South Africa vs Australia, Past encounters – Part 3 of 7

In Australia in 1949, cricket was the king of games.

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Lindsay Hassett led the Australian side during their tour to South Africa © Getty Images
Lindsay Hassett led the Australian side during their tour to South Africa in 1949-50 © 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 third installment of this seven part series, Arunabha Sengupta covers the first three Test series between the two sides after the Second World War.


South Africa vs Australia, 1949-50


No of Tests: 5


Result: Australia 4 South Africa 0


In Australia in 1949, cricket was the king of games. Yet, it had just lost its crown of glory.


Don Bradman, knighted and immortalised, had just left the cricket ground forever, sliding into the role of an administrator and selector. The sporting scene was, as Ray Robinson put it, “like a room with the light switched off.”


On March 2, Bradman met fellow selectors Chappie Dwyer and Jack Ryder to select the first ever Australian Test team after the era of The Don. The side would be travelling to South Africa to play five Test matches.


And somehow, when the list was finalised, Keith Miller’s name was not on it. Magnetic, iconic and the dashing hero of the cricket world, this great all-rounder was curiously omitted. Whispers suggested that it was the handiwork of the greatest batsman the world has known.


As Joseph Stalin replaced his foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov with Andrei Gromyko in the Politburo power struggle, a cartoon in Sydney’s Sunday Sun showed two blimpish cricket lovers ruminating: “Fancy! Miller and Molotov in one week!”


A telegraphic vote on the captaincy by the 13 delegates of the Australian board ended in a 7-6 verdict in favour of Lindsay Hassett against Arthur Morris.


The cricketers arrived in Durban on board the Nestor, and South Africa’s 38-year-old captain and master batsman Dudley Nourse got up on the foredeck to welcome the party. Hassett greeted him with the words, “How are you, Dudley? I hope you’re not feeling too well.”


Hassett delighted the South Africans with his sparkling sense of humour. And on the coach trip back to Durban after a two day match at Richards Bay, he laid a wreath on the grave of JJ Ferris, the brilliant Sydney medium-pacer who had been a casualty of the Boer War.


The visitors initially lost the services of Bill Johnston to a nasty accident. Ray Lindwall was troubled by fibrositis of the shoulder. Hence an urgent wire was sent for a replacement. Miller, who was quietly wintering in Sydney, and had refused four offers to play professional cricket in England, was summoned to the side.


The visitors received a scare from Transvaal, when the rain affected Ellis Park wicket saw them routed for 84 and 108. With the home side requiring just 68 to win in the second innings, the supporters rejoiced. It was the eve of the opening of the Voortrekker Monument at Pretoria commemorating the Afrikaners’ defeat of the Zulus at Blood River in 1838. There was thus a double celebration in the offing. However, Ian Johnson captured six for 22, ending the chase at 50.


In the first Test at Johannesburg, Australia lost both openers without a run between them. But they recovered through hundreds by Hassett and Sam Loxton. Ian Johnson chipped in with the bat, scoring 66, and the final total was an imposing 413. Miller made merry of his recall with five wickets in the first innings to stop the hosts at 167. Only opener Eric Rowan resisted with 60. In the second innings, Johnston, by now recovered from his misadventures, ran through the batting with six for 44. Australia won by an innings and 85 runs.


In the second Test at Newlands, young Neil Harvey made a spectacular 178 in four hours, as casually as if indulging in a trivial game of street cricket. Loxton recalls that it was the only occasion he ever got out through lack of practice. “Never mind singles, he was taking three off the last ball of every over. When I finally got to face the bowling, I hadn’t seen one for ages, and got out.”


Dudley Nourse and Eric Rowan fought back after Australia had declared at 526, but the rest of the batting was not up to facing the top quality attack. Leg spinning all-rounder Colin McCool scooped out the lower-order, and the hosts faced another follow on. Nourse demonstrated his class yet again, scoring a flawless 114 in the second innings. But, Lindwall, stung by a report in Sydney Sun that had labelled him ‘the portly ghost of a once great fast bowler’, produced a blistering bowling performance to claim five second innings wickets. It was mainly due to the obstinate 102 run partnership between tail-enders Hugh Tayfield and Tufty Mann that Australia had to bat again, but they knocked off the required runs with eight wickets to spare.


And then came the rains. Early in the New Year, the team’s luggage van was marooned by floodwaters between Uniondale Road and Willowmere. Scorer and luggage-man Bill Ferguson was forced to hire a railway bus to rescue the bags. And further rain on the evening of the first day of the third Test at Kingsmead produced one of the most remarkable matches in history.


