John Waite dies at 81
John Waite, one of South Africa's greatest wicketkeepers, has died in Johannesburg at the age of 81. Waite is famous for being the first player to complete 50 Test matches for South Africa, reaching the mark in his last Test, in 1965.
He represented Eastern Province, Transvaal and South Africa in a long career from 1948 to 1966. Although tall for a wicketkeeper, at well over 6 feet, he kept immaculately throughout his lengthy career to South Africa's fast bowlers and spinners, especially South Africa's match-winning offspinner Hugh Tayfield, off whom he effected many stumpings.
He held the record for most dismissals (141) by a South Africa wicketkeeper for several years, till he was overtaken by Davie Richardson and subsequently Mark Boucher. Waite still holds the joint-record for most dismissals by a South Africa keeper in a Test series, with 26 during the 1961-62 series against New Zealand. Boucher equalled that record in 1998.
Waite was picked in ESPNcricinfo's all-time South Africa XI ahead of Richardson and Boucher.
He was also a dependable batsman, opening in the early part of his career, but dropping down the order once Trevor Goddard joined Jack McGlew in 1955. He scored four Test centuries, one against England at Old Trafford in 1955, two against Australia in 1957-58 and one against New Zealand in 1961-62, and had a Test average of 30.44.
A student at Rhodes University, Waite sprang to immediate prominence on the occasion of his first-class debut against George Mann's MCC touring team in 1948/49, scoring 80 in an Eastern Province innings of 397. His promise was evident and, after a successful run in the 1950-51 Currie Cup season, during which he scored 578 runs at 82.57 including 219 against Griqualand West in Kimberley, he was given a Test cap.
He stroked an elegant 76 on Test debut, at Trent Bridge, and then got a century against Lancashire on the same tour. During that innings, he and Eric Rowan protested against the slow clapping of the crowd by sitting on the pitch. On returning to the pavilion Rowan got into a fracas with a spectator and as a result never represented South Africa again after the tour.
Waite soon cemented his place as South Africa's regular wicketkeeper, forcing his contemporary Russell Endean to reinvent himself into a specialist batsman.
On the 1952-53 tour of Australia, Waite struggled against the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, but got an important 64 while opening in the fifth Test, at Melbourne, with Lindwall and Miller unavailable, helping South Africa square the series 2-2. Allrounder John Watkins, now 88, remains the sole survivor of the 1952-53 tour.
In 1953-54 Waite set a new world record of 23 Test dismissals in a series against New Zealand, before breaking that record in 1961-62. After a steady 1954-55 season he toured England again in 1955 and got 265 runs in the Tests. In the third Test, Waite scored 113 at Old Trafford in a winning cause. He was a great player of spin bowling and his 60, out of a total of 151, in the second innings on a turning Oval wicket, against Jim Laker and Tony Lock, was considered one of his best Test innings.
In 1956-57 he played in all five home Tests against England, but he only scored 169 runs in the series and had 16 dismissals. But the following year he was in fine form with both gloves and bat against Ian Craig's Australian side, scoring two hundreds and finishing top of the averages with 362 runs at 40.22. He also had 14 dismissals on that tour.
After a strong domestic season in 1959-60, he toured England for a third time in 1960, and though he scored 267 runs in the five Tests, South Africa suffered a disappointing 3-0 series loss. During the tour, South Africa's fast bowler Geoff Griffin was called for throwing, prompting Waite to write a book called Perchance to bowl at the end of the series which had the theme of throwing.
He scored his fourth and last Test century against John Reid's 1961-62 New Zealand touring team, and then toured Australia and New Zealand in 1963-64 with a young Denis Lindsay as his understudy. In the third Test against New Zealand at Auckland, which was expected to be Waite's swansong in Tests, he played as a batsman with Lindsay keeping.
After Lindsay failed during the home series against England in 1964-65, Waite made a comeback to Tests and played the fourth and fifth Tests of that series. Waite played one more Currie Cup season in 1965-66, finishing his career very quietly.
Peter Martin is a journalist based in South Africa