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Opinions are bound to differ as to which was the best combination from South Africa to visit this country, but the team of 1935 undoubtedly excelled the playing records of al the previous sides sent here from the Cape. The strong team brought over in 1907 by Percy Sherwell won 17 of their 27 first-class matches and were beaten four times; the players whom H. F. Wade captained last season fulfilled a programme of no fewer than 39 games and of the 31 ranking as first-class they won 17 and lost only two. Until August 13, they did not know defeat; then, having played 23 first-class matches they went down in successive fixtures before Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, and Essex at Southend.
Highly successful though the general result of their tour proved, however, the great triumph of the South Africans was in winning a Test match in England for the first time and, by virtue of that victory at Lord's - the one game of the five that yielded a definite result - beating England in the rubber. The players confounded the expectations not only of many people in England but of sound critics in their own country. The secret of success could be traced very considerably to the transition in South Africa from matting to turf wickets. The players, when they arrived here, did not have to learn - or unlearn - so much as did their predecessors and this 1935 side held a pronounced advantage compared with previous South African teams visiting England.
Cricket authorities in South Africa who were responsible for the change of policy are to be congratulated upon their foresight; the team selectors, too, came out with flying colours. It was thought that they were taking a risk in picking Langton so soon after he had undergone an operation; the choosing of Rowan instead of Briscoe was another hotly debated matter. In the event, both those selections were justified up to the hilt. Langton proved himself the big discovery of the tour by taking most wickets; Rowan scored nearly two thousand runs in the three-day games and made six hundreds during the season. The members of the team were:
The team did not include a real off-spin bowler, but in every other way the South Africans proved themselves a well-equipped side. Possibly they lost a few admirers by rather drab batting when intent upon making a draw in the fourth Test match at Manchester, but on the whole they played very attractive cricket and were a most popular band of cricketers, drawing crowds far above the number expected wherever they went. Of special satisfaction was the readiness with which the South Africans agreed to enter into the lbw experiment. They might have lost the first Test at Trent Bridge but for rain on the third day and they certainly had some anxious moments in the last Test match. At Lord's, too, they enjoyed a turn of Fortune's wheel in winning the toss on a wicket that from the first was doubtful and then having their second innings after rain had knitted the turf. That does not alter the fact that their bowling and batting in the one decided Test encounter proved definitely superior to that of England.
Quickly jumping into form, the South Africans led off with four consecutive victories, including one over Surrey. At Lord's, Middlesex pressed them hard and the margin of success was no more than 22 runs; that match provided some of the most interesting cricket seen at headquarters during the season. Next, Derbyshire were overthrown and when the tourists went to Sheffield and overcame Yorkshire, long before the second Test match, everybody had become more or less convinced of their all-round ability and that they formed a combination whom even the full strength of England would find hard to beat.
No small amount of surprise was occasioned when disaster occurred but by that time the strain of the tour was making itself felt. It was, indeed, rather remarkable, having regard to the extent to which the team were hit by injuries and illness, that defeat was staved off for so long. A week before the match with Gloucestershire, when Balaskas, Crisp, Siedle and Bell were all injured, a mishap to Wade during the fixture with Glamorgan led to the calling in of a South African journalist, who was reporting the matches of the South Africans, to field as a substitute. At one time, there was also a possibility that the tourists, with so many players unfit, might have to seek outside assistance, and H. G. Owen-Smith intimated his willingness to help if required, although it would have meant breaking his qualification for Middlesex. Happily it was not found necessary to ask for such aid in carrying through the heavy programme which amounted to five more matches than the number undertaken by the Australian team the preceding summer.
Although Bell was not nearly up to the bowling form he showed on his visit to England in 1929, he had days of success and not one member of the party could be held to have failed. In the first-class games, eight players scored over a thousand runs, and five bowlers took over fifty wickets. Coming to individual achievements, Mitchell, Cameron and Langton were the men who stood out most prominently. Even though it was the evenness of the South Africans as a team that made them so hard to beat, the classic batting of Mitchell, the brilliant wicket-keeping and forceful hitting of Cameron and the skill of Langton, who could spin the ball as well as swing it, deserve first consideration. If Mitchell did not score so many runs in first-class matches as when here in 1929, he was much more consistent. Owing to synovitis he did not play after the opening match against Worcestershire until June, but he was quick to strike form and his batting frequently changed the course of a match. His greatest triumph was in the Test match at Lord's when on a suspect wicket he played an innings of 164 not out. Mitchell met slow or pace bowling equally well. Scoring altogether 1,679 runs during the tour for an average of 44.18 he made four hundreds, two of them in Test matches. Altogether he proved himself a most accomplished cricketer. As a slip fieldsman, he was unsurpassed on his side and when properly used he bowled slow leg breaks with effect, notably at Bath and Swansea.
