Dudley Nourse: 16 facts about the South African champion

Outrageously destructive on his day, Dudley Nourse grew up on South African pitches, which made him prolific off the back-foot.

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That brutal Dudley Nourse pull © Getty Images
That brutal Dudley Nourse pull © Getty Images

The greatest South African batsman till Graeme Pollock, Arthur Dudley Nourse was born November 12, 1910. Outrageously destructive on his day, Nourse grew up on South African pitches, which made him prolific off the back-foot. Few batsmen in the history of the sport has cut, pulled, or hooked with such ferocity. And yet, he was a clinical front-foot player as well, driving with panache and placing the balls with extraordinary precision. Like his father, the legendary Dave, he was gritty, seldom lacked in patience, and had an insatiable appetite for runs that resulted in 9 hundreds, 2 of which were in excess of 200.

From 34 Tests Nourse finished with 2,960 runs. His average of 53.81 was next to only Graeme Pollock’s 60.97 and Jacques Kallis’ 55.25 among South African cricketers with a 2,000-run cut-off. Like most South Africans Nourse was an extraordinary fielder, and led South Africa in 15 of his 34 Tests. He averaged 51.75 as captain — the best for any South African leader with a 1,000-run cut-off.

Abhishek Mukherjee recollects 16 facts about the star son who carved a niche for himself, outdoing even his legendary father.

1. Dudley’s Grand Old Man: It is well-documented that Dudley was the son of Arthur William ‘Dave’ Nourse — The Grand Old Man of South African Cricket. Seldom has a father-son duo been as prolific. Nourse Sr did not miss a single Test in his 22-Test career; he was blessed with the grit and determination that often defines the South African mindset.

Dave Nourse scored 2,234 runs (he also claimed 41 wickets with his left-arm mixed bag bowling). Dave and Dudley Nourse are one of the three father-son pairs to have both scored 2,000 Test runs. Hanif and Shoaib Mohammad and Vijay and Sanjay Manjrekar are the other two pairs.

2. An Early name: Dave Nourse slammed 201 not out against South Australia on the 1910-11 tour. William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley (a West Midlands town about 13 km north-west of Birmingham), was the Australia’s Governor-General at that time.

Legend goes that The Earl requested Dave to name his son after him. The match ended on November 8. Dudley Nourse was born four days later.

3. Close shave: Dudley learned to bat in Durban streets and parks. He scored a hundred at 12, grabbing attention of Alec Kennedy, a Hampshire cricketer who was in Durban at that time. Kennedy invited him to his classes, but Dudley was so shy that he did not attend after two classes. He later made it to Umbilo Cricket Club, Durban, and later to the Natal side.

With cricket opportunities in South Africa being limited at that time, Dudley was all set to be packed off to Australia at a mere 14. The journey was eventually cancelled when his mother fell ill shortly before the journey. He would probably have ended up playing for Don Bradman’s Invincibles instead.

George Mann (left) and Dudley Nourse toss at Newlands. Do note the picturesque backdrop © Getty Images
George Mann (left) and Dudley Nourse toss at Newlands. Do note the picturesque backdrop © Getty Images

4. Little or not, no Whinging: Interestingly, Dave never tutored Dudley, who was famously ‘self-coached’. Dudley later mentioned: “Never did my father even show me how to hold a bat.” Dave had his reasons: “I learned to play cricket with a paling of a fence. Now you go and do the same.”

Legend goes that Dave first saw Dudley bat when the son was 21 — when Dave, played for Western Province, was up against his son, playing for Natal. Western Province scored 353, and as soon as Dudley walked out at 146 for 3, Frank Martin introduced Dave. It was the first time Father was bowling to Son, backyard cricket included.

Dudley went on to score 105 against a rampant Bob Crisp. Dave, almost 52, uttered from the slips: “Son, I hope there will be many more to follow this one.”

5. The other sport: Like most South Africans, Dudley was proficient in multiple sports. He flirted with football for a while, missing an entire year when he was 17. Fortunately, good sense prevailed…

6. When Plum turned Richard… : Nourse was in ominous form on the England tour of 1935. He reached his peak against Surrey at The Oval, slamming 147 and 108 not out in the same match. When he followed that with 148 against Oxford University in the next innings, Plum Warner, then England selector, was compelled to comment “A Nourse! A Nourse! My kingdom for a Nourse!”

7. A gun for Chuck: Nourse was in ominous form against Australia in the 1936-37 home series, scoring 518 runs from 5 Tests at 57.55. It also included his famous 289-minute 231 at Old Wanderers against Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly, and ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith on what Jack Fingleton called ‘a rank turner’.

Nourse started cautiously, taking 25 minutes to score his first run, and reaching 14 after batting for an hour. Then he cut loose, scoring 217 more in 229 minutes.

During the innings, an exasperated Vic Richardson asked Fleetwood-Smith on how to end the ferocious onslaught.

“Yeah, shoot him,” came the response.

8. When Dudley wouldn’t stoop: Nourse took part in World War II, but went down with pneumonia and, later, stricture of urethra in 1945 while in Egypt. He was admitted to the Hospital of Alexandria on April 3, 1945. He was ‘on the danger list’ for a week; the medical file said ‘renal insufficiency’. Problems with his kidneys and bladder persisted.

