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Colin Blythe: 11 wickets in the match and some useful runs © Getty Images

March 27, 1906. After three consecutive defeats, the England team left Johannesburg for Cape Town; and Colin Blythe snatched the only Test win for the tourists on the dismal tour. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the tale of the great Kent left-arm spinner’s ten-wicket haul during the tense fourth Test.

Buck-shooting and Agricultural Show

In the series that has gone down as a triumph of a battery of googly bowlers saw only two five-wicket hauls by a spinner. And, surprisingly, both were achieved in this Test at Cape Town by the great Kent left-armer Colin Blythe.

We will not be stretching the truth in claiming that Blythe’s 11 wickets in the match saved the blushes for England. After the thriller to kick off the series, the losses in the second and third Tests had been tales of absolute humiliation. The England side had lost the series and had only proverbial pride to play for. Now, a complete rout was stemmed by Blythe’s match of magic.

Of course, the hardworking Walter Lees continued to do his bit. In the final analysis of the series, the medium pace of Lees would end with 26 wickets to Blythe’s 21. No googly bowler came close. The South African opening pair of pace bowlers Tip Snooke and Jimmy Sinclair finished with 24 and 21 scalps respectively. The wrist-spinners did get wickets, but not as many as the faster men, and none of the slow men got more than the great traditional English left-arm spinner. Reggie Schwarz captured 18, Aubrey Faulkner 14, Bertie Vogler 9.

Analysing the final figures, we find it is slightly misleading to say that the series was only about four googly bowlers bamboozling English batsmen on matting wickets. The fast men were more successful, and Gordon White, the fourth spinner clubbed in the battery, was a batsman who used to bowl occasionally. A supreme batsman too. After his incredible century in the second innings of the third Test, he essayed a magnificent knock here in Newlands, against the full blaze of Blythe’s genius. For single-handed efforts, White’s knock in the second innings of the fourth Test has few peers.

Plum Warner and his men probably heaved a great sigh of relief on leaving Johannesburg, the site of their three consecutive defeats. In fact, Warner could hardly wait to get away. Fred Fane and he had hopped on a train as soon as the third Test was over, reaching Bloemfontein after a comfortable overnight train journey. The two of them now indulged in an activity that would raise several disapproving eyebrows in the current day — buck-shooting.

They also spent some time at an agricultural show, the first of its kind held in Bloemfontein since the Boer War. There Warner met Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, the Lt Governor of the Orange River Colony. He also ‘kodaked’ a prize bull of a long-bearded Boer farmer.

 Contrasting preparations

On the cricketing front, things hardly looked up. Even the Orange River County XV took a 76-run first innings lead when the tourists met them at the Rambler’s Cricket Club Ground.

Treated to lavish dinners, and entertained by the officers stationed at Bloemfontein, the cricketers got on a special train arranged by Goold-Adams and made for Cape Town.

While the English cricketers had been busy in Bloemfontein, the South African squad had already travelled to Cape Town and checked into the Hotel Cecil. Other than Snooke, all of them had played their cricket on sand-based surfaces, and were not used to batting or bowling on mat stretched over grass. Hence, they wanted to get used to the conditions.

They wanted to win 5-0. That perhaps would finally give them full recognition, and allow them to play the top representative sides of Australia and England.

The picturesque, tree-lined ground was already filling up as the teams made their way into the arena under cloudless blue skies. Admission was five shillings, with reduced rates for college students, scholars, soldiers, sailors and the police. A season ticket for the fourth and fifth Tests could be bought for half a guinea.

The air was rife with 5-0 forecasts when Percy Sherwell won the toss and elected to bat. The home team was unchanged, and the same eleven would play in all five Tests of the series.

 Blythe’s first spell

It needed something remarkable for the trend of South African domination to be reversed. The Englishmen were perhaps helped by the recent rains, which rendered the sluggish coarse turf outfield of Newlands even slower. Hits which would have normally gone for four stopped at two. And then Blythe proceeded to bowl an inspired spell.

Louis Tancred and William Shalders, two seasoned openers, were both caught plumb by arm-balls. Dave Nourse, a success story of the series, was caught in the slip off one that turned and bounced. Maitland Hathorn, fresh from a delightful hundred in the third Test, was bowled by one that dipped and became a virtual yorker. Big Jimmy Sinclair was caught at the wicket off the very first ball, a nasty turner.

The Springboks had collapsed to 44 for 5, and Blythe had all the wickets.

But the hosts batted deep. White, as discussed, was a class act, and Faulkner was fast finding his feet at the highest level. The bowling remained excellent, Lees supporting Blythe by maintaining a tight line. Jack Crawford and Schofield Haigh, when called upon to bowl, did not really give anything away. But White remained firmly entrenched. Faulkner, leaving anything remotely outside the off-stump, batted slowly but surely, with strong back-play.

In due course 72 had been added when Lees bowled one fast and just wide of the off-stump. White’s edge was dipping fast and low as it went behind the stumps. Wicketkeeper Jack Broad pouched it six inches from the ground.

18 runs later, Blythe bowled one that held its line and Faulkner’s inertness outside the off-stump had a part to play in the ball making its way unchallenged to the stumps.

However, once again the remarkable depth of South African batting was brought to the fore. Snooke and Schwarz made merry against the tightest of attacks, and in just three quarters of an hour 66 runs were plundered. During this gay phase Schwarz tonked Blythe for a six in the country. However, with the score on 199, Schwarz played with firm hands at shortish ball from Albert Relf. It was dropping in front when Leo Moon sprang forward from short-leg and caught it one handed.