Cameron, whose death shortly after his return to South Africa came as a great shock and a tremendous loss to the game, proved himself as good a wicket-keeper as Oldfield and with the captaincy off his shoulders - he led South Africa for two seasons - he became a much freer and entertaining batsman. His value to the team because of his ability to play the type of game the occasion demanded was considerable. His powerful and clean hitting in the Test match at Lord's when wickets were falling cheaply and his not out century against Yorkshire were two of his best innings. His success with the bat allied to his wonderfully reliable work behind the wicket made him invaluable.
Langton made a most memorable appearance in this country. The youngest as well as the tallest cricketer of the fifteen players who came over, he took more wickets than anyone else - 115 for 21.16 runs apiece in the three-day games - and only on very rare occasions bowled badly. With the new ball he made his deliveries swing late and rise awkwardly and when the shine had worn off he was almost equally a problem to batsmen because of his command of length, flight and spin, and also change of pace. He took 51 wickets in his first nine matches, including 11 for 112 against Middlesex at Lord's. Langton also proved himself an excellent batsman when runs were badly needed, as at Lord's when in the first innings he held out for two hours, and in the last Test match when he and Dalton, adding 137 for the ninth wicket, established a record partnership for that wicket by South Africans against England.
Evidence of the batting strength of the side can be found in the fact that they met England five times and did not once suffer defeat. It is useless to speculate as to how the Tests would have gone had four days been allotted. Of the batting one might write columns and then leave the subject unexhausted. Confining a review entirely to the doings of the players in the first-class games, one finds that seven batsmen had an average of over 37. Rowan, with 1948, put together the highest aggregate and this supreme run-getter also placed more three-figure innings to his name than any of his colleagues. He did not bat either with dignity or precision; he regarded his cricket in most light-hearted style, but his confidence was amazing. A quick-footed attacking batsman, excelling in the cut, he was at his very best in the second match at the Oval against Surrey, when he and Mitchell put up an opening partnership of 330. Viljoen, another newcomer to England, also proved an outstanding success. Heading the batting list, although actually he scored only three runs more than Mitchell, the stylish Viljoen gave early proof of his ability with an innings of 152 against Derbyshire and ran into splendid form at a most important time. That was in the Test at Old Trafford, when he played an innings of 124. Great responsibility rested upon him on that occasion because of the absence of Siedle and he made good, shutting up one end after South Africa had lost two wickets for 41 and turning the game round completely. Possessed of remarkably sound defence, Viljoen was just the type of batsman for a crisis; after this valuable Test innings he played splendid cricket, scoring 852 runs in his last 17 innings and hitting four more hundreds. A much different experience was that of Nourse who never came off in big matches but was seen to great advantage in other contests. During May his form was exceptional and his aggregate of 736 runs for that month surpassed the performances of everyone else on the side. Moreover, he reached three-figures in three successive innings, including 147 and 108 not out in the first match against Surrey. If not too sure in playing the ball on the leg stump, he generally scored fast and his cutting was always made with a touch of real class; his hooking, too, was hard and well judged.
When Siedle was in England in 1929 he was dogged by ill luck in the shape of injuries. Last summer a similar thing occurred, but he became the first South African to reach 1,000 runs, and during May he made three hundreds in four innings, three times taking out his bat. He was not so difficult to get out as formerly, but nevertheless proved an admirable first wicket partner to Mitchell. A strained knee injury during the third Test match restricted his subsequent appearances.
