Fifth Test match

South Africa v England 1938-39

Norman Preston

Unparalleled in the history of the game this was in many ways an extraordinary match, emphasising that there are no limits to the possibilities of what may occur in cricket; but it ended farcically, for insufficient time remained to finish the timeless Test. Although undecided, the final Test left the rubber with England after a magnificent and unequalled performance by W. R. Hammond and his men. Stopped by rain on the tenth day, the longest match ever played produced amazing records and brought personal triumph to Edrich who, after most heartbreaking experiences in Test cricket, established his reputation by hitting a double century at a time when England needed an almost superhuman effort to avoid disaster.

South Africa set England to make 696 to win and few people imagined the team had a ghost of a chance of averting defeat, much less of scoring such a colossal total. Instead of going in with their tails down the batsmen set about their task in a magnificent manner and proved what can be done when the wicket remains unimpaired. It was an astonishing achievement to get within 42 runs of their objective with five wickets in hand, but, like the Oval Test between England and Australia the previous August, the game developed into a test of endurance. For one thing the pitch was much too good and many batsmen discarded their natural methods and adopted unnecessary caution.

When heavy rain prevented any more cricket after tea on the tenth day the South African Board of Control and the two captains went into conference before issuing a statement that the game had been abandoned because the England team had to catch the 8.05 p.m. train that night (Tuesday) from Durban in order to reach Cape Town in time to make the necessary arrangements for their departure on the Athlone Castle on Friday. The date of sailing for England could not be postponed.

Records.

During the course of the match the following cricket records were established.

  1. The match lasted until tea time on the tenth day and was the longest ever played in first-class cricket.
  2. Biggest aggregate of runs in any first-class match, 1,981.
  3. England's 654 for 5 wickets, the highest fourth innings score in a first-class match.
  4. South Africa's first innings total of 530 was their highest in Test cricket, and the longest in England - South Africa Tests, lasting 13 hours.
  5. Verity bowled 766 balls in the two South African innings - 17 more than J. C. White against Australia at Adelaide in 1929.
  6. P. A. Gibb and Paynter, in putting on 280 for the second wicket, set up a record partnership for any wicket in England - South Africa Tests.
  7. On eight consecutive days when cricket took place stumps were drawn before time - on seven occasions through bad light and once through rain.
  8. A. D. Nourse's 103 in six hours four minutes was the slowest hundred scored for South Africa in Test Cricket.
  9. P. G. Van der Byl's innings was the longest played by a South African in a Test. It occupied seven hours eighteen minutes.
  10. R. E. Grieveson's 75 was the highest first innings in Test cricket by a player chosen to keep wicket.
  11. P. G. Van der Byl was the first South African to score a hundred and a ninety in the same Test. Only P. A. Gibb had previously accomplished the feat - in the first Test of the same series.
  12. A South African Test record of nine fifties was set up in the two innings. No previous Test had ever produced as many - 16 fifties by both teams.
  13. Each side in the Test scored over 900 runs - South Africa 1,011, England 970.
  14. P. A. Gibb's 100 in seven hours thirty-one minutes - the slowest Test century scored for England, rate being 15.96 runs per hour.
  15. In the match a record number of balls was bowled - 5,463.
  16. W. R. Hammond hit his twenty-first hundred in Test cricket, equalling the record of D. G. Bradman.

First Day (Friday).

After Hammond had won the toss for England eight consecutive times his luck changed, and Melville gained first innings for South Africa. Whereas England made two changes compared with the fourth Test, Perks and Wright replacing Goddard and Wilkinson, South Africa chose the team which shaped so well at Johannesburg. The opening batsmen gave their side a splendid start by scoring 131 together in three hours ten minutes. Against the fast bowling of Farnes and Perks, who frequently made the ball rise awkwardly, they exercised much caution and the total reached only 49 at lunch. Van der Byl spent forty-five minutes before opening his score and three hours elapsed before he hit a boundary. Melville, who brought off some attractive strokes, was more restrained than usual and the innings had lasted two hours ten minutes before he claimed the first boundary by hooking a no-ball. He batted faultlessly until, playing back to Wright, he stepped on his wicket. Van der Byl offered a very hard catch when 71 to Wright, otherwise he did not take the slightest risk though he astonished everyone when he punished Wright for twenty-two in one over, including five boundaries. Next he pulled a ball into the grand stand for 6; Rowan stayed while 88 were added and the total reached 229 for two wickets at the end of the day, Van der Byl being 105 not out after batting four hours, forty-seven minutes.