South Africa had ended the first day at 240 for two, Rowan and Nourse engaged in another excellent partnership. However, when the game started after a 45-minute delay on the second day, the last ball of Johnston’s first over reared up and Nourse edged to Ron Saggers while trying to evade the ball. Not eager to bat immediately, Hassett instructed Miller and Johnston to bowl straight to a deep set field, and the new ball was not taken. A few catches were also dropped, mostly with the captain’s blessings. However, in any case, seven wickets fell for 57 between lunch and tea.


After Morris and Jack Moroney had put on 31 for the first wicket, Tayfield was set in motion. On that drying wicket the young off-spinner picked up seven for 23, and all the Australian wickets fell within the space of 44 runs. The day closed with the fall of the last wicket and Australia trailed by 236.


That evening, journalist Dick Whittington met a chatty Miller on the stope of the Edward Hotel. The all-rounder stunned his friend by saying, “I’m sorry for Dudley Nourse. He’s going to have the whole nation down on him like a ton of bricks when South Africa lose.”


After a visit to the local Bureau of Meteorology on the rest day, Nourse looked at possibility of more thunderstorms on Monday afternoon and decided against enforcing follow-on. They lost their third wicket at the stroke of lunch to go into the break at 85 for three, ahead by 321. And after the interval, they lost the remaining seven wickets to Johnson and Johnston for just 14 runs.


Still, 336 was a tough ask in the fourth innings on a wicket that had already seen two sub-100 scores. When the Australians ended the day at 80 for three, not too many gave them a chance. They lost Morris early the next morning, his back-foot dislodging a bail. But, Harvey played another unbelievable innings on that difficult surface. As Mann and Tayfield slowly tired after long spells, the left-hander split the field for priceless runs, adding 135 with Loxton. And with McCool looking unflappable at the other end, he carried Australia past the target with his personal score on 151 not out.


At Johannesburg, Morris and Moroney put on 214 for the first wicket and Australia piled 465. South Africa were once again in trouble at 148 for six before sturdy lower order resistance of wicketkeeper George Fullerton, Tayfield and Mann took them to 352. That did not leave enough time for a result, but Moroney helped himself to his second hundred of the match and Harvey carried on his march with yet another ton.


The final Test at Port Elizabeth was once again a sorry tale for the hosts. Morris and Hassett hit big hundreds, Harvey piled on another century, and Australia amassed 549 for seven. The dispirited South Africans were dismissed twice within the space of 98.3 overs, Nourse with 37 and 55 providing the only semblance of a fight.


As he stood by the rails of Athenic in Table Bay, the victorious Hassett scattered a handful of rands among the excited children on the dock. It had been a great tour.


Neil Harvey (right) was in great touch against South Africa © Getty Images
Neil Harvey was in great touch against South Africa in 1952-53 © Getty Images


Australia vs South Africa, 1952-53


No of Tests: 5

Result: Australia 2 South Africa 2


South Africa had won just one of their previous 33 Tests. With the visiting team hardly expected to draw crowds to the grounds, the Australian board asked the South African Cricket Association (SCA) to cover all the expenses of the tour.


Not only was their record dismal, they were without some of their better players. Eric and Athol Rowan, Dudley Nourse and Tufty Mann were unavailable for the trip. On the other side, Australia had convincingly hammered the strong West Indian side containing the three Ws, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine.


Even at home, no one gave Jack Cheetham’s men a chance.


However, the man Cheetham was a visionary. Before the voyage, he sat with manager Ken Viljoen to plan their conquest. Jackie McGlew and Russell Endean joined forces to work on their methods of attack, fielding positions and the finer details of their strategy.


Danie Craven, a former rugby star, was now Professor of Physical Education at Stellenbosch University. Viljoen wrote to him, asking for assistance. Craven sent across a schedule of exercises and hints at how to warm-up before batting, bowling and fielding. Training started in South Africa itself.


The entire team subscribed to this scientific approach. John Watkins and Headley Keith even had cine shots taken of their batting and bowling at the nets to study and work on the faults. McGlew and Roy McLean batted on concrete wickets, arranging for the fastest bowlers of the locality to hurl down short pitched balls in order to perfect their hook shots.

[inline-quotes align=”left”]Ian Craig averaged only 15 from the seven Test innings in 1957-58 in South Africa, and it was apparent that his prodigy status was getting increasingly dated.[/inline-quotes]

On board the Dominion Monarch regular meetings were held and training sessions arranged, with all the Craven exercises bundled together. A ‘Bounce Committee’ was set up, consisting of Watkins, Eric Norton and Gerald Innes, with Percy Mansell as Treasurer. Their job was to fine team members for ‘misdemeanours’. The ones late for shipboard functions were docked 2s 6d, for being unshaven the charge was 1s, for missing church 1s 6d, and if someone dared to move in on a colleague’s girlfriend, another 2s 6d was levied.