Nothing finer was accomplished during the tour by Dalton than his three-figure innings in the Oval Test match when he and Langton made the record stand for South Africa's ninth wicket. More often than not a bad starter, he ran into form just about the time the team were reported to be getting stale, and also reached three figures against Essex. Wade is probably a better batsman in his own country than he was over here. For a few weeks - he scored 620 runs in his first twelve matches - he held out promise of being one of the most successful bats on the side; when the Tests came along, however, he was never at this best and this remark is made with clear recollection of his dour determination when batting with the full intention of making a draw in the Tests at Leeds and Old Trafford. Whether he was right in changing his position from No. 1 to lower in the order need not be stressed. As to his ability as a leader there could be no two opinions. Sometimes he kept on a bowler too long - another criticism was that he did not bowl Mitchell as often as he might have done - but for the most part his leadership told of real executive ability and always of ideas. Near the wicket he was a fearless fieldsman and by his brilliant saving of runs an inspiration to his fellows. Here it should be added that the South Africans as a fielding side maintained a high standard. Viljoen in the outfield was brilliant and Dalton, at cover, and Rowan and Nourse were always good to watch.
Vincent left his 1929 record in England far behind. Bowling to keep down runs - a task he frequently had to shoulder during the important matches - he often found a batsman's weakness and, playing on it, got a valuable wicket. He was a model of accuracy in length and ease of action; more important still he flighted the ball most skilfully and even on dry wickets often imparted quite a lot of spin. Two notable performances by Vincent were eight wickets for 149 in the Leeds Test and nine for 53 against Kent.
But for the injuries to Balaskas and Bell, South Africa might very well have won more than one of the representative matches. Crisp swung the new ball and, bringing it down from a good height, made it lift awkwardly. He struck one as the kind of bowler who could pull out extra pace on the big occasion and without a doubt he was awkward to face at the start of an innings. That is not to suggest he was a great bowler of his type. The basis of his many successes - he took in all 107 wickets - was the quick swing either way. Bell too made good use of his height, and his fast in-swinger nipping quickly off the pitch - due to body swing in the last yard of the run - was deadly. Unfortunately, Bell, although taking eight for 28 in the opening match against Worcestershire and following with other good performances against Derbyshire and Yorkshire, afterwards seldom accomplished anything noteworthy and ultimately broke down at Manchester owing to fluid on the elbow. From the little that was seen of Balaskas, it was evident that but for his elbow trouble he would have been a big success. His performances in three successive matches - against Yorkshire, England (at Lord's) and Nottinghamshire - told eloquently of his class as a bowler. If he found at Lord's a wicket eminently suited to his type of bowling, the other performances and his season's work of 42 wickets for less than 21 runs apiece in fewer than 300 overs speak for themselves. It was said he learned much of the art of googly bowling from Grimmett, but he is not such a master of flight as the Australian. A thick-set player, taking a short run up, Balaskas brought the ball off the ground unusually fast; he hid it well and bowled the googly sparingly. Apart from his merit as a slow spin bowler, he is no mean bat and has hit a hundred against New Zealand, but not enough was seen here of his batting for a definite opinion to be formed about it. Balaskas, it should be added, wrenched an arm muscle during the match with Nottinghamshire and afterwards took part in only two games, a second injury, a strained tendon in the right leg, being responsible for his absence. Of a similar type, Tomlinson revealed early promise but accomplished nothing when given a chance in the first of the Tests. He seemed unable to pitch the steady length so essential for a slow spin bowler. Increased opportunities came his wayafter Balaskasbroke down and altogether he took part in nineteen of the three-day games, but he was more expensive than any of the other bowlers.
Few appearances were made by Williams, the reserve wicket-keeper, who at the end of the tour accepted a business appointment in England. It is perhaps not out of place to mention here the words of Sir Russell Bencraft when he greeted the South Africans on their arrival at Southampton. He said: - We should like you to win one Test - I won't say more. South Africa duly gained that one victory, and not only afforded convincing evidence that they were a very fine side but assured the financial success of the tour. Attendances at their matches after the triumph at headquarters were splendid and despite the loss of the third day at Trent Bridge the profit on the tour came to approximately £12,000. The two-shilling gate, of course, has to be taken into account, but the financial results, and bearing in mind that no previous side from South Africa had returned home with a profit of more than £1,400, went to prove the popularity of the players. Considering the cold in May, the wet in June and unfavourable weather when the later matches on the programme were being fulfilled, the South Africans had every reason to feel satisfied with the results of their excursion into English cricket. An efficient manager of the side, Mr. S. J. Snooke was invariably tactful and obliging.
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