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The final hurrah of the old South African regime was a series riven by discontent and ended in humiliation for Australia
February 28, 2009
The series between South Africa and Australia in the spring of 1970 has gone down in history as the final hurrah of the old South African regime.
Australia were humiliated, losing all four Tests by wide margins, and many consider that South African side - which contained Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow, Barry Richards and Mike Procter - to be one of the finest Test teams of all time. But the promise was unfulfilled, as South Africa had to wait more than 21 years to play official international cricket again.
However, while Australia were crushed, what is often overlooked is the deep discontent in the team at the time. The South African tour followed straight on from an unhappy, if victorious, five-Test series in India.
"It [India] was the toughest tour I've ever been on," said Bill Lawry, Australia's captain. "There were very pleasant memories on the field, but very unpleasant ones from the accommodation, the type of travel, the food we were getting and lack of support we were getting from the board."
In all, the Australians, who all had other full-time jobs, were away from home for more than five months. And the discontent, which spilled over into a showdown with the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) by the end of the tour, sowed the seeds for the player-administrator battles that were to lead to the formation of World Series Cricket seven years later.
It was an exhausted and debilitated squad that left Bombay on New Year's Eve at the end of the 10-week Indian leg, and when they landed in Johannesburg on January 2, Alan McGilvray, reporting for the ABC network, was shocked by how haggard they looked.
On the surface, Lawry's team bounced back well. But whereas Australia were battle weary, South Africa, with a young side who hadn't played for three years, were raring to go. And the conditions couldn't have been more different to the ones in India. Australia had become accustomed to playing on slow, spinning pitches: now they were confronted with fast, bouncy ones. With barely two weeks to acclimatise, they were never in the contest and they lost the first Test, at Newlands, by 170 runs.
The side was tired - physically and mentally - and several of the big-name players simply didn't perform. The biggest disappointment was Garth McKenzie, the cutting edge of the Australian attack, who took 1 for 333 in the Tests, and who was so out of sorts that at one time there were suspicions that he was suffering from hepatitis. He had shed almost a stone in India. There were also divisions within the Australian squad, and the side was given a hostile reception by the crowds - not helped by Lawry giving two fingers to some noisy spectators during the opening Test.
In the aftermath of the win in Cape Town, the South Africans immediately proposed that the tour be extended to allow for a fifth Test at the Wanderers (three- or five-match series were then the norm) and the ACB readily agreed. But because that would have meant the trip lasting three days more than the players had signed up for, their consent was needed. The board proposed they be paid an additional A$200 apiece on top of their A$2800 tour fee.
To the weary Australians, another match was not high on their list of priorities. They wanted to get home, and the schedule was taking its toll - "We dropped 16 catches in four Tests," Lawry admitted, "and I am sure that was because of mental and physical fatigue."
At a team meeting on the rest day of the Transvaal match, a proposal was put to the squad that the last two first-class matches (against Western Province and Orange Free State) be cancelled and replaced with the additional Test at the Wanderers.
While the response was hardly enthusiastic - Paul Sheahan said he was "astonished" and that it highlighted the "board's desire to make as much money as it could" - there was a resigned acceptance that the players were powerless to do anything but agree.
However, Ian Chappell, who had already gained a reputation as a straight-talking, no-nonsense individual, saw that this presented the players with a chance to bloody the board's nose. "That's bullshit," Chappell said. "The board can get ****ed." Although initially all bar three of the squad - Chappell, McKenzie and Ray Jordon, the reserve wicketkeeper - agreed, in the end they asked for A$500 each to play the game instead of the board's A$200.
Lawry insisted it was all or nothing, and as the meeting broke up it was clear that behind the scenes Chappell had more support. It appeared the plan was dead.
But the South African board was not going to give up. Several members had already privately expressed their belief that this might be their last major series, and they wanted to squeeze every last ounce from it. They offered to pay the balance of A$300 if the ACB was prepared to stump up A$200.
As soon as he heard of the plan, Chappell angrily dismissed it, arguing that the fight was between the players and the ACB. "If we don't stand up for our rights here, we deserved to be pushed around for the rest of our lives."
There was briefly a suggestion that an XI could be fielded from those willing to play, but Lawry killed that stone dead.
By the end of the tour the Australian camp was divided, but nevertheless Lawry proposed writing a letter to the board highlighting the players' grievances and making suggestions regarding future tours. Although there was an offer that the whole squad sign it, Lawry said it was down to him as captain to do so.
"That was the end of Lawry as captain of Australia," Chappell wrote later. "Then it was just a matter of finding any excuse to get rid of him."
The ACB didn't have to wait too long, unceremoniously dumping Lawry as captain and player during the 1970-71 Ashes series even though he was averaging over 40 that summer. But his replacement was to cause the board even more headaches in the years ahead. It was Ian Chappell.
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