Jimmy Sinclair: 6 for 26, 106. 3 for 63. Still on the losing side. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Bull Publishers

April 4, 1899. In the first innings, Jimmy Sinclair had scored 106, the first century by a South African. He had also captured 6 for 26 to dismiss England for 99. However, Lord Hawke’s men still managed to win the Newlands Test. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the game of swinging fortunes.

Challenging journeys, easy matches

The first Test match had been a most unpleasant scare for Lord Hawke’s men. True, they had held their nerves and experience had spoken eloquently in the final phase, but the 32-run victory-margin had pricked the pride of a team expected to romp through the tour unchallenged.

Yet, as the tour continued, thankfully taking the cricketers away from the Boer heartland in those politically charged days, the Test seemed to have been a minor bump on the way. As the merry men continued in their winning ways, their greatest hurdles seemed to be the railway system of the colonies rather than the opposition teams.

There was no direct train from Johannesburg to Kimberley, and the Englishmen had to go through Bloemfontein, right down to Cape Colony and Naauwport; and then across the country to De Aar, the junctions of the Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London lines. Only then could they go ahead to Kimberley through the Orange River Station. Once there the party was more interested in visiting the De Beer diamond mines, before crushing a Griqualand XV by an innings.

There were delays on the way to Bulawayo, as the train started late and the machinery had to be overhauled on the way. Having finally arrived, the team crushed the Bulawayo XVIII by 10 wickets with Schofield Haigh capturing 11 wickets in the second innings. A day later, they took on a Rhodesian XV, led by former Oxford and Essex cricketer Henry Taberer, and won by an innings.

The amateurs were subsequently entertained at the farm of the Honourable Cecil Rhodes at Sauterdale, at the foot of the Matoppos. The principal challenge faced by the team in Bulawayo was when Frank Mitchell tried to drive a cart drawn by eight mules into the Matoppos and found himself stuck in the dirt, the wagon almost toppling over.

It was not only at cricket that the Englishmen excelled. Lord Hawke tried his hand at shooting and knocked over a whiskey bottle some 120 yards away, the feat winning him five shillings from Mitchell. The amateur cricketers also did themselves extremely well when the Bulawayo Club treated them to a dinner: starting with oysters, clear turtle, salmon, shrimp sauce, with cream of chicken, lamb cutlets, roast turkey, pheasant, grouse and wild duck along the way; before ending with fruit jelly, anchovy titbits, gypsy trifle and strawberry cream ices.

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Plum Warner at the farm of Cecil Rhodes at Sauterdale

Next they travelled two days and three nights on train to arrive again at Kimberley, and the long journey resulted in a minor collapse as they played out a draw in the return match against Griqualand XV. And as they proceeded to Matjesfontein the train slid back downhill after a dangerous failure of the brakes. Frank Milligan cut his nose and sustained a black eye, while Albert Trott’s thumb was put out of joint.

The match at Matjesfontein was of festive and jovial nature, and not for the record books. However, there was a spot of interest. George Lohmann, the legendary English bowler, had been living in South Africa for long due to his failing health. He announced that his body was no longer up to the strain of cricket. Yet, when he did play against the visitors, he scored a dashing 43, captured 5 wickets for 48 off a slightly shorter run than usual, and in between took one of the most spectacular catches at slip.

Moving on to Cape Town, the Englishmen were at their peak when they encountered Cape Colony. Haigh clean bowled Allan Reid, Murray Bisset and Howard Francis to start the match with a hat-trick and yet another innings win was achieved.

The forerunner of Procter, Kallis and the rest

It was now time for the second Test match, the final showdown of the tour, at Newlands, Cape Town. By then, it was widely believed that a cakewalk was on the cards. None of the ups and downs and close scrapping of the Johannesburg Test was expected. What transpired was, hence, the rudest of awakenings.