The very day they landed at Fremantle, the team was taken through drills at the Western Australia Cricket Association (WACA) ground. An 11.00 pm curfew was imposed and players were banned from playing golf before the first Test. According to Cheetham, whacking a stationary ball might upset their preparation for meeting a moving one. During evenings, Cheetham and Viljoen went over the scoring charts produced by Bill Ferguson.


All this preparation bore fruit. At Brisbane, Watkins and Michael Melle produced consistent length and hostility to restrict the home side to 280 in spite of yet another hundred by Harvey. But, in the tormenting heat, Doug Ring turned his leg-breaks alarmingly and stopped the visitors for 221.


Fine half centuries by Morris and Harvey ensured a second innings score of 277 in spite of an increasingly threatening Tayfield. The target of 337 proved a bit too much against the pace of Lindwall, and the South Africans ended at 240. Nevertheless, they had proved competitive enough for generating interest in the remaining Tests.


At Melbourne, the tables were turned through a spectacular Tayfield and Endean show.


The start was precarious yet again as the batting struggled against Miller and Lindwall. The second wicket was down at nine, soon it was 27 for three and later 126 for seven. Some late order resistance lifted them to 227.


It looked set to be a one-sided affair before all the fielding drills took effect. At 84 for no loss, Morris drove Tayfield and Cheetham at short mid-on just about managed to parry the ball from high over his head. Tayfield threw himself to his right to pluck the catch inches from the ground. He continued to take wickets regularly, with only Miller counter-attacking with gusto. At 243 for eight, the all-rounder lofted Tayfield over his head, and it looked likely to end somewhere among the spectators. But Endean, circling the boundary, leapt high and caught it with an extended right hand. “Good God, he’s caught the bloody thing,” Miller exploded. The lead was just 16 as Tayfield ended with six for 84.


When South Africa batted again, Endean, with glides, glances and steers behind the wicket, blunted Lindwall and Miller. Batting seven and a half hours, he compiled a resolute 162. The target for Australia was 373 and Tayfield got into the act. Miller, Hassett, Harvey, Gil Langley and Graeme Hole all fell to him and Australia collapsed to 216 for eight. A hard hitting 61 run partnership between Richie Benaud and Ring delayed the end, but Tayfield snapped up both of them to end with 13 for 165 in the match. It was South Africa’s first victory over Australia in 42 years.


Australia bounced back. At Sydney, Lindwall and Miller hit back to skittle the tourists for 173. And Harvey piled up 190 to bat them out of the match. Endean and McLean fought hard in the second innings, but could not prevent loss by an innings.


In the fourth Test at Adelaide, the hosts showed all the signs of going for the kill. Young opening batsman Colin McDonald and captain Hassett added 275 for the second wicket. Buoyed by half centuries from Harvey and Hole Australia put 530 on the board. But the South Africans were not too eager to surrender. With Miller and Lindwall both suffering injuries, Endean, Ken Funston, wicketkeeper John Waite and Watkins all got useful runs. They batted well into the fourth day and the resulting total was 387.


Harvey now scored 116 in just over two hours, but with his quick bowlers Lindwall and Miller still indisposed, Hassett delayed the declaration till well into the fifth day. McGlew and Waite put on 81 for the first wicket, and although some quick wickets were lost, the South Africans held on for a draw, finishing at 177 for six.


The final Test at Melbourne produced yet another remarkable contest. Australia followed their policy of batting the opposition out of the game. Harvey continued his supreme form to hit 205 in less than five hours. Morris was unlucky to be run out one short of his century, and 17-year-old debutant Ian Craig delighted all with a crisply struck 53. Australia ended at 520.


Solid contributions from Endean, Waite, McLean, Cheetham and Mansell helped the South Africans to respond with 435. Since the series was still undecided this was a six day Test and in spite of the high first innings scores the match remained alive. Eddie Fuller, the fast-medium bowler from Cape Province playing only his second Test, now produced the performance of his life. He claimed five including the all-important wicket of Harvey while Tayfield and Mansell polished off the remaining. The Australian innings ended at 207 with only Craig providing resistance.


The target of 295 was a steep one, but Endean and Watkins added 82 for the second wicket. And finally McLean, batting with a bruised eye, finished things off with an 80-minute innings of 76 studded with 14 boundaries. South Africa triumphed by five wickets and the series was squared.