Snooke, having made his runs all around the wicket, was the last out for 44. The Springboks had scored 218, and Blythe had figures of 6 for 68, all top order batsmen.

 Flattering to deceive

With just 15 minutes to close of play, Warner opted for the ploy of opening with lower order men. Relf and Broad went in and the latter was bowled off his glove from the second ball.

And in went a third night-watchman, in the form of the day’s hero Colin Blythe. This curious pair of Relf and Blythe saw off the last few overs of Snooke and Schwarz.

It rained during Sunday and when the match restarted on Monday the wicket was slower. Blythe, enjoying a brilliant game, executed some attractive glides and drives, while Relf looked in fine touch as well. The second wicket association actually did well enough to yield 59. Relf scored 28, Blythe 27 and the bowlers had thus laid a fine platform for the specialist batsmen.

However, the English batting continued to disappoint. Fane lost his stump to Sinclair cheaply. Warner, who thought that this was his first run of such poor scores since being in the Rugby XXII as a bowler, was snared by Faulkner for one. But Dave Denton batted well. Moon put his head down, taking a small breather to club a six over the leg boundary. And the 20-year-old Crawford, who had fielded brilliantly at cover during the South African innings, played an innings of extreme maturity.

At 193 for 6, Moon and Crawford at the crease, Schwarz and Vogler neutralised, England looked likely to take a lead. The wicket was too slow for most of the googly bowlers. Only Faulkner was persevering enough to produce encouraging results.

But then Sinclair produced a beauty to bowl Moon, and then trapped Ernie Hayes leg before first ball. It had been brave on the part of Hayes to walk out, suffering as he was with tonsillitis and a high temperature. But it all lasted just one ball. Haigh was also dismissed off a Sinclair lifter. And Lees ended up edging Faulkner to the slips.

Crawford, slower than usual and not really as severe on loose balls as he normally was, remained unbeaten on 36. England were all out for 198. For all Blythe’s brilliance, they had still managed to concede the lead. By now it was a routine tale.

 Blythe’s second act, and the White brilliance

Blythe took the ball again, and bowled on the slow wicket. Tancred played a maiden.

At the other end Warner put Crawford on instead of Lees, and the lad bowled off his longer run. His first ball had Shalders driving early and Blythe at mid-on took the catch.

In walked White. And right from the start hit the ball magnificently.

At the other end batsmen struggled against Blythe and Lees. But White was playing as if in a different game.

At 28, Tancred was fooled in the air by Blythe and caught at mid-on. Nourse was brilliantly held at second slip by Crawford off the same bowler. Hathorn struggled, spending 50 minutes over 10 before being bowled by one from Lees which nipped back and kept low.

But all the while White drove through the off-side with tremendous power, and cut late with almost as much élan. Anything short was pulled away to leg with great panache. Warner wrote that they required a couple of extra fielders to keep him quiet, and on this form he could walk into any eleven in the world.

However, at the stroke of stumps, a ball from Lees hugged the mat as it crept under the blade of White and hit his wicket. A great innings of 73 thus came to an end, and to provide perspective, the South African total at the end of the day read 97 for 5. For single-handed efforts this grand knock has seldom been bettered.

The following morning Blythe and Lees kept bowling brilliantly.

Blythe, unchanged but for two overs, bowled Faulkner and Snooke. Lees got rid of Sinclair who could have been dangerous in such a low scoring game. Sherwell and Schwarz tried to stitch together a partnership, but Lees got the latter. At 138 Sherwell was bowled by yet another arm ball by Blythe. The innings ended at 138. Blythe had 11 for 118 in the match, and England needed 159 to win.

 The final chase

But South Africa had won too many times in recent times to even contemplate surrender. Sinclair worked up great pace as he clean bowled Crawford and Warner within 20 runs. Denton struck the ball sweetly for a while before Snooke castled him. 34 for 3, and wickets were tumbling.

However, Fane proceeded to play a steady hand, with Moon lending admirable support. Schwarz could not make the batsmen hurry on this track as he had done at Johannesburg. Sinclair lost his steam and fury of pace after his initial burst. The other bowlers were negotiated with cool heads and well-honed techniques.  The batsmen ran extremely well between the wickets. The score was taken along to 100.

And then Moon fell to a googly from Faulkner. The match was still alive.

Relf came in and made a few good hits, with Fane batting with great composure at the other end. Vogler, the least used of the googly trio, was now given the ball. And he spun one the other way and bowled the all-rounder for a crucial 18.

131 for 5. Just 8 runs to make.

For the second time in the match Hayes braved his health and fever and walked into the fray. For the second time one saw a great display of pluck. And for the second time, he was dismissed first ball. No King’s Pair has been more heroic.

However, Broad trotted in and Fane kept his head. The remaining few runs were knocked over and at long last England had pulled one back.

Till the very end 3,000 spectators sat rapt around the ground as superb weather graced the match.

Blythe’s figures, inscribed in gold plate, still remain on the honours board in the current Western Province pavilion. There is also a glass-cased bat that bears signatures of cricketers of both teams.

Brief scores:

South Africa 218 (Gordon White 41, Tip Snooke 44; Colin Blythe 6 for 68) and 138 (Gordon White 73; Colin Blythe 5 for 50, Walter Lees 4 for 27) lost to England 198 (Jimmy Sinclair 4 for 41, Aubrey Faulkner 4 for 49) and 160 for 6 (Fred Fane 66*) by 4 wickets.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)