Neil Harvey    Getty Images
Neil Harvey Getty Images

What is it that elevates a sporting contest from the ranks of the mundane to the realm of the great? What is that quality of a player s individual performance in a cricket match that transforms his effort from the extraordinary to the sublime? The themes outlined above, being somewhat nebulous in nature, perhaps defy quantification, and can only be determined by relying on individual and collective perception, based on prevailing circumstances. Spectators at Kingsmead, Durban may have been blessed with the opportunity to judge for themselves the merits of the game and that of Neil Harvey during the third Test between South Africa and Australia during those magical days of January 1950. Neil Harvey: One of the greatest left-handers in history of cricket

If one were to discount the Test between South Africa and England at Centurion in 1999-00, the only instance of both teams forfeiting an innings each in a rain-curtailed Test in order to contrive a positive result, the archives show 11 instances of a team scoring less than 100 runs in the first innings, yet going on to win the Test. Browsing through the list of 11 instances, one comes across the game between South Africa and Australia at Kingsmead, Durban, in 1949-50, where Australia had won the game by 5 wickets despite a first-innings deficit of 236 runs, the largest first-innings deficit in that particular list.

It is also the only occasion where a side did not enforce the follow-on despite being eligible to and yet lost the Test.

As is well-documented, Keith Miller was never very far from controversy in his colourful cricket career. During the epic Invincibles tour of England by Don Bradman s 1948 Australians, Miller had rubbed the skipper the wrong way on some occasions. If Miller was the cavalier of the team, Bradman was the quintessentially prosaic roundhead, eschewing all flamboyance and playing the game with the single-minded intention of winning, particularly against The Old Enemy.

Sir Donald Bradman, knighted in 1949 for his outstanding contribution to cricket, was the head of the committee that selected the Australian team for the tour of South Africa in 1949-50, the other members being Chappie Dwyer of New South Wales (NSW) and Jack Ryder of Victoria, Bradman s first Test skipper.

When the names of the touring party was announced on March 2, the surprising (perhaps, not so surprising, after all) omission from the list was the name of Miller. The absence of Miller s name had raised a lot of comment in the contemporary press, Jack Fingleton being particularly vocal about it, and asserting that it was the decided lack of warmth between Miller and the skipper on the 1948 tour and later, that had provoked this selection bombshell. Lindsay Hassett was nominated captain on March 7. The team departed from Fremantle on September 22 on the SS Nestor, reaching Durban on October 7. Early Days of Australian Cricket: Part X

It is reported that Hassett s nomination as captain for this tour had been a closely-run affair, Hassett getting the nod after polling 7 votes to 6. But the skipper proved to be an object lesson in dedication, going through the entire tour suffering from tonsillitis and staunchly refusing an operation for his condition till the last Test of the series was completed.

The cricketing Gods, however, had another scenario in mind. One of the selected players on the tour, Bill Johnston, misread an Afrikaans road sign at Rossburgh, near Natal, and suffered severe chest and head injuries from a car accident, having to spend some time in a Durban hospital to recover, and missing 8 matches on the tour.

Even with one man short at South Africa, Miller was not the first one sounded out, the selectors opting to speak to Ernie Toshack first. They finally settled on Miller on November 5, and Miller flew out from Sydney to Fremantle and sailed on the liner Dominion Monarch on November 21, accompanied by the team masseur Charlie O’Brien. They arrived at Cape Town on December 4, with enough time to acclimatise himself with the local conditions before the onset of the first Test on the 24th.The Australian tourists played 7 First-Class (and 2 Second-Class) games before the Test began.

Australia won the first Test at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, by an impressive margin of an innings and 85 runs. Although their openers Arthur Morris and Jack Moroney both scored ducks (the sixth instance in Test history of both openers being dismissed for ducks in the same innings; they would become the first pair to do this for a second time, performing the unwanted feat at Brisbane against England in 1950-51), Hassett (112) and Sam Loxton (101) both scored centuries, and Ian Johnson scored 66 to take the total to 413. Hugh Tayfield took 3 for 93. Early Days of Australian Cricket: Part IX

South Africa were then dismissed for 137, Eric Rowan, in his 41st year, top-scoring with 60. Miller (5 for 40), Johnson (3 for 37), and Johnston (2 for 21) took all the wickets. Following on, South Africa were dismissed for 191. 39-year-old skipper Dudley Nourse top-scored with 36. Johnston was almost unplayable, capturing 6 for 44. Surprisingly, Ray Lindwall failed to take a single wicket in the entire Test.