The Englishmen ran into Jimmy Sinclair, the forerunner of the assembly line of supreme all-rounders produced by the southern land. Aubrey Faulkner, Trevor Goddard, Eddie Barlow, Tiger Lance, Mike Procter, Clive Rice, Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis … All of them came later. Striding in front of them was this giant all-round sportsman, pioneer of South African cricket in multiple ways.

There was a record gate at Newlands that morning of April 1, 1899. Among the onlookers was Sir Alfred Milner, then Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner of Southern Africa. In a few months, his imperialist ambitions would finally result in kickstarting the ugly Boer War.

Hawke won the toss, as was expected from his long run of luck with the coin. But he confessed that it did England no good.

For a considerable while, though, it did look that the visitors would make full use of the first hit. Plum Warner and Mitchell started solidly. At 36, Mitchell fell against the run of play, but Johnny Tyldesley joined the correct and watchful Warner and the score was soon 61 for 1.

It was then that Bisset introduced Sinclair into the attack, as the second change. Bowling a brisk medium pace, the Transvaal man scythed through the batting.

Warner was caught at the wicket for 31, which was to remain the highest score of the innings. A run later, Tyldesley’s defence was breached and his stumps were spreadeagled. At the other end, Bonnor Middleton bowled a steady line with his left-arm slow medium, while Sinclair produced a ‘beautiful’ spell and accounted for Willis Cuttell, Trott, Frank Milligan and Jack Broad. When Hawke, strangely coming in at No 11, was bowled by Middleton, England were all out for 99. Sinclair had 6 for 26. Four of his victims had been clean bowled.

So the hosts were in to bat shortly after lunch. And the superb English opening bowlers struck back immediately.

Trott bowled Howard Francis. During the lunch interval, Haigh had been presented by the Western Province Club with a hat for his hat-trick against Cape Colony. Now he ran in to hit the stumps of William Shalders.

Hence Sinclair was at the wicket with the score reading 27 for 2. Soon after that, Haigh rattled the stumps of Bisset to make it 34 for 3. The innings would not recover. However, at one end at least, the English bowlers had to deal with Sinclair.

He drove ferociously. And his back play was equally strong. Besides, he could hit hard while keeping a sound head on his shoulders.

Albert Powell was snared by Trott at 60, and Barberton Halliwell stumped off Haigh a run later. But Sinclair found an able ally in Fred Kuys. The two batted with great guts and spirit for most of the afternoon before Cuttle bowled Kuys for 26 with the score on 110. Charles Prince, a backup wicketkeeper, had raised eyebrows when chosen purely as a batsman. He was needlessly run out for 5. The day ended with the South Africans 7 down, 27 ahead, Sinclair batting on 59.

The first South African hundred

The following morning, Trott bowled Robert Graham almost immediately after start. And with Middleton joining him the middle, it was signal for Sinclair to shift gears. Thus started one of the most thrilling displays of audacious strokes. According to Hawke, “Not only was his hitting splendid all around the wicket, but the cleverness with which he managed to get all the bowling when the tail were with him was uncanny in its success.”

Sinclair launched into Trott, trying to hit him out of the ground. It did not connect well and his bat was damaged. When the new willow came out for him, he smote the next delivery miles high, full-pitch into a nearby pond. ‘One of the biggest strokes I have ever witnessed’, recalled Hawke.

Middleton scored just 3, but the canny way Sinclair farmed strike helped him to add 46. It was while going for one of the many short runs that Middleton was finally caught short of ground, but by then Sinclair had notched up his hundred. It was the first ever by a South African in their ten years of Test cricket.

With the last man, George Rowe, joining him at the wicket, Sinclair went for an almighty on-drive off Trott. Tyldesley, fielding at long-on, ran several yards, judged it splendidly and held it almost on the ropes. While walking out, Sinclair shook the fieldsman’s hand in frank admiration. Hawke wrote, “[The admiration was] certainly reciprocated for a spectacular and admirable innings.”

In his account of the tour Plum Warner wrote, “A cricketer in the course of his career sees innumerable fine innings, many of which are forgotten after a while, but a few will always remain in his memory. In my case Sinclair’s 106 will be one of these. I shall class it with other innings that I shall not forget.”

