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Gordon White: Occasional googly bowler and classy batsman © Photo courtesy: A Keyzer, Cape Town

March 14, 1906. After waiting 16 years for their first ever Test win, South Africa made it three in a row. This time it was pace bowling that did the damage. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the day Plum Warner’s men surrendered the series to the all-round strength of the home side.

More than the Wrong ’Un

Layers of misconceptions. That is what cricket folklore often amounts to.

To many, even hard-core fans of South African cricket, it remains unknown that during the first decade of the 20th century the Test side was filled to the brim with magnificent googly bowlers.

Indeed, the fascinating tale of the first ever Test match win for the southern land is as disheartening as it is magical. Disheartening because in spite of the optimistic prophecy of the losing captain Plum Warner, who conjectured that the match would be remembered as long as cricket was played, very few cricket adherents are even aware of it.

The ones who do know about the scintillating South African triumph in the 1905-06 series often equate it to the battery of googly bowlers, four in number, who literally had the English batsmen on the mat. Yes, on the unfamiliar matting wickets, the ball turned a lot and quickly and the experienced English cricketers struggled to come to terms with the offerings of Reggie Schwarz and Aubrey Faulkner, as also Bertie Vogler.

However, even in this tale, mythical tapestries have been woven over the thread of facts. The googly bowlers did play a decisive role in the first Test, capturing 14 of the 20 wickets. However, while they captured 11 of the 20 in the second Test, the fast men Jimmy Sinclair and Sibley ‘Tip’ Snooke were nearly as effective with the remaining 9.

The third Test, in contrast, was won through fast bowling and superior batting. The unassuming Snooke ran in with his medium pacers to capture 12 in the match. In fact, the only spinner to dominate batsmen thoroughly in the final three Tests in the series was the great Kent left-armer Colin Blythe, who almost single-handedly won the fourth Test for England.

Of the 96 English wickets to fall in the series, one was run out. Of the remaining 95, Snooke accounted for 24, Sinclair 21. With Dave Nourse chipping in with 6, 51 actually fell to the faster men.

None of the googly bowlers were more successful than either Snooke or Sinclair. Schwarz, bowling only the wrong ’un claimed 18 wickets, Faulkner 14. Vogler captured 9.

Gordon White’s name is often clubbed with these three spinners, making it a fable of four googly men. In fact, White bowled only occasionally. Perhaps his two quick wickets in the first Test created the lore that lives on in the few discussion rooms in which this series is still recalled. He picked only those two wickets in the series. His contribution with the ball was not much different from William Shalders, the opening batsman who turned his arm over and spun the ball both ways. Shalders sent down 8 overs in the series and captured one wicket. White bowled 3 more overs and captured 2 wickets.

However, White was a brilliant batsman, a fact often ignored by historians. He scored 437 runs in the series, at 54.62, towering over the rest in terms of both aggregate and average. He was a superb slip fielder as well.

The third Test, once again played at the Old Wanderers, was actually the tale of some excellent batting by White and devastating medium pace sent down by Snooke. Although it must be said, as will be seen from the following lines, the first defining blows that crippled England were all struck by Schwarz.

By the end of the match, a much-chastened Warner speculated that perhaps the sun was setting on his cricket career. He need not have worried. His final Test would be played six years down the line, and his First-Class career would go on for another 14.

Tall scores

The Test started with some bad news for the Englishmen. Captain Teddy Wynyard had to be sent back to England, he had never really felt very well since his visit to the Victoria Falls. Besides, wicketkeeper Jack Broad had bruised a thumb, and hence Leo Moon had to don the big gloves.

In a way Colonel John Hartley was an apt replacement for Capt. Wynyard, keeping the team’s soldierly component intact. Surrey’s leg-spinning all-rounder Ernie Hayes stepped into the other slot.

South Africa, as they were to do through the five-Test series, fielded an unchanged eleven.

Percy Sherwell won the toss, and, fighting to stay in the series, England began well. Shalders was caught in the slips off Walter Lees. At the other end, the slow spin of Blythe accounted for Louis Tancred with an identical result. The hosts were 29 for 2, and England were managing to stay alive.

However, the side did not really have the depth to parry much longer against the multi-skilled South Africans. White and Nourse, the heroic duo of the first Test, steadied the innings masterfully, adding 97. The stand ended when White slashed at Lees and was well-caught at short third-man by Albert Relf.  But there would be an encore of the duet in the second innings.

Nourse, sound in defence and getting most of his runs with solid off-side strokes, had scored a hundred against the MCC for Natal. Now he looked heading towards a century before he glanced Relf and was brilliantly caught down the leg side by Moon.

Maitland Hathorn was known to be a good bat. He had visited England twice before the series, scoring well over 1,000 runs on both occasions, hammering hundreds against Hampshire and Cambridge University in 1901, and against Sussex, Leicestershire and London County in 1904. His score against Cambridge had been a mammoth 239.