Second Day (Saturday).

Encouraged by their success on the opening day, South Africa went on "Digging for Victory" and another spell of dour cricket was witnessed. Van der Byl was several times hit on the body by the bowling of Farnes but he maintained his unperturbed attitude. Mitchell was bowled off his pads at 236 and, with Nourse and Van der Byl together, the scoring became so slow that the first hour produced only seventeen runs. Van der Byl, who hit one 6 and eight 4's, was disposed of after a stay of seven hours eighteen minutes when he was bowled by a ball which swung late. It was his first century in a Test. His dismissal occurred shortly after lunch and with the addition of four runs Viljoen also lost his wicket. Another valuable stand for South Africa followed, as Dalton played beautiful cricket while helping Nourse to add 90 for the sixth wicket. Nourse displayed unlimited patience, taking three and a half hours to make 50 and at the close of play South Africa's total was 423 for six wickets.

Third Day (Monday).

Rain on Sunday did not affect the pitch adversely and Nourse and Grieveson carried their unfinished stand of 55 to 107 before Nourse, after batting six hours, was yorked by Perks. He hit six 4's. When Grieveson punished Verity for 4 and sent up 500, it was the first boundary hit off the Yorkshireman since the opening day. At length, Grieveson, having played soundly for three and a half hours, was bowled middle stump, and the innings ended with Langton being caught at long-off. The English bowling analysis made sorry reading, though Perks could be satisfied with his first Test effort in taking five wickets for 100. By his perfect length, Verity kept the runs down, but he did not meet with success until he accounted for Newson and Langton in the final over. England followed their opponent's methods and opened cautiously, making only 10 runs in three-quarters of an hour, and when heavy rain ended play for the day shortly after tea the total stood at 35 for the loss of Gibb.

Fourth day (Tuesday).

On this day South Africa appeared to gain a real mastery, as accurate bowling, supported by brilliant fielding -- only one chance was missed -- left them well on top. Misfortune soon overtook England; a misunderstanding with Paynter led to Hutton being run out. Hammond survived a shaky start against Gordon, but at 125 was well stumped trying to drive. Meanwhile, Paynter was completely tied down, and when dismissed he had batted four hours twenty minutes and hit only three 4's. As Edrich promptly fell to an easy catch at short leg, half the side were out for 171. Then the Kent pair, Ames and Valentine, introduced some enterprise to the batting, each driving splendidly until Dalton broke the partnership by getting Valentine stumped. All day the sun never shone and the light became inferior. Dalton bowled Verity at 245 but Ames, joined by another county colleague, Wright, maintained his grand form, the total being raised to 268, with Ames 82 not out and Wright 5 not out, before an appeal against the light was upheld.

Fifth Day (Wednesday).

England suffered an early set-back, as with eight more scored Ames fell to a smart running catch by Dalton after Melville had tried to hold the ball. Ames made his 84, including seven 4's in two hours fifty-two minutes. Wright and Farnes each hit vigorously but England were all out for 316, the innings having lasted seven hours thirty-eight minutes. South Africa enjoyed a lead of 214 runs but probably did not consider enforcing the follow-on, and, so well did they drive home the advantage that their opening pair, Mitchell and Van der Byl, were not separated until the score realised 191 in three and three quarter hours. Then Mitchell hit his wicket and England recovered some ground, for, in the same over Rowan was magnificently caught by Edrich, while in the following over - the last of the day - Van der Byl gave an easy catch to short leg. In this way South Africa lost their first three wickets at the same total, and Nourse might have left immediately, but Hammond at mid-off could not hold a very hard drive. At the close South Africa were 193 for three wickets - 407 ahead. Van der Byl failed by only three runs to become the first South African to score a hundred in each innings of a Test against England.

