© Getty Images
Australia and South Africa playing in the triangular Test series at Old Trafford, Manchester in 1912 © Getty Images


With Australia and South Africa about to engage in a much awaited Test series, we decided to look back at all the past encounters between the two nations. In the first installment of this seven part series, Arunabha Sengupta covers the first three Test series between the two sides.


South Africa vs Australia, 1902-03


No of Tests: 3


Result: Australia 2 South Africa 0


Joe Darling’s Australians had conquered the mother country. In a spectacular series with a couple of heart-stopping Test matches, they had beaten the strongest of England sides 2-1. At the conclusion of the series, CB Fry had commented, “Almost every man of both sides contributed something to the game.” The Ashes contest of the 1902 summer is widely considered the greatest of the early series.


On their way back, the Australians docked in South Africa to play the first Test series between the two countries. They had been scheduled to visit in 1899, but the showdown had been cancelled due to the Boer War. Not only that — Australian troops had fought in the War, siding with the British. Now that the conflicts had ended, the 1902-03 visit was billed as a goodwill tour, to clear the air between the two nations.


However, it was not just diplomacy that prompted the players. The South African mining magnate Abe Bailey had guaranteed £2000 to cover the 18-day tour.




The reputation of the Australians preceded them, and they were received with great enthusiasm by the fans, administrators and players of the country. However, they sorely lacked adequate preparation. Immediately on reaching the shores, they journeyed to Johannesburg for the first Test.


After days at sea, the bowlers were far from comfortable either on land or in the South African conditions. With the home team captain Henry Taberer calling correctly, they had to go out and bowl on the first morning. They found themselves up against some determined batsmen. There were the debutants Louis Tancred and Maitland Hathorn. There was the august experience of Charlie Llewellyn — arguably the first coloured cricketer to play for South Africa. And then there was the Transvaal all-rounder, Jimmy Sinclair.


It required Victor Trumper’s occasional bowling to dismiss Tancred and Llewellyn in their nineties. Once the Australians had comeback into the game with a few quick wickets, another debutant held firm. Dave Nourse scored 72 from number eight and veteran wicketkeeper Barberton Halliwell helped himself to a half century. Ultimately, the hosts ended the first day at 428 for seven.


They could not add much on the second morning. But,Llewellyn and Sinclair, now ball in hand, soon had the visitors in more than a spot of bother. With Trumper, Clem Hill and Reggie Duff scoring fluently, the score at one point of time stood at 196 for three. But, the Australians lost the remaining wickets within another 100 runs. Embarrassed at being made to follow-on by a nation that had lost all their previous Test matches, Australia reached 76 for two by close of the second day.


On the final day of the three day Test, Llewellyn and Sinclair bowled their hearts out. But, Hill played a fantastic innings of 142, holding firm and also hitting the only recorded six of his Test career. Warwick Armstrong and Monty Noble hit half centuries and Darling closed the innings with a safe lead of 214. The South Africans batted out time to earn their first ever draw in their eighth Test match.


It was a wonderful performance by the home team. And they seemed to continue in the same vein in the second Test, once again at Johannesburg. Llewellyn capturing five wickets to dismiss the Australians for 175 and Sinclair hit 101 in just two hours to ensure a lead of 65.


However, in a suave move, Darling sent in Amrstrong to open the second innings with Syd Gregory instead of the regular pair of Trumper and Duff. The big New South Welshman carried his bat to score 159, setting a target of 245 for the hosts. The tireless Llewellyn captured five more wickets to end with 10 for the match, but as they set out to bat in the fourth innings, the South Africans ran out of steam and experience. Jack Saunders, with his left arm medium-pace, captured seven wickets and the home side capitulated for 85.


As the sides met again at Newlands for the third and final Test, Noble struggled for form and captain Darling, out of touch since the England tour, pushed himself down to number eight in the order. But, runs at the top of the order by Trumper and Hill guided Australia to a score of 252. Llewellyn once again bowled superbly to end with six wickets.


When South Africa batted, Bill Howell and Jack Saunders once again routed them for 85. Following on, the hosts produced a much better show. Sinclair blasted the bowling to race to 104 with six sixes. But, Howell picked up another five wickets and the lower-order could not provide much resistance. The total of 225 meant a target of 59 and Trumper and Duff got there with ease. Australia triumphed 2-0.


