, going for a hit, snicked one to Bert Oldfield, and fell for three runs after a 36-minute tenure. That brought Herbie Taylor to the crease. He was not at ease against the relentless Nash, and soon holed out to Alan Kippax at mid-off. Sixteen for three soon became 17 for four as Christie hit one straight to Grimmett at deep-point. Nash had three for four at this stage, and Ironmonger was just warming up.
On a slow, easy pitch Ironmonger somehow managed to get prodigious turn, even on Day One. He turned one sharply across Ken Viljoen, and Len Darling, the substitute fielder at silly-point, took an incredible catch with his outstretched left hand.
At 19 for five, Cameron decided to counterattack. He managed a two and a three off Nash, which took him past Christie’s four. Cameron was the top-scorer of the innings now. Denys Morkel – unrelated to Albie or Morne — tried to emulate his captain, and skied one to Nash off Ironmonger — 25 for six.
Nash hit Cameron on his leg, and then the unthinkable happened: Cameron actually swung his bat to hit Nash for a four past point. The entire Melbourne crowd applauded the first four of the match. Little they knew that it would be the only one of the innings.
Cyril Vincent drove Ironmonger hard, but Nash took his second catch of the match, flinging himself acrobatically at mid-off. Quintin McMillan had possibly decided that attack was the only way out: he stepped out to play an ugly hoick, missed the ball completely, and was stumped by a distance. Ironmonger’s figures read four for one.
In the first ball of the next over, Nash had Cameron caught by McCabe — the third spectacular catch of the innings. Cameron had managed to score 11. Neville Quinn and Sandy Bell were not out at lunch — taken at 33 for nine — and soon after lunch Bell was stumped off Ironmonger. South Africa were bowled out for 36 in 89 minutes and 23.2 overs. Nash had bowled unchanged for figures of 12-6-18-4, while Ironmonger bettered this with 7.2-5-6-5. South Africa’s total was their lowest against Australia — less than half of the previous worst of 80 at the same ground in 1910-11.
It was sensational stuff. It was too good to be true – even for the crowd, who had gone quiet. Their ace leg-spinners did not have to bowl (O’Reilly was still new, though); everything seemed to fall into place — other than the fact that Don Bradman had injured himself, and would probably not bat.
Australia takes lead
There was a scream of agony from the crowd after the first ball of the Australian innings. Bell had managed to impart a banana-swing on the new ball, and Woodfull simply left the ball alone that curved in late and hit his stumps. Rigg came in place of Bradman, and edged one to second slip; the ball hit Mitchell on his head, and he had to leave. Xenophon Balaskas took his place.
Fingleton batted with panache, impressing everyone on his debut. Australia soon took their first-innings lead, and then Rigg edged one off Quinn to Vincent at first slip. Kippax walked out ahead of Bradman, and the duo settled down. Fingleton himself went past the 36-mark himself soon.
After a decent partnership, Bell found Fingleton’s edge, and Vincent took a catch at first slip. The very next ball he found McCabe’s edge as well, and the ball landed in Cameron’s gloves. Nash walked out and prevented the hat-trick. Tea was taken with the score on 78 for four.
Nash batted bravely, and Kippax carried on, and Australia soon went past 100. Nash managed to hit Bell marginally over the reach of Quinn, standing at mid-off; but Quinn was brought on from the other end, and he bowled Nash through the gate in his second ball.
Kippax, meanwhile, played a back-cut to go past Fingleton’s 40. He fell for 42, caught Curnow off McMillan. Oldfield was dropped by Morkel at silly-point off McMillan’s second ball, but the rest of the wickets fell in a heap, and Australia finally folded for 153 in the dying stages of day one. This was 22 lower than their 175 — their previous lowest score against South Africa — at Johannesburg in 1902-03.
An astonishing innings defeat
Nash was given the first over again, and he began sensationally, catching Christy off his own bowling in the first ball of the innings. Woodfull did not hold back Ironmonger; he gave him the new ball, and the night-watchman Bell saw off the remaining minutes of the day. At stumps South Africa were five for one off five5 overs, with Curnow on one and Bell on four.
It rained overnight, and just when that the match would resume, it rained heavily after 2.00 pm on the second day, ruling out play. It was a timeless Test, though. It rained again on the scheduled rest day; and play finally resumed at 2.18 pm on the third day.
Nash and Ironmonger once again had their leash on the hapless South Africans. After bowling four maidens, Nash was finally replaced after figures of 7-4-4-1 as the sun finally came out: Woodfull thought it would be even more effective to introduce spin at both ends.
There was a huge, somewhat sarcastic applause from the crowd when Curnow finally hit a rare Ironmonger full-toss for a four — his first runs of the morning after batting for half an hour. O’Reilly, despite starting erratically, soon found his rhythm, and had Bell edging to McCabe in the slips. Twelve for two.
The rest followed in a blur. Ironmonger had Mitchell caught behind. Though Curnow had hit O’Reilly for a four and a two, and then hit O’Reilly powerfully through point for another four. Suddenly he found himself on 16 — the highest score by a South African in the Test. Fingleton, fielding at silly-point, then caught Curnow off Ironmonger. Three balls later, Morkel tried for a big cover-drive, only to edge it to Rigg at slip.
At the other end, Cameron snicked O’Reilly’s massive leg-break to McCabe in the slips. From 30 for three, South Africa had slumped to 30 for six, and an innings defeat seemed inevitable. Rigg tried to pull off a sensational catch to dismiss Taylor off Ironmonger, but could not hold on to it. Taylor saved his pair by pulling one for a brace, but holed out to Bradman — who had returned after a two-day rest — at mid-off. Thirty two for seven.
Viljoen was the fourth batsman of the innings to be dismissed for a duck as he was out caught behind off O’Reilly. McMillan was the fifth duck as he went the same way to Ironmonger the very next over. Quinn, the last batsman, hit the next ball for a three, bringing the score to 36 to equal the first innings score. He then hit one high in the air off O’Reilly, but Kippax missed it; Vincent hit the next ball for a four. He was the third South African to hit a boundary in the Test, and it was South Africa’s fifth in the match.
Quinn then hit Ironmonger, but Bradman dropped him, giving him a second chance. The very next ball he gave another chance to Fingleton, who made no mistake. The South Africans had folded for 45. O’Reilly had finished with three for 19, and Ironmonger with six for 18. Their match aggregate read 81 – the lowest in the history of the sport.
Ironmonger’s match figures read 22.5-12-24-11. This is still the cheapest 10-wicket haul in the history of Test cricket.
The Test lasted for five hours 53 minutes, which is the shortest duration for any completed Test.
Australia’s 153 remains the smallest ever aggregate by a side in a victory. And all this was achieved without Bradman batting or Grimmett getting a bowl!
Brief scores: South Africa 36 (Bert Ironmonger 5 for 6, Laurie Nash 4 for 18) and 45 (Bert Ironmonger 6 for 18, Bill O’Reilly 3 for 19) lost to Australia 153 (Alan Kippax 42, Jack Fingleton 40; Neville Quinn 3 for 29, Quintin McMillan 3 for 29, Sandy Bell 3 for 52) by an innings and 72 runs.
(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 Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/