Sixth Day (Thursday).

On a pitch that improved, following showers during the night, South Africa took their second innings score to 481. First thing, Nourse and Viljoen showed the utmost confidence but at 242 Nourse mistimed a hook and fell to a good running catch. Although never really aggressive Melville and Viljoen relentlessly strengthened their side's strong position, and the stand produced 124 before Viljoen played on. Batting just over three hours, he made some strong forcing strokes, hitting seven 4's. Dalton decided to attack the bowling and punished Wright for a 6 and three 4's. The Kent bowler, however, had revenge by taking a grand return catch. An injured thigh prevented Melville opening the innings, but now, despite lameness, he displayed his best form, making many delightful strokes in front of the wicket. Grieveson, who batted forty minutes before getting a run, gave his captain excellent support, but having completed his first Test century in three hours nineteen minutes, Melville was bowled. His 103 contained ten 4's. A characteristic slip catch by Hammond in his best manner disposed of Langton; Wright bowled Newson and Grieveson was the last to leave. Until the tea interval when the score was 387 for six, Ames kept wicket magnificently, having conceded only six byes while 917 runs were scored altogether, but after the interval Gibb went behind the stumps. England faced the tremendous task of scoring 696 to win and the newspapers everywhere were practically unanimous that it was hopeless. The light was extremely poor when Hutton and Gibb began the last innings and only one ball was bowled before stumps were pulled up on appeal.

Seventh Day (Friday).

After being out-played England at last asserted themselves. Hutton and Gibb were never at fault until, by a timing error, Hutton, after driving and hitting to leg freely, played the ball on to his wicket at 78. Here Hammond revealed a masterly stroke of leadership in promoting Edrich to first wicket down. The young Middlesex batsman lost no time in seizing this opportunity to silence his critics and, hitting cleanly, he claimed eight 4's in his first 50. Gibb pursued his usual placid game and, though handicapped by slight intermittent rain which smeared his spectacles, he offered an impregnable defence. There was a remarkable scene when Edrich completed his first Test hundred (twelve boundaries). The crowd gave him an ovation, the South Africans congratulated him and high up on the balcony shouts of triumph came from his comrades. He and Gibb remained together until bad light stopped cricket ten minutes before time. England's total stood at 253 for one wicket, Gibb 78 and Edrich 107.

Eighth day (Saturday).

Not a ball could be bowled owing to rain.

Ninth Day (Monday).

The wicket rolled out well after the weekend rain and Edrich and Gibb were still together at lunch time when the score was 331. Altogether the stand produced 280 before Gibb, whose innings lasted nine hours, was bowled. He hit only two 4's. Then Hammond joined Edrich and the score was taken to 447 before Edrich was third out. Very strong on the leg side and driving magnificently, he hit twenty-five 4's, making his 219 in seven hours forty minutes. Hammond and Paynter then took command until again poor light put an early end to the day's play when England were 496 for three wickets, with Hammond 58 and Paynter 24.

Tenth Day (Tuesday).

South Africa put forth a great effort to check the flow of runs and keen fielding, coupled with particularly accurate bowling by Gordon, who aimed at the leg stump, tied England down to 39 runs in the first hour. By this time rain threatened to stop play. Hammond and Paynter, realising that they were now engaged in a race against the weather and the clock, attacked the bowling. A smart catch near the ground by the wicket-keeper off Gordon ended the partnership which put on 164, at 611. Paynter batted three and a half hours but had to be satisfied with five 4's. Soon two interruptions occurred through rain and Hammond, when endeavouring to force the pace, was stumped. The England captain, in one of the finest innings of his career, excelled with masterly drives and powerful leg hits. His stay lasted six hours, yet his 4's numbered only seven. No sooner had Valentine joined Ames than the threatened downpour broke over the ground and nothing more could be done.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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