Frank Hearne, hailing from that famous cricketing family, stood as umpire in all three Tests.


As the Australians boarded the Sophocles for their voyage home, Louis Tancred wrote about them: “Nothing counted so much for success as strenuousness and intensity.”


Victor Trumper was in sublime touch against South Africa in 1910-11 © Getty Images
Victor Trumper was in sublime touch against South Africa in 1910-11 © Getty Images


Australia vs South Africa, 1910-11


No of Tests: 5


Result: Australia 4 South Africa 1


With the 1912 Triangular Test tournament scheduled in England, the Australian board insisted that South Africa visit them in 1910-11. However, initially there was no satisfactory cash guarantee provided to the South African Cricket Authority (SCA).


Stung by this refusal, the South African board almost decided to abandon the tour in early June of 1910. There was an offer by the newspaper The Sun to meet the financial demands but the South Africans declined it on a point of principle. Ultimately, the Australian board ended the deadlock by providing the required guarantees. But, additional negotiations to include a New Zealand leg of the tour did not bear fruit.


The initial demand was for £5000 guarantee and half the gate. This was haggled down to the guaranteed sum and the ground returns — the gate receipts minus the huge amounts collected from the grandstands. In fact, the deal was not finalised until the team led by wicketkeeper Percy Sherwell was on the Indian Ocean.


By now, the South African side was an exciting prospect. They had beaten England 4-1 in 1905-06, and once again 3-2 in 1909-10. On the matting wickets of home, their battery of googly bowlers proved more than a handful.


Thus, the tour generated much enthusiasm. The googly craze had taken cricket by storm. However, Gordon White, a batting all-rounder and one of the four exponents of the art, dropped out of the tour. He could not risk the prospect of promotion in the mining group that employed him. Tip Snooke, another all-rounder, also made himself unavailable at first before changing his mind at the very last moment.


If there ever was an idea implemented a century before its time, it was the triangular Test series held between England, Australia and South Africa in 192. A brilliant spark of imagination ignited by Sir Abe Bailey of South Africa in 1909.


In spite of the anticipation and billing, the googly bowlers did not really find things easy on the turf wickets. At Sydney, Australia ended the first day of the Test series on 494 for six. Warren Bardsley and captain Hill implemented the plan of attacking the spinners to perfection. Hill’s 191 came off just 200 balls. Bardsley was not far behind with 132 from 150. Among the spinners, only Reggie Schwarz achieved some success. He ended with five wickets, but they came at the cost of 102 runs.


When South Africa batted under the looming shadow of a huge first innings total of 528, Tibby Cotter and Bill Whitty skittled them out for 174. In the second innings they did somewhat better, with 240. Aubrey Faulkner proved himself an all-rounder of rare class, but Australia were already one up in the series.


At Melbourne, the visitors held distinct advantage during the first four days of the Test. Using as many as eight bowlers, they managed to restrict the hosts to 348. Nourse brought off a sensational catch on the boundary line off Faulkner to bring the innings to an end, and was presented the ball for his efforts.


Faulkner was promoted to number three in the line-up and batted five and a quarter hours for a magnificent 204.With Snooke and Sinclair getting runs down the order, South Africa led by 158 in the first innings. And then Schwarz picked up four wickets to reduce Australia to 176 for five. But now, the spirited team ran up against the sparkling genius of Trumper.


Scoring at more than a run a ball, the great man struck 15 fours and a six in a brilliant 159 scored out of 237. Some useful lower order scores ensured a tricky target of 170. Following this Whitty and Cotter once again shared the wickets and only two South African batsmen reached double figures. The visitors were all out for 80 and Australia were 2-0 up in the series.


But, the tourists were buoyed by their impressive showing and achieved a thrilling triumph at Adelaide.


Billy Zulch and Snooke hit hundreds and Faulkner scored another half century to post a total of 482. And then they came up against Trumper yet again.


