First Test match

South Africa v England 1938-39

Toss: England. Test debuts: South Africa - G.E.Bond, N.Gordon, A.Melville, P.G.V.van der Bilj, W.W.Wade; England - P.A.Gibb, L.L.Wilkinson, N.W.D.Yardley.

Although not producing a definite result, the opening Test match yielded an abundance of incident, and interest might have been sustained at a high pitch to the very end but for a delayed declaration by Hammond. For England, Paynter enjoyed the distinction of scoring a century in each innings, feat previously accomplished in the England and South Africa series by only two players - A. C. Russell (140 and 111 at Durban in 1922-23) and H. Sutcliffe (104 and 109 not out, at Kennington Oval in 1929). In his Test match debut, P. A. Gibb, too, narrowly failed to follow the Lancastrian's example, and B. H. Valentine fell but three runs short of three-figures. In addition, Goddard, with his off-break bowling, at one time placed England apparently on top with a hat-trick - the first in an England v South Africa Test. But South Africa, despite failure of newcomers, recovered remarkably and deservedly shared the honours. In scoring 713 runs in the match, England created a new record against South Africa exceeding the 620 at the same ground in 1923.

When Hammond won the toss, England begins inauspiciously. Edrich left with four runs scored, and Langton, after nearly bowling Paynter, saw Gibb, when 11, missed off him in the slips. These pieces of fortune meant much to England, particularly in the light of subsequent events, for not until Paynter and Gibb had put on 184 did Paynter play on. The Lancashire batsman, driving splendidly, hit a 6 and eight 4's. Gordon, making his medium-pace deliveries turn, then caused something of a breakdown and, despite the enterprise of Ames, the score went from 188 for two to 294 for six. Fourth to leave, Gibb made his runs by waiting carefully for the loose ball. Valentine and Verity checked the success of bowlers and on the second day they pulled the game right round. Verity remained chiefly upon the defensive while Valentine drove and pulled hard and the seventh partnership realised 84 valuable runs.

The wicket by this time helped bowlers, but Mitchell started South Africa's reply with complete confidence. The loss of Van der Byl and Melville for 44, however, caused him to become more wary. Nourse, too, proceeded for a time in subdued style, but he steadily developed freedom and drove Hammond for six. In two hours and a quarter 116 runs were added - a recovery vastly appreciated by the crowd of 22,000 which constituted a record attendance in South Africa.

Then again the tide turned in favour of England. Goddard induced Nourse to give a return catch, followed by getting Gordon stumped and, bowling Wade, completed the hat-trick. That meant half the side out for 160 and when, next day, Mitchell's stubborn innings ended at 173, South Africa stood in a precarious position. Once more, however, the pendulum swung. Dalton, surviving an uneasy start, drove to the off and hit to leg grandly and Viljoen, till playing on, afforded him such assistance that 108 runs came from the seventh wicket. Nor was this all. Langton, punishing Goddard and Wilkinson each for 6, put great power into strokes in front of the wicket during a stay of ninety-five minutes, and he and Dalton, whose figures included nine 4's, added 97 for the ninth wicket.

So England led by no more than 32 runs, and again they lost Edrich cheaply; but on the closing day Gibb and Paynter, for the second time, mastered the attack. Paynter drove aggressively and Gibb, less restrained than in the first innings, also brought off hard drives. Their partnership yielded 168 and neither looked in the least trouble. Hammond, in audacious mood, followed by scoring at more than one a minute till, upon dismissal, he declared.

South Africa, left just over two hours and three quarters in which to get 324, did not attempt a clearly impossible task. Mitchell, indeed, concentrating whole-heartedly upon keeping up his wicket, made only 48 in the available time.

© John Wisden & Co