Michael Atherton and Allan Donald (right) were part of one of the most famous duels in the history of the sport in the five-match Test series in 1998 © Getty Images
Michael Atherton and Allan Donald (right) were part of one of the most famous duels in the history of the sport in the five-match Test series in 1998 © Getty Images

The cricket season is in full swing in the southern hemisphere, with the South Africans flagging its summer off by hosting England. The two sides are currently battling it out at the picturesque Newlands in Cape Town in the second Test, with England leading the series 1-0. The two sides are among the oldest Test-playing nations, with South Africa joining England and Australia in world cricket shortly after the first-ever Test, and have produced numerous memorable battles. Ahead of the clash, Amit Banerjee picks five of the most memorable clashes between the two teams in the five-day format in a rivalry spanning more than a century. LIVE CRICKET SCORECARD: South Africa vs England 2015-16, 1st Test at Durban, Day 1

1. 1st Test at Port Elizabeth, 1888-89: South Africa’s first-ever Test did not turn out to be a pleasant affair, although one may add that none of the touring parties was even aware of the match being an international fixture instead of being another tour match. The match, advertised initially as ‘Major Wharton’s XI vs South African XI’, was part of a tour that was organised by Major Wharton, an army officer based in the Cape region, who went to England and returned with a squad, which could be described as second-string, to compete against the South African sides.

South Africa were bowled out for a mere 84 in their first innings after electing to bat, England skipper Aubrey Smith leading the destruction with 5 for 19 and Johnny Briggs recording 4 for 39. The Englishmen, however, hardly bettered the hosts as they collapsed from 65 for 2 to 103 for 9, before eventually folding up for 148. South Africa’s second innings saw Arnold Fothergill take 4 for 19 to bowl them out for 148, and set themselves a target of 66 that would eventually be chased down with eight wickets to spare.

The second Test would turn out to be a more one-sided affair, as the Englishmen completed an innings and 202 runs, shooting the opposition out for47 for 43. Briggs took 7 for 17 (6 bowled, 1 LBW) and 8 for 11 (all bowled), but Gobo Ashley impressed in his only Test as well, taking 7 for 95 in the only Test innings he ever bowled in.

Nobody from either team had any idea that they had just contested in an international Test series, with the likes of Monty Bowden even passing away without the knowledge of the same. History, however, records the first Test as the entry of South Africa into Test cricket after Australia and England. READ: Monty Bowden — England’s youngest Test captain

2. 1st Test at Johannesburg, 1905-06: After making their international debut, South Africa would remain winless in international cricket for the next 16 years, recording heavy series defeats to both England and Australia, making international cricket a two-horse race. It was not until England’s tour of South Africa in 1905-06 that the Springboks (as the Proteas were known back in the day) would first taste international success. A major part of the credit for South Africa’s success in this series would go to their googly quartet, led by Reggie Schwarz.

South Africa was not taken seriously by both England and Australia prior to this series, as was evident in the below-par England side in which Plum Warner and Colin Blythe being the only players worth reckoning, despite South Africa beating an England XI consisting of the likes of KS Ranjitsinhji in their first-class tour of England a year-and-a-half ago.

Schwarz taught the art of googly to the Bert Vogler, Gordon White, and most importantly, the legendary Aubrey Faulkner. The quartet took England by surprise in their first innings after the visitors choose to bat. Schwarz collected 3 for 72, including the wicket of Warner, as England folded for 184. The Springboks however, had a tough time with the bat, getting bowled out for 91, with England scoring 190 in their second innings to set a stiff 284-run target.

The hosts were reeling at 105 for 6, and were staring at a certain defeat when White and Dave Nourse produced one of the most spectacular turnarounds in the history of cricket, stitching a 121-run stand for the seventh wicket before the former was bowled by Albert Relf. South Africa lost two more wickets thereafter, and were left needing another 45 at the time of the fall of the ninth wicket. Nourse then combined forces with wicketkeeper-captain Percy Sherwell to guide their side to their maiden Test win in a cliff-hanger of a contest. South Africa would maintain their momentum in the other matches as they managed to win the series with a convincing 4-1 margin. READ: South Africa beat England in a thriller to achieve their maiden Test win

3. 5th Test at Durban, 1939-40: England were leading the five- Test series during their 1939-40 tour of South Africa 1-0, courtesy their innings and 13-run win in the third match. The fifth and final Test of the series was to be a ‘timeless’ one in order to boost its chances of achieving a result. What progressed over the next 10 days, however, is one of the most talked-about Tests even to this day and has achieved cult status in the modern era.

South Africa set the tone of the match by batting for nearly three days to reach a score of 530 at a run rate of 1.96 every six balls (the Tests involved eight-ball overs). Pieter van der Bijl, father of Vintcent, batted for a remarkable 428 minutes during his innings of 125 — the longest innings by a South African till then. Dudley Nourse, son of Dave, also took his own sweet time in scoring runs as he batted for 364 minutes during his knock of 103. England debutant Reg Perks led the way among the bowlers with figures of 5 for 100.

England batsmen, barring Les Ames (84) and Eddie Paynter (62) struggled against the South African attack. They folded for 316 thanks to fine spells by Eric Dalton (4 for 59) and Chud Langton (3 for 71), 214 short of the South African total.

The hosts, however, decided not to enforce the follow-on in spirit of the ‘timeless’ Test. With skipper Alan Melville injured, Bruce Mitchell (89) opened alongside van der Bijl (97); the pair put on 191 for the first wicket. After a quick couple of wickets, the South African innings was further consolidated by a 104-run fifth-wicket stand between Melville (103) and Ken Viljoen (74), eventually finishing on 481 to set a massive 696-run target for the visitors on Day Six.