It is curious that this Natal batsman, someone George Lohmann had backed to the hilt, would end with a Test average of 17.10. In fact, he would cross 50 only once. But this was that one innings. And he made it big.

Sinclair, the only South African to have scored a hundred in Test cricket, was at the other end. He had scored three of them, all scintillating innings. The big all-rounder smashed a couple of boundaries and sent one ball steepling into the cycle track. The quick 28 runs he scored perhaps inspired Hathorn. More than that, it threw the England bowlers off their line and length. The batsmen who followed, Faulkner and Snooke, both enjoyed themselves, scoring useful runs. Hathorn, benefitting from a fumbled run out opportunity and a miss at slip when on 46, stroked the ball to all parts of the ground in a graceful display.

By the time stumps were drawn, England were exhausted as one after another men wielding a worthy willow walked out to do battle. Hathorn had departed for 102, the fourth century by a South African after Sinclair’s three. But Snooke had been joined by Sherwell, another excellent bat down the order. The score was 338 for 7.

After Sunday’s rest, Sherwell and Schwarz were dismissed early on Monday morning by Lees bowling his heart out. However, even the last pair for the hosts was a formidable one. When Snooke’s leg stump was uprooted by a Lees yorker, Vogler had hammered 28 and the total showed 385. Lees finished with 6 for 78 and according to Warner there was no bowler of medium pace of his ability in England.

Fane and fade

Faced with the impressive score, England started disastrously. Snooke commenced with his medium pace. Schwarz sent down googlies and top-spinners. And the initial jolt was provided by the pioneering Springbok googly bowler.

Young Jack Crawford, who had been expensive in his brief ventures to the bowling crease, opened the innings with his captain for the second successive Test. After striking a solitary boundary, he was totally fooled by a Schwarz googly.

Dave Denton, the star bat, repeated the story. One crisply struck boundary. And then a devious delivery from Schwarz crashing into his woodwork.

In walked Frederick Fane and started batting magnificently. The Essex amateur was always a batsman of ability, but never had he batted as well in Test matches, and never would he again. Drives flowed handsomely, cuts came off late and fine. At the other end Warner, after a struggle for an hour and ten minutes, had his defence breached by Schwarz. 51 for 3, the googly bowler had claimed all three.

After that, for just over an hour, it was delightful batting. Moon joined Fane and the bowling was mastered with plenty of élan. 84 runs came in quick time. The England score looked respectable. But then, Moon paid the price for aggression. Schwarz pitched one short, and the pull was bottom edged on to the stumps.

135 for 4, Schwarz had all four. But Fane continued batting beautifully. Hayes stayed with him for long, and the score passed 200 with only four down. A contest was brewing.

It was change of pace that accounted for Hayes, aided and abetted by a poor choice of stroke. Sinclair sent in a slower ball of good length and Hayes tried to scythe it over square leg. The resulting skier was taken at mid-on. Till then Hayes had collared the all-rounder, having struck him for a brace of boundaries and a six.

England, however, were still in with a chance. Relf looked determined to stay in and Fane was still playing the knock of dreams. The score travelled at a splendid rate to 280.

And then came Snooke.

Handed the ball by the crafty Sherwell, the Western Province all-rounder swerved it away just outside the off stump. Fane drove as he had been doing all the innings, but this time got the edge. Vogler held a smart catch at slip. Fane walked back for a magnificent 143, scored under four hours, with remarkable forward play. 280 for 6.

The bottomless resources of variety in the South African outfit came into play now. Shalders, another man toying with the nascent art of leg break googly, sent down some splendid overs, accounting for Hartley. His run to the wicket reminded the Englishmen of WG Grace, and he broke the ball both ways with impressive control.

Snooke, at the other end, quickly dismissed the rest, the batsmen falling to the probing line outside off. The last five wickets tumbled for 15. Snooke had four of them to end with 4 for 57 from 21.2. Schwarz had 4 for 67 with the early blows. South Africa led by 90. It was the end of the day’s play.

White-hot

The following morning started with Blythe getting Shalders caught in the slip, a neat catch by Hartley. However, there followed a spectacular display of ruthless batting.

This South African side had tasted blood. They knew what it felt like to win. And they wanted to win all their matches. With two days left in the Test that was proving to be high scoring, they stepped on the accelerator. They wanted enough time to bowl at the Englishmen.

White came in, driving delightfully, looking to attack at every opportunity. Tancred forced even good length balls away on both sides of the wicket. 110 were added in just 85 minutes, with the ring of people around the ground frequently sent scurrying by the travelling ball.

