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For the first time for five years England won an overseas Test series, a welcome and somewhat unexpected success which assured the M.C.C.'s 1964-65 tour of South Africa its niche in cricket history.
When the side under the managership of Mr. Donald Carr, assistant secretary of M.C.C., left London Airport it attracted little attention for its mid-October departure coincided with the day the nation went to the polls in the general election -- also the first in something like five years. The events were not entirely unrelated for the political situation played a part in change of leadership on the cricket field.
E.R. Dexter, who had captained