It was not only the first hundred by a South African. It was the first time anyone had scored a century and taken six wickets in an innings in the same Test. He had also outscored the entire England team by 7 runs.

The class of Tyldesley

England trailed by 78. Strangely, both Hawke and Warner recalled the deficit as 85 in their recollections. Mitchell and Warner started well, although both were gifted several lives.

Rowe dismissed both the openers within a few runs of each other, but they had put on 63. With the lead almost wiped out, the class of Tyyldesley came to the fore. It was elegant batting without a single faulty stroke, ‘a regular Coo Palairet effort’ according to Hawke.

With the Lancashire maestro stroking the ball delectably, the afternoon’s play was brightened by Trott opening his shoulders and executing two massive drives out of the ground. Rowe bowled him with a fast yorker at 16, but it had been a sparkling innings. With Haigh batting with admirable skill, England finished the day on 221 for 5, Tyldesley unbeaten on 87.

The following morning Sinclair got rid of Haigh, but Tyldesley caressed his way to a delightful century. When in an attempt to drive Kuys he was caught at mid-on for 112, the applause was heart-warming. Milligan and Alfred Archer put on vital runs with some dashing batsmanship, and by the time Sinclair had caught Hawke off his own bowling to end the innings, England had registered 330. Sinclair’s 3 second innings wickets took his tally to 9 for the match.

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The England side. Back (from left): Frank Hearne (Umpire), AG Archer, W Cuttell, F Mitchell, CEM Wilson, AA White (umpire). Middle (from left): HR Bromley-Davenport, FW Milligan, S Haigh, Lord Hawke, J Board, AE Trott. Front (from left): JT Tyldesley, PF Warner.

Rubbing it in

South Africa needed 246 to win as they went in to bat just before lunch on the third and final day. By the time they came in for the break, Shalders and Powell had put on 11 without being separated. The general feeling was that the hosts would either get those runs or bat through the two remaining sessions to draw the match. Hawke wrote, “The target of 246 did not seem a very onerous task for South Africa.” The wicket seemed to be playing rather better than the normal Newlands pitch. The ball was turning, but slowly.

And then Trott and Haigh started bowling after lunch. The ball suddenly seemed to fizz off the matting. At 18, Shalders was leg-before to Haigh for 8. At 21, Powell was castled by the same bowler for 11. That was to be the only double figure score of the innings. Trott made short work of Bisset and Francis.

Sinclair, the great hope, now went for a big drive off Haigh over the bowler’s head. Milligan, fielding at long-on, ran across, leaned over the ropes and with his left hand plucked out one of the most magnificent of catches. For the second time in the match Sinclair had fallen to a supreme catch. It was 27 for 5.

The rest of the match did not take too long. Trott and Haigh knocked over those who remained and within three quarters of an hour of the post-lunch session the match was over. South Africa were bowled out for 35, which remains their lowest score till this day. Haigh had 6 for 11 from 11.4 overs, Trott 4 for 19 from 11.

As the players walked off the ground, the crowd gave the bowlers a most sporting ovation. Understandably they were crestfallen at the collapse of their own men, but they did not grudge the magnificent bowling of the English duo.

With the cricketing engagements completed, the tour ended with a picnic to the Lion’s Head. However, only two cricketers reached the top, the rest preferring to admire the Table Mountain from below. That night, a farewell dinner was arranged at the Theatre Restaurant followed by a dance at nearby Claremont.

During the function Bisset, the South African captain, remarked, “It’s not a licking you have accomplished, but your two bowlers have rubbed it in.”

Brief Scores

England 99 (Bonnor Middleton 4 for 18, Jimmy Sinclair 6 for 26) and 330 (Frank Mitchell 41, Johnny Tyldesley 112) beat South Africa 177 (Jimmy Sinclair 106; Albert Trott 4 for 69) and 35 (Albert Trott 4 for 19, Schofield Haigh 6 for 11) by 210 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.)