When Tancred left for an accomplished 73, Nourse joined White. The newcomer was dropped early in the innings, and then it was the time for an encore of their first innings act. The two extended the lead with clinical precision. The two-and-a-quarter hours before lunch brought 154 runs for the loss of 2 wickets.

Warner set defensive fields after the break. The bowlers stuck to tidy lines. But in spite of all that White and Nourse used all their experience to steal the runs. An hour and fifty minutes were spent on the field between lunch and tea. The two men, the most successful of South African batsmen, added 100 without being separated; and never did they look like taking risks.

After the break, the Springboks looked to raise the tempo to dizzying levels. Nourse was dropped again, and chanced his arm too much, ultimately cutting Haigh high to third man. White, on the other hand, was going magnificently. And the stage was ideally set for Sinclair’s big hitting.

The next half an hour saw some scintillating scoring. Sinclair smashed drives around the ground, many of his strokes resembling a golfer teeing off, sending one sailing over the ring. White, not far behind in rate, and distinctly classier in approach, lofted the ball into the cycle track twice. 87 were added by the two in just over 30 minutes, every bowler feeling the heat of the explosive strokeplay.

When White finally fell to Lees for 147, he had batted for four hours and ten minutes, striking 19 fours and 2 sixes. It had been a magnificent innings. While a superb exponent of the off-drive, this innings had seen him latch on to anything over pitched and send the ball into the country. While going for the bowling he often hit it as far and as cleanly as Sinclair. Warner believed he was the best of the many brilliant South African batsmen. Strange indeed, then, that White is remembered just as one of the four googly bowlers.

The first 17 South African Tests had seen just three Springbok centuries, all by Sinclair. In this Test, two more had joined the ranks. And both the innings had been delightful.

Vogler, promoted way ahead of his usual position, struck mightily twice, into the outfield, and they scampered a couple of twos. And then Sinclair fell, dying by the sword, giving Lees his ninth wicket of the match. His 48 came off just 40 balls with 6 fours and a six.

Sherwell declared soon after that. To remain true to the accounts of the day, it needs to be mentioned that for much of the fast scoring, an adventurous spider emerged on the pitch and remained there, presumably enjoying the run-feast.

England needed 440 to win, or, more reasonably, to bat out a day and a bit.

Snooke-red

The English start was once again horrid.

Warner was accompanied by the more experienced, in terms of age, Hartley rather than young Crawford. And by the end of the day, both had been dismissed.

Schwarz had started the slide again, his googly bowling Warner through the gate. Hartley was brilliantly caught in the slips by Vogler off Snooke. The ball was travelling and the catch was made one-handed.

This made things a bit peculiar. At the end of the day the two English batsmen at the crease were both night-watchmen, Relf and Schofield Haigh.

The following morning these two lower-order men showed a lot of pluck in adding 20. But then Snooke got into the act.

His balls moved away at a lively pace, and one after another the batsmen succumbed. Haigh and Fane were caught at the wicket, Relf brilliantly held at slip by Schwarz.

Denton batted bravely, flawless and attractive. However, just when his bravado, along with Crawford’s determination, seemed likely to stage a fightback, a rash stroke cost the Yorkshire man his wicket. Once again it was one that moved away from Snooke, and Sherwell pouched it behind the wicket.

Moon and Crawford tried to resist, but Snooke now angled one in to bowl the former. At the same score Sinclair swerved one away and Crawford nicked to slip.

The end was quick and painless. Lees perished in the same way a lot of his colleagues had done, chasing an away going delivery from Snooke. And then the bowler got one to rise and Blythe fended. Shalders got under it.

A synchronised cry went up among the players and the spectators. The win had been huge, by 243 runs. Snooke had 8 for 70 in the second innings, 12 for 127 in the match. And, most importantly, the series had been won. South Africa’s first win in Tests had been stretched to their first triumph in a rubber.

Plum Warner was gracious in defeat. “I have two consolations,” he wrote. “First, both sides cannot win at cricket. And the second is that the better team won.”

The Springboks had indeed forged a great team, with most of their men handy with both bat and ball. In the decades to come, South African sides would be renowned for their core strength of sterling all-rounders, and this side was the template of the many great ones to follow.

“Maybe the sun is setting in the horizon of my own cricket career,” Warner wrote a bit prematurely. But what he added was indeed correct: “But a new day has dawned for South African cricket.”

Brief Scores:

South Africa 385 (Gordon White 46, Dave Nourse 61, Maitland Hathorn 102; Walter Lees 6 for 78) and 349 for 5 decl. (Louis Tancred 73, Gordon White 147, Dave Nourse 55, Jimmy Sinclair 48) beat England 295 (Frederick Fane 143; Sibley Snooke 4 for 57, Reggie Schwarz 4 for 67) and 196 (David Denton 61; Sibley Snooke 8 for 70) by 243 runs.

(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.)