With the two best teams in the world about to lock horns in the battle for the Test crown, Arunabha Sengupta looks back at twelve fascinating England-South Africa encounters across the years.
The much-awaited England-South Africa Test series is already under way. As we look at the two evenly-matched sides about battle for the top position in Test cricket, it is somewhat surprising to find the historical results curiously skewed in favour of England. The teams have been playing each other since 1889, with England dominating most of the past.
Of the 32 series contested, England has won 19 to South Africa’s eight. The two sides also faced off three times during the three-nation Test Championship of 1912, England winning all the encounters. Overall, the sides have met 141 times, with England leading in the exchanges 59-29.
In the early days, England normally breezed through the home Tests, and preferred to send second string teams for tours. So we find quite a few early close contests on South African soil.
It was not until 1965 that the South Africans won their first series in England, a feat they repeated in 2008, during their last visit.
After their readmission into the Test world, the South Africans do hold a thin edge – having won 10 Tests to England’s nine.
Yet, in spite of the lopsided results over the years, there have been many memorable Test matches between the two countries – twelve of which are listed below.
1. Johannesburg 1899
Lord Hawke’s team had probably expected a cakewalk in the first Test. However, they were dismissed for 145 in the first innings, and then Jimmy Sinclair scored 86 to secure a lead of 105. It took a bat-carrying 132 by Plum Warner to set some a half-competitive target.
Requiring 132 to win, the home team folded for 99, with Albert Trott – who figures somewhere in Jonathan Trott’s family tree – picking up five wickets.
2. Johannesburg 1905
In 1905, the two countries met for the first time on cricket field since the long drawn out second Boer War. South Africa celebrated peace by winning their first Test against England in a thriller.
In the first innings, the battalion of googly bowlers, Reggie Schwarz, Aubrey Faulkner and Bertie Volger dismissed the visitors for 184. In response, Water Lees and Charles Blythe knocked the hosts over for 91. England batted better the second time to set a stiff target of 284. And when the great Faulkner was run out to make it 105 for six, all seemed lost.
Dave Nourse and Gordon White fought back to put on 121, after which another three wickets went down for just 13. Captain Percy Sherwell, the wicketkeeper, walked out at number 11, joining Nourse at 239 for nine, and knocked off the remaining runs as thousands of spectators sat on the edges of their seats.
Buoyed by the victory, South Africa romped to a 4-1 series win.
3. Johannesburg 1910
A match memorable for multiple reasons. George Simpson-Hayward, one of the last underhand lob-bowlers, took six wickets to restrict South Africa to 208. A young Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes added 159 for the first wicket and England finished with 310. But, the match belonged to Faulkner, who scored 78 in his first foray, took five wickets in the English innings, and returned to hit 123 out of 345 in the second essay.
Set 244 to win, England slumped to 108 for seven before George Thompson and captain Henry Leveson-Gower fought back, adding 68. But, in the end Volger (7/94) and Faulkner (3/40) stopped them 19 short.
4. Cape Town 1923
Touring for the first time since the Great War, England arrived with a reasonably strong side, but were trounced by 168 runs in the first Test. In the second match, they managed a first innings lead of 70, but excellent knocks by captain Herbie Taylor and Robert Catterall enabled the hosts to set a target of 173.
Left-arm pacer Alf Hall then removed five big names – Andy Sandham, Frank Woolley, CPS Mead, Arthur Carr and PGH Fender – and England finished the third day at 86 for six. However, the next morning, captain Frank Mann and off-spinner Vallance Jupp added 68 and, even though Hall returned to remove them and stumper George Brown was run-out by a direct hit from deep point, Alex Kennedy and George Macaulay scrambled home by one wicket.
5. Durban 1948
The match which, according to John Arlott, “belongs to a novel, not Wisden.” England required 128 in less than two hours on the last day. On a pitch where the ball reared and skidded, against some excellent pace bowling by Cuan McCarthy and Lindsay Tuckett, England soon slumped to 70 for six. Rain fell steadily, light deteriorated and the ball became increasingly slippery, but both sides played on. Denis Compton and Roly Jenkins added 45 before McCarthy got both within the space of one run.
When the last eight-ball over by Tuckett began, all four results were possible. Off the sixth ball, Alec Bedser scampered a single to level the scores. Cliff Gladwin heaved at the next ball and missed. This was followed by a long mid pitch conference in which the batsmen decided to run for anything other than the ball striking the wicket. As Tuckett ran in to bowl, the fielders sprinted in to prevent the single. The ball lobbed off Gladwin’s thigh, bouncing a yard in front of him, and as Tufty Mann lunged in from short-leg, the two batsmen stumbled across and England squeezed home by two wickets.