It was then on to Cape Town for the second Test, the very next engagement of the tour for Australia. The Test began on the last day of 1949. Australia won this Test as well, by 8 wickets. The cynosure of all eyes was Neil Harvey (178 in 237 minutes with 16 fours). Indeed, Harvey was to stamp his undoubted class on the entire Test series. Tufty Mann took 4 for 105 and Tayfield 2 for 141.

The home first-innings total amounted to 278, Rowan top-scoring with 67. Skipper Dudley Nourse scored 65. McCool took 5 for 41 while Miller had 3 for 54. Following on, South Africa scored 333, with the skipper contributing a fine century (114). Having failed to take any wickets in the first three innings on the tour, Lindwall roared back to bowling form, taking 5 for 32. Johnston took 3 for 70. With a target of 86, Australia reached there for the loss of 2 wickets.

When the teams arrived at Kingsmead for the third Test, Nourse won the toss and the hosts batted first. South Africa lost Owen Wynne and Jack Nel (14) with 75 on the board, but Nourse settled down with Rowan (143 in 388 minutes with 14 fours) to forge a third-wicket stand of 167. Nourse was third dismissed, after scoring 66. From there on, wickets fell at regular intervals and the total reached 311 on Day Two. Just how pivotal to the innings the third-wicket stand was can be judged from the fact that Day One had ended with the hosts on 240 for 2.

Play resumed after on a treacherous drying wicket following a typical Durban thunderstorm, and the first wicket of the Australian innings fell at 31: Moroney had scored only 10. Opener Morris (25, the highest individual score of the innings) was fifth man out at the total of 42. Australia were dismissed for 75, their lowest first-innings total against South Africa ever, and their seventh-lowest total till date in a Test that has been played to a definite result. This 75 was also the lowest that any team had been dismissed for by South Africa till then. Early Days of Australian Cricket: Part VIII

The innings lasted for 228 agonising deliveries for the tourists.There were 5 individual scores of 2 in the innings, while one man remained not out on 2. Tayfield, playing only his third Test, did the star turn for South Africa with the ball, claiming 7 for 23. Mann complemented him with 3 for 31.

Despite sitting on a comfortable 236-run lead, South Africa decided against enforcing the follow-on, perhaps with concerns over the unpredictable state of the wicket and the unsettled weather conditions, and began their second innings on Day Three, feeling confident that they would be in a position to put it over Australia in this Test. There was little concern in the ranks when the usually prolific Rowan (4) fell at the total of 9. Wynne (29, the ultimate top-scorer) and Nel (20) carried the total to 51 when Wynne fell. Even at that stage, there appeared to be no cause for alarm. Nel then fell at the total of 85, the third man out. Wicketkeeper Billy Wade was also dismissed at the same total.

Things went seriously wrong from there on for South Africa and the innings ended at 99. Johnson spun a web around the batsmen taking 5 for 34. Johnston joined in with 4 for 39. The winning target for Australia, 336, looked a distant proposition when Day Three ended with Australia on 80 for 3, with Moroney (10), Miller (10), and skipper Hassett (11) all dismissed and Morris batting on 35 and Harvey keeping him company on 12. That left 256 runs to get on a last day s deteriorating wicket against two quality spinners, a daunting prospect.

On the final day of the Test, Morris (44) departed at 95 and Harvey was joined by Loxton, a very close friend and comrade. In prosaic terms, the two put on a fifth-wicket stand of 135, Loxton s contribution being a valuable 54. This partnership turned out to be the defining act in the high drama of the Test and enabled a remarkable turnaround to materialise. Loxton was at the crease for 166 minutes, hitting 5 fours. At 230 for 5, with another 106 runs to score, and only the bowlers and wicketkeeper Ron Saggers to come, in walked McCool to join Harvey at the wicket. To his credit, McCool put his head down and batted for 111 minutes, hitting only 2 fours in his score of 39 not out.

While McCool was holding one end up tenaciously, Harvey was weaving his magic at the other end. In the final analysis, the archives state that Harvey scored 151 not out on a pitch that was reportedly turning square (in 325 minutes of sheer artistry, hitting 14 fours), and ensuring that Australia overcame their first-innings deficit of 236 to win the Test by 5 wickets, a miraculous turn of events under the circumstances. This was Harvey s fourth Test century (out of his ultimate tally of 20, and till date, the fourth-highest individual score at Kingsmead).