He was released by the Army on July 21, upon which he returned to Durban Municipality, resuming his duties as Health Inspector. He recovered, but gained significant weight in the process.

He wrote: “On my return to South Africa my friends were immediately alarmed at the growth of my girth. The increase in my waistline made it unfortunate to get about with the old-time agility. In fact, it became impossible. Stooping quickly became a hazardous business.”

It took him time to get his footwork and timing back in order, but once he got going since 1947 there was no stopping him.

Back, from left: Dudley Nourse, Eric Rowan. Front: A toy springbok © Getty Images
Back, from left: Dudley Nourse, Eric Rowan. Front: A toy springbok © Getty Images

9. Waiting game: South Africa’s 1951 tour to England started with several minor matches before the first ‘serious’ match, against Worcestershire. Most captains provide opportunities to the juniors in these matches. Not Nourse.

A disgruntled John Waite complained to Eric Rowan. Nourse approached Waite at breakfast before a one-day match, asking whether Waite wanted to play. Waite obviously agreed, and Nourse promptly responded with “We’re playing against the Union Castle team, you can play for them.”

Waite, along with Jack Cheetham and Geoff Chubb, played for Union Castle. It did not end there. After Waite batted for a while Nourse made sure Waite retired on 29. Similarly, Cheetham was made to retire on 32.

He hated losing.

10. Dudley’s greatest: Despite that outrageous 231, critics rate 208 at Trent Bridge in 1951 as Nourse’s finest effort. He was 40 at this time, leading England in what was his final series. Three weeks before the match, he tried to stop a Tom Graveney cover-drive in the Gloucestershire match, fracturing the middle joint of his left thumb.

He played the Surrey match amidst immense pain. He was then asked to choose between a plastered thumb (and six weeks away from action) or a pin in the thumb (which meant playing under excruciating pain). He chose the latter.

Denis Compton, who scored 112 in the Test, later admitted: “For courage and determination, possibly that display by Dudley has never been surpassed on the cricket field. Few in the crowd realised just how much he suffered.” Indeed, on at least two occasions did the South African team masseur administer smelling-salt on him to stop him from fainting.

Every stroke made the pain more unbearable, but Nourse battled on. He reached 76 at stumps on Day One, but there was still work to be done. The following day he had problems even putting the glove on; he still kept going, eventually falling for a 555-minute 208 — the first Test double-hundred by a South African in England.

During the innings he added 82 with Waite for the third wicket before the latter was run out for 76. Nourse was not happy at Waite not getting his hundred. He reprimanded him and then and there: “You need to keep your bloody mind on the job.”

11. Bittersweet: The story was not over. After South Africa scored 483, England responded with 419. The tourists then collapsed to 121 against Alec Bedser and Roy Tattersall. Nourse did not bat or field anymore, but he had more than done his job.

England needed a mere 186, but Athol Rowan (5 for 68) and ‘Tufty’ Mann (4 for 24) skittled them out for 114. It was South Africa’s second win on English soil (first in 16 years). Nourse had also played at Lord’s, 1935, when Herby Wade had led South Africa to their first ever win on English soil.

Unfortunately, the Trent Bridge Test was also the only time Nourse led South Africa to a win. The two Tests were the only ones he won as a player as well. The tour inspired Cyril Oliver Medworth to pen down a book — Noursemen in England.

12. Natal, forever: Nourse had an excellent First-Class career with 12,472 runs, an average of 51.53, and 41 hundreds. However, these numbers shot up significantly when he played for Natal, for whom he scored 6,171 runs at 61.71 with 23 hundreds.

Dudley Nourse remains one of three men to score 3 double-hundreds for Natal, the others being Jack Siedle, and — Dave Nourse. Dudley’s 260* against Transvaal, 1936-37 is the third-highest in Natal’s history. In the top 10 scores in the history of Natal Dudley has 3 entries. During the 260* he added 240 with Leslie Payn, still a seventh-wicket record for Natal.

Nourse has also scored 51 fifties for Natal, the second-best after Barry Richards. His 5 catches in an innings and 6 in a match against Border in 1933-34 both remain Natal records.

13. Teeing off: In 1952 Dudley Nourse was one of first five South African Cricket Annual Cricketers of the Year, the others being Athol Rowan, Eric Rowan, Mann, and Chubb. This happened four years after he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

14. This and that: Following retirement, Nourse became a National Selector. He managed the Jackie McGlew-led side to England in 1960, and penned down an autobiography, aptly named Cricket in the Blood.

15. Anti-Apartheid: Nourse’s autobiography does not mention the life of the black population in South Africa. However, Nourse did not believe in discrimination, and just like Bert Vogler, he played with the local Indians. Nourse even played for Maritzburg Indians against Durban Indians.

16. Noursing birds: Dudley Nourse petted birds (not a very common hobby among cricketers). He owned many, and was extremely meticulous about how they were kept. In English Cricketer, Gerald Seymour wrote of his ‘spotless aviaries’.

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