The gallant Australian icon jumped out to Schwarz and Llewellyn repeatedly, without a care about possible stumping. The lethal Schwarz was chuffed. He turned to his captain Sherwell and exclaimed, “It’s no use. I just can’t bowl to him.” The skipper demanded, “You’re not trying to get him out, are you?” The bemused Schwarz replied, “Yes, of course, Percy, what do you think I’m trying to do?” The wise Sherwell advised, “Forget it. Victor will get himself out when he is ready.” Trumper scored 214 and was not yet ready to get out when the innings ended at 465.


Whitty was again in his element, picking up six wickets, but South Africa had their own heroes. Faulkner played another sterling hand of 115, an innings of patience and character. Llewellyn hit 80. Australia were left to score 378 to win.


Setting out on the afternoon of the fifth day, the home side gave thrilling chase. Trumper was bowled by Llewellyn for 28. Schwarz put in another great effort with the ball capturing four wickets. Bardsley, Hill, Kelleway and Armstrong fought hard. In the end, the visitors won by 38 runs on the sixth afternoon.


At 2-1, the series was thrillingly poised. But, that was as close as it would get. At Melbourne, Sherwell sent Australia in after winning the toss after some steady rain. The 328-run first innings did not look too imposing.But, the home team had been reinforced by their own googly bowler, a swarthy complexioned dentist from North Sydney named Dr HV ‘Ranji’ Hordern. Combining with Whitty, Hordern restricted the South African innings to 205.


The series was decided during the second Australian innings. With the wicket now in perfect condition,Armstrong hit 132, Hill 100, Trumper 87 and Vernon Ransford 95. The 578-run second innings left the visitors a farcical 702 to win. With Hordern claiming five wickets, they managed just 171, only Faulkner resisting with 80.


By the time the fifth Test was played, the contest had been reduced to a one-sided affair. Schwarz claimed six wickets, but Charlie Macartney hammered 137, Bardsley hit 94 and Australia got 364. When South Africa batted, again Hordern got four wickets and once again only Faulkner stood firm with 52. The innings folded for 160.


Following on, Zulch with 150 and Faulkner with another superb knock of 92 took South Africa to a position of strength. At 357 for four, they suddenly looked perched in the driver’s seat once again, before the last six wickets fell for 44 runs. The 198-run target was tricky, but Trumper and Macartney hit half-centuries and Australia got home by seven wickets.


Australia triumphed by a 4-1 scoreline.


1912 in England


Triangular Test series


Winners: England


Matches between South Africa and Australia : 3


Result of the Test series between the two nations: Australia 2 South Africa 0


May 27, 1912 was quite a stirring day in the history of cricket.


Australia, aided by centuries from Charles Kelleway and Warren Bardsley, raced to 448 and then reduced South Africa to 16 for one. The next day, Jimmy Mathews spun his leg-breaks to take two hat-tricks in a day, one in each innings. The South Africans folded for 265 and 95. Once again, the only innings of substance for the South Africans was an unbeaten 122 by Faulkner in the first essay.


Strangely, all this action between two countries of the Southern Hemisphere took place far up north, in the Old Trafford cricket ground of Manchester — the first Test match to be played at a neutral venue. It was the start of the first Triangular Test series.


If there ever was an idea implemented a century before its time, this was it. A brilliant spark of imagination ignited by Sir Abe Bailey of South Africa in 1909 and supported vehemently by the other cricket boards, with full backing of the newly formed Imperial Cricket Conference (ICC) (forerunner of the International Cricket Council).


The three Test playing nations of the day would play a round robin league of Test matches, meeting each other thrice — nine matches in all across the five Test centres of England.


On paper, it was a dream floated on rosy wings. The English and Australian teams glittered with stars, having just stepped out of an era soon to be dubbed the Golden Age.


Led by Fry, England boasted players like Jack Hobbs, Wilfred Rhodes, Frank Woolley, Reggie Spooner, Frank Foster, Jack Hearne and Sydney Barnes.


The Australian side was supposed to include names such as Trumper, Hill, Warren Bardsley, Warwick Armstrong, Charley Macartney, Vernon Ransford and Tibby Cotter.