England lost Len Hutton (55) with 78 on the board. South Africa, at this stage, had a sense of belief that they could pull off a victory if they applied themselves. England had other plans: they dominated Day Seven with the bat to finish on 253 for 1. Day Eight was rained off, which was followed by England continuing to milk runs off the South African bowlers with utmost ease on Day Nine.

Bill Edrich brought up his double-ton, eventually getting dismissed for 219, while skipper Wally Hammond (140) and Paul Gibb (120) contributed with tons as England were poised at a comfortable 654 for 5 at tea on Day 10, just 42 away from pulling off a miraculous win. It was then that the rain-gods decided to interfere, and play was called off for the rest of the day.

The South African board failed to convince their England counterparts for an 11th day, and even offered the English players who were yet to bat a chartered flight to join their team-mates before boarding the ship back home. The English players were crestfallen at the end of the match, while some of the South Africans maintained that the rain could have produced a turnaround. In all, a record 1,981 runs were scored from 5,463 deliveries, both records of which are intact to this day. As many as 16 50-plus scores were registered, a record that would stand for nearly three decades. READ: Durban 1938-39 — The longest Test ever, a draw after 10 days of play

4. 3rd Test at Old Trafford, 1998: After two decades of international isolation, South Africa were readmitted into international cricket with a bang. The Proteas (as they were called now) managed to reach the semi-final of the 1992 World Cup, and were charting a meteoric rise in the sport, especially in the limited-overs format, under the charismatic leadership of Hansie Cronje. In their first tour of England since their return, South Africa drew the three-Test series in 1994 1-1, before beating them 1-0 in a five-Test series in 1995-96. The latter saw the second of the ferocious battles between Michael Atherton and Allan Donald, the South African pace spearhead who came to be known as the ‘White lightning’.
The battle of Johannesburg, in which Atherton managed to battle it out against Donald and co. to score an unbeaten 185 and help secure a draw for his side, served as a prelude to the one that was about to take place in the 1998 series.

South Africa handed England a comfortable 10-wicket thrashing in the second Test at Lord’s to gain a 1-0 lead, and started off in the third match at the Old Trafford with a score of 552 on board, thanks to Gary Kirsten’s 210 as well as Jacques Kallis’ 132. The Proteas had no problems running through their opponents’ batting-order, gaining a massive 369 runs lead after bowling England out for 183 in their first innings.
England needed a miracle to save the match as well as the series. Their prayers were ultimately answered in the stonewalling efforts of Alec Stewart (164) and Atherton (89): they held the England innings together, battling Donald’s fearsome spell of fast bowling that fetched him 6 for 88, with each wicket of his bringing South Africa closer to victory.

England finished on 369 for 9 at the close of play on the final day, managing to hold on to their lives by the thinnest of strands. The game would go on change the course of the series, as well as the legacy of the rivalry between the two teams. The following match would witness one of the greatest duels in the history of the sport, with Donald bowling the spell of a lifetime to Atherton in the fourth innings, although England would go on to win the match comfortable by 8 wickets as well as the final game by 23 runs to finish series victors.

5. 5th Test at Centurion, 1999-00: Following the historic 1998 series, one that would define the careers of both Donald and Atherton, the battles shifted to the southern hemisphere where South Africa hosted England for a five-Test series. South Africa were on a rampage between the years 1998 and 2000, thrashing West Indies 5-0 at home, winning the maiden ICC Knockout tournament and reaching the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup (where they would be knocked out by Australia in the most heartbreaking fashion). They were the force to reckon at that point of time alongside world champions Australia, and Cronje was at the peak of his captaincy.

The first four Tests of the five-match series saw South Africa wallop England by an innings in the first and the fourth Tests at Johannesburg and Cape Town, while the other two were drawn. The first match saw Donald and Shaun Pollock share 19 wickets to run through the English batting order, establishing themselves as one of the most fearsome new-ball pairs in the world.

Fast-forward to the final Test at Centurion. South Africa had already clinched the series 2-0, reducing this game to a dead rubber. South Africa were struggling at 155 for 6 after 45 overs on Day One, before the unseasonal rains forced the match officials to call for stumps earlier than usual, as well as no play for the next three days.

That was when Cronje approached his English counterpart with an offer to bring the dead match, which was headed for a dull draw, back to life. According to the offer, South Africa would declare on a score ranging around 250, and the next two innings would have to be forfeited for England to have competitive score to chase. Since ICC rules permitted for only the second innings to be forfeited, England’s first innings was read as declared on nought for no loss without a ball being bowled. Nasser Hussain, of course, finally agreed to the offer after inspecting the pitch on the final day.

England struggled against the South African attack despite the absence of Donald, slumping to 102 for 4 before Stewart (73) and Michael Vaughan (69) stitched a 126-run fifth-wicket partnership to bring the visitors back on track. England lost a few more wickets thereafter, and needed 9 off the last 13 balls with 2 wickets in hand when Darren Gough, who entered the pitch in a heavy state of a hangover, managed to hit the winnings runs to secure. It was then perceived as one of England’s finest wins. The Cronje-Hussain pact was widely lauded across the world, with many seeing it as a revolutionary move.

The dark truth however, would be disclosed to the public a three months later on April 12, when the match-fixing scandal had erupted. Cronje confessed to the King’s Commission that he had been approached by a bookmaker to speak to Hussain for an early declaration, and was gifted with R50,000 and a leather jacket after ensuring the match events occurred as per the bookie’s wishes. Cronje was handed a life ban thereafter, with Hussain himself condemning the incident after initially offering praise for the South African skipper. READ: Centurion forfeitures and the day Hansie Cronje sold Test cricket

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)