6. Johannesburg 1958
Requiring 232 to win, England were coasting at 147 for two with Doug Insole and Colin Cowdrey firmly established at the wicket. But, Trevor Goddard, who had scored 67 and 49 as an opener, got Insole caught by Hugh Tayfield, ensuring that the off-spinner had a hand or more in all the dismissals.
Tayfield now ran through the innings, picking up nine for 113, thirteen in the match. England’s innings ended 17 short when Peter Loader fell, holing out to the substitute fielder at long on, who happened to be Arthur Tayfield, the brother of the hero of the day.
7. Nottingham 1965
Under overcast skies, Tom Cartwright made the ball ask questions, but Graeme Pollock had all the answers. Coming in at 16 for two, Pollock left after 139 minutes for a masterly 125 off 145 balls, studded with 21 boundaries. He followed it up with 59 attractive runs in the second innings.
When England batted, brother Peter took over. Although Colin Cowdrey battled his way to 105 in the first essay, five wickets in each innings by the fast bowling Pollock was too much for the Englishmen to handle. South Africans won by 94 runs.
In the final Test at The Oval, England were 308 for four requiring 399, with 70 minutes left in the game, when thundershowers forced an early end, and South Africa won a series for the first time in the country.
8. Johannesburg 1995
England started off on the back foot in the second Test by putting the hosts in. Four days down the line, the move had backfired terribly with their second innings score reading167 for four, with an impossible victory target of 479.
It was at this moment that skipper Mike Atherton played the innings of his life. Ducking, swaying and weaving delivery after delivery from Allan Donald, and enjoying a rare missed chance by Gary Kirsten when on 99, he batted ten hours and forty three minutes, ending unbeaten on 185. Keeping him company for the last four and a half hours was the gutsy Jack Russell, in his 50th Test, negotiating 235 balls for 29 not out.
9. Leeds 1998
With the series tied 1-1, a corker of a decider was played out at Headingley. With a thin first innings lead, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock seemed to tilt the balance in favour of the visitors when they shared ten second innings wickets equally, leaving the batsmen 219 to get.
However, Darren Gough and Angus Fraser tore into the top order with the ferocity of the lion on the British insignia. After 15 overs, South Africa slumped to 27 for five. Jonty Rhodes and Brian McMillan added 117 before Dominick Cork had the latter snicking. As Gough and Fraser were let loose yet again, the fourth day ended with eight wickets down and 34 to get. Donald and Pollock were at the crease, wondering how to conjure up magic with the bat as well. As ten thousand spectators flocked into the stadium to watch what turned out to be half an hour, South Africa could only manage ten more, as Fraser and Gough picked up one each and England took the series with a 23 run win.
10. Centurion 2000
With the second, third and fourth days washed out, England forfeited their first innings and South Africa their second, to set up a thrilling final day.
Hansie Cronje closed the innings with eight wickets down, leaving England 249 to win off 76 overs. At 102 for four after the 38th, it seemed a far cry; but Alec Stewart and Michael Vaughan added 126. This was followed by wickets thrown away and boundaries conceded in a tangled mesh of combined nerves, before Gough pulled Nantie Hayward to the boundary to bring up the winning runs with five balls to spare and two wickets in hand.
Five months after the match Cronje admitted receiving 53,000 Rand and a leather jacket from a bookmaker urging him to initiate a positive result. The fascinating Test has gone down as the first to have been ‘fixed’.
11. Johannesburg 2005
At the end of the fourth day, England led by 189, with five wickets in hand. The match seemed to hover between a draw and an outside chance for a South African victory. But Marcus Trescothick, unbeaten overnight on 101, added 79 in just 86 deliveries. Vaughan closed the innings when he was ninth out, setting an unlikely target of 325 in 68 overs.
Matthew Hoggard, who had captured five wickets in the first innings, chose this as his day of glory, picking up seven for 61. With skies darkening, the visitors asked several substitute players to step out and act as ball boys, getting boundary hits back to the bowler as quickly as possible. Herschelle Gibbs fell two short of his second hundred of the match, and the end came in the 60th over, when Dale Steyn nicked one to the keeper.
12. Birmingham 2008
South Africa sealed their second series win in England with a superlative chase led by captain Greame Smith. Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen had combined to set a challenging 283 in the final innings, and Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince had been dismissed for single digit scores to reduce the tourists to 93 for four.
But, Smith batted for nearly six hours, and was unbeaten on a magnificent 153 not out, when he pulled Pietersen to get to the target. It stands as one of the greatest knocks in the fourth innings.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)