And South Africa had grown from strength-to-strength in the last decade.There was the battery of googly bowlers, Reggie Schwarz, Syd Pegler and the great Aubrey Faulkner, the last named also the leading all-rounder of his day. And they had also found solidity in newcomer Herbie Taylor at the top of the order.


The Times, however, published a warning which sounds suspiciously tailor-made for the modern times. According to them the tournament would “furnish a surfeit of healthy excitement, which would defeat the purpose of wholesome cricket among those who have its best interests at heart.”


However, the cricket that was finally produced failed to get anywhere near the expectations of administrators, spectators or press.


The two visiting sides soon ran into multiple problems.


Dissent had already been brimming in the Australian camp half a year ahead of the tour, and it was splashed in public when Hill ended up having a rather one-sided fisticuff with selector Peter McAllister in Sydney in February 1912.


While Hill was surprisingly allowed to play the home Tests after the incident, the board refused to give in to the commercial and administrative demands of the players. The team landed in England just 12 days after the Titanic went down. And as a result of the standoff,six of the biggest names were absent from the party. Trumper, Hill, Armstrong, Ransford, Cotter and Hanson Carter had made themselves unavailable for the tour. There were 10 debutants and only four Test quality regulars in Bardsley, Macartney, Matthews and Whitty.Syd Gregory, the captain, was not really in the class of Darling or Noble as a leader.


The South Africans were not really better off. Percy Sherwell was the original choice as captain, but this world-class wicketkeeper and universally accepted leader of men withdrew from the tour. Schwarz and White turned down the offer to captain the side. Ultimately, Frank Mitchell, an employee of Bailey, was given the honour. This caused astonishment in many quarters. Not only was Mitchell 40 and had not played regularly for six years, but he also happened to be English. In 1899, he had played a couple of Tests against South Africa for England.


The great googly bowler Bert Vogler also withdrew from the tour. He was at loggerheads with the board after his tour fee for the Australian summer of 1910-11 had been withheld due to poor behaviour.


The side also ran into trouble on the field. The wrist spinners, so effective in the matting wickets of their country, became less than lethal on the surfaces of England. Batsmen of the other teams were also gradually mastering the art of countering the googly.


The problems of the two teams were compounded by tribulations of weather. The elements of England, the temperamental heavens, washed away most of the merriment. The spring was damp and the summer that followed was the wettest since 1766 when such record keeping began. In June, July and August, rainfall was more than twice the annual average. If this was not enough, August also broke records as the coldest, dullest and wettest month of the 20th century. The players remained fidgeting in the pavilions, and the number of spectators who turned up at the matches dwindled to a trickle through the three months.


Two matches between England and Australia were washed out, in conditions that Fry described as pure mud.


The matches that could be played, if rain held up long enough, were painstakingly one-sided. South Africa lost all but one of their matches by huge margins, a severe downpour at Trent Bridge allowing them to escape complete whitewash.


At Lord’s, a 93 by young Taylor rescued South Africa from 74 for five to the respectability of 263. In response Charles Kelleway hit 102, and Bardsley 164. The resulting lead of 127 proved to be decisive. Matthews spun the ball again to capture four wickets and the old reliable Llewellyn fought hard for 59. Australia won by 10 wickets.


At Nottingham, South Africa did manage a first innings lead of 110. It was their only performance of note on the tour. However, a deluge submerged the ground on the third day and not another ball could be bowled.


The bilateral Test series within the tournament ended 2-0 in favour of Australia.


The final match, effectively the decider, was held at The Oval. When it was argued that an additional match might have to be played to break any potential deadlock, there was very little appetite for a tenth Test after three months of damp squibs. Rain was a major player this time as well, and a decisive one. In conditions which the press and the Australian team dubbed “more suited for water polo”, England captured eight wickets for 21 runs, thus effectively winning the tournament. They also won the Ashes — comprising of the three Anglo-Australian Tests that featured in the fare.


Soon after this, the Australian and South African boards communicated that they could not afford to host two Test teams and hence subsequent triangular tournaments were put on hold. Wisden noted “the experiment is not likely to be repeated for many years to come — perhaps not in this generation.”


The idea was indeed shelved once the World War intervened, and taken out only 86 years later when India and Pakistan met at the Eden Gardens for the first match of the Asian Test Championships.


(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)