Robinson R: Bert Sutcliffe in Ellis Park 1953-4

Here is one more pearl from the golden past. Ray Robinson describes the atmosphere in Ellis Park. This describes some of the play from the second(?) Test of the New Zealand in South Africa series of 1953-54.

The Greatest Eighty in Test Cricket - by Ray Robinson

Neil Adcock and Bert Sutcliffe were the central figures in the most sensational drama since bodyline rocked the cricket world. The batsmen were under fire from Adcock's bouncers.

The scene of the drama was Ellis Park, where half-mast flags mourned the deaths of 151 people in the Christmas Eve train disaster between Wellington and Auckland.

The Johannesburgh wicket's hard surface had a thicker topcoat of grass. It is of the kind that adds yards to a bowler's speed, feet to his bounce and inches to his smile of exultation. New Zealanders fell in confusion. Adcock's assault bruised several. One is bowled off his ribs, two collapse and another goes to hospital coughing up blood after a blow on chest!

When Sutcliffe came to bat, as usual his fair, curly head was capless. Immediately a ball from Adcock rears towards him, he tyries to flick it away. It strikes the side of his duckling head with a crack heard all around. Sutcliffe sinks to the turf, one hand pressed to his burst left ear, the other still clings to his bat.

In horrified silence the crowd of 22,000 watch him removed by a stretcher. The ambulance takes him to the hospital where he is treated. By the time he returns to Ellis park, NZ are 6/82. Mooney, the wicket keeper hangs on, keeping the ball out for more than two hours and rubbing his bruises between the overs. NZ'ers hardly look like reaching 122 to avoid the follow-on.

The crowd shouts a hero welcome as Suctliffe comes back to bat, a pad of cotton wool strapped over his ear. To the fieldman he looks dazed. The very first ball he faces, clouts for a six.

The ball's fall over the leg boundary sets the tempo for the most thrilling onslaught on Test bowling. Adcock comes back. the left-hander pushes him to off amid a sympathetic murmur. It swells to applause as a cover hit races for four.

Movement losens Sutcliffe's ear pad. First-aid attandants come back to bandage his head. Looking like a warrior in a battle of scene in the palace of Versailles he saves the follow-on with 3 wickets to go.

NZ's need for runs becomes so urgent Sutcliffe can not be content to try for fours! The field's thick carpet of kikuyu takes the pace out of ground-strokes. So, if he can measure the ball quickly enough for a full-blooded stroke, Sutcliffe smacks it over the wire fence. No slogging at everything though. Sutcliffe the six-hitter remains Sutcliffe the batsman, his bandaged brow over the ball and a straight bat ready for naything demanding it.

NZ's pace bowler R. W. Blair, 22, was left in his hotel room overcome by the tragic news that his fiance'e was killed in the train disaster. So when the 9th. wicket falls at 154, it looks like the end of the innings and the players begin to walk back to the dressing rooms.

But with his team in a desperate plight, grief stricken Bob Blair has come to Ellis Park to help if he can. Amid a hush, he unexpectedly appears on the field. Walking to meet him, Sutcliffe puts a comforting arm around his breaved mate's shoulders. As they go to the pitch together the crowd breaks the silence with prolonged applause.

The innings rushes to an end packed with excitement. Sutcliffe lifts his fourth, fifth and sixth sixes off Tayfield in one over. Thousands stand to roar appreciation of each stroke. Blair swings the off spinner for another six to bring the cost of the over to 25. The score leaps to 33 more in ten minutes before Blair is stumped at 187.

After Sutcliffe came back his contribution was 80* while NZ added 105. He struck 7 sixers and 4 fours. Until Sutcliffe played it, such an innings did not exist outside schoolboy's dreams.

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