Brief scores:

South Africa 311 (Eric Rowan 143, Dudley Nourse 66; Ray Lindwall 3 for 47, Bill Johnston 4 for 75) and 99 (Bill Johnston 4 for 39, Ian Johnson 5 for 34) lost to Australia 75 (Tufty Mann 3 for 31, Hugh Tayfield 7 for 23) and 336 for 5 (Arthur Morris 44, Neil Harvey 151*, Sam Loxton 54; Tufty Mann 3 for 101) by 5 wickets.

The aftermath

Australia began with a solid opening stand of 214 between Morris (111) and Moroney (118) in the fourth Test, at Ellis Park. Skipper Hassett (53) and Harvey (56) shored up the total to 465 for 8. For South Africa, Mick Melle took 5 for 113.

The hosts were not far behind, with a total of 352, with 88 by wicketkeeper George Fullerton, his highest ever Test score. Australia declared a second time, on 259 for 2 in 52 overs of mayhem. Moroney (101) scored his century of the match, and Harvey contributed an even 100. Moroney found his own niche in Test history by becoming the first of three batsmen till date to have scored a century in each innings of a Test, but then never scoring another century in their entire careers. The other batsmen matching these peculiar parameters are Wajahatullah Wasti and Yasir Hameed.

For the fifth Test the teams moved on to St George s Park, Port Elizabeth. Hassett got 167 in a total of 549 for 7. South Africa were bowled out for 158, Rowan (40) and Nourse (37) doing most of the scoring. Miller (4 for 42) and debutant Geff Noblet (3 for 21) were among the wickets. Following on, South Africa were dismissed for 132, skipper Nourse standing tall with 55. The wickets were shared around, with Johnston and Johnson capturing 3 each. Australia won the Test by a large margin of an innings and 259 runs, as comprehensive a victory as can be imagined.

The outstanding performer of the Test series was undoubtedly Harvey, with 4 centuries in the 5-Test series. History tells us that Harvey was the first batsman to score 4 centuries in a Test series in South Africa, the only other man to perform this feat has been Jacques Kallis, in 2003-04. Similarly, the archives show that after the one and only Bradman, who hit 4 centuries in a Test series thrice (against England in 1930, against South Africa in 1931-32, and against India in 1947-48), Harvey was the next Australian batsman to hit 4 centuries in a Test series (twice, against South Africa in 1949-50 and 1952-53). For the sake of completion, it must be stated that there are two more Australians in that particular list: Doug Walters against West Indies in 1968-69 and Steven Smith against India in 2014-15.

It may be recalled that Harvey had scored 6 centuries (153, 112, 178, 151*, 100, and 116) in the first 13 Test innings of his illustrious career. Here is a brief abstract of Neil Harvey s batting feats in South Africa on the 1949-50 Test tour:

Johannesburg: 34

Cape Town: 178 and 23*

Durban: 2 and 15*

Johannesburg: 56* and 100

Port Elizabeth: 116

If one were to consider the career performances of batsmen who have played 5 Tests in South Africa and aggregated 750 runs, this is how the top 5 in the list would look like:

PLAYER M R Ave 100s
Neil Harvey 9 791 71.90 4
Graeme Pollock 14 1513 68.77 4

Jack Hobbs

10 982 65.46 1
Wally Hammond 15 1447 62.91 4
Dudley Nourse 20 1881 58.78 6

Let us hear about that epic at Kingsmead from Neil Harvey himself, from an interview published in The West Australian: I don’t know. I was only a young guy when I made all those runs over there. I was having a good run then and we had a pretty good side. That was the season after the Invincibles tour of England so, apart from Bradman who had gone, the majority of guys were there.When you’re in form, you’re in form … We got a couple of crookies over there in 49-50 when the wickets were uncovered. We got a real bad one in Durban. Durban’s climate is very similar to Brisbane and you get these heavy thunderstorms. We got caught on a sticky wicket.

The departure date for the Australian tourists from South Africa had been delayed by about 10 days for a number of reasons. During this time, the touring cricket team played a baseball match against South Africa as a testimonial to the legendary scorer and baggage-master Bill Ferguson that raised about 1,000. It was on April 1 that the Australian team left Cape Town on the Athenic, reaching Fremantle to a quiet reception on the 14th, having been away for 204 days. From Fremantle, the individual members flew back to their homes, each member being richer by 450, courtesy the South African cricket authorities.