“South Africa may become the cock of the cricketing walk,” wrote Jack FIngleton. The prophecy would prove to be true a decade and a half down the line.


South Africa vs Australia, 1957-58


No of Tests: 5


Result: Australia 3 South Africa 0


It was an Australian side in extreme transition, undergoing almost violent upheaval. There was neither Lindwall nor Miller, no Johnston or Johnson. The captain was the 22-year-old prodigy Ian Craig. There were two all-rounders who had not quite proved themselves at the top level, Benaud and Alan Davidson.


On the other side, Jackie McGlew led a team of established cricketers. Waite, Endean, McLean, Funston, Tayfield were all there from the earlier encounter. The side had been bolstered by the firepower of Neil Adcock and Peter Heine, while all-round excellence had been added through Trevor Goddard.


In the end, the star of the tour was Benaud. In all the matches he took 106 wickets at 19 apiece and scored 817 runs at over 50. In the Tests, he scored 329 runs at 54 and captured 30 wickets at 22.


Before his first delivery in a match, he spun over 1000 balls in the nets. Ray Robinson wrote, “I have never seen a bowler prepare more thoroughly for a Test tour.” When the rest of the team went golfing or to the races, he remained spinning the ball, and then applying calomine borciac lotion to his corn-embossed fingers.


The series kicked off in Johannesburg, and it looked as if a long struggle was on the cards for the visitors. McGlew and Goddard put on 176 for the first wicket, and Waite hammered 115. The total of 470 for nine declared provided little joy for the Australians apart from the five wicket haul on debut by left-arm pacer Ian Meckiff.


Soon Heine had the batsmen hopping with his hostile pace, and the score was 62 for four. The rescue act was carried out by McDonald and another debutant batting at number six, Bob Simpson.


Following this Benaud walked in at 151 for five and hammered 122 with 20 boundaries to take Australia to 368. In the second innings, Australian bowling fired with Alan Davidson picking up six wickets for 34. The side did not have the time to attempt the 304-run target, but the signs were encouraging enough for the young captain and his new look side.


The second Test at Cape Town started with McDonald and Jim Burke putting on 190 for the first wicket and the Australians amassing 449. After Tayfield’s five-wicket haul had promised turn in the pitch, it was Australia’s match all the way. Benaud and Lindsay Kline reduced the hosts to 209 in the first innings.


When the South Africans followed on, Craig handed Benaud the new ball along with Davidson. He claimed five for 49. From 56 for one, the home team collapsed to 99 all out. Kline, the left arm wrist spinner, ended the match with a hat-trick.


At Durban, the South Africans looked like striking back. Adcock fired the visitors out for 163 with six wickets for 43. The hosts looked all set to square the series when some inexplicable batting ruined the plot.


McGlew and Waite came together at a situation of some crisis with the score reading 29 for two. But, the approach they took was strange to say the least. McGlew compiled the slowest century by a South African, scoring 105 in 575 minutes. Waite was not far behind, taking 510 minutes over his 134. At a distinct advantage at the start of the third day, the South Africans plodded through the hours scoring just 168. When it was announced that McGlew and Waite had reached another record, wicketkeeper Wally Grout chirped from behind the stumps, “Must be a long playing record.” And then the hosts allowed the innings to run its course to finish at 384.


In the second innings, Burke, Harvey and Mackay batted long enough to ensure a draw.


At Johannesburg, Benaud was promoted up the order to number four and celebrated it with a hard hitting hundred. Even then Heine almost put the South Africans back in the game  with quick wickets before Davidson scored an audacious 62 from number nine and added valuable runs with Ken Mackay. In the face of 401, South Africa surrendered twice to Benaud and Kline to lose by an innings.


By the fifth match at Port Elizabeth, the series had been lost and the hosts lacked the stomach for fight. It required a 66 by Tayfield to rescue them to some sort of respectability in the first innings. The off-spinner went on to take three wickets, and due to the sustained bowling of Heine, Adcock and Goddard, the lead was restricted to 77.


However, the home batting collapsed dreadfully in the second innings in front of Davidson and Benaud. The paltry total of 144 meant just 68 to win and the visitors got there with Grout making merry after being allowed to open the innings.


Ian Craig himself averaged only 15 from the seven Test innings, and it was apparent that his prodigy status was getting increasingly dated. However, he did receive a telegram from the Prime Minister Robert Menzies which said, “Congratulations on a remarkable team success.”


 Read Part 2 of the series here.


 Read Part 1 of the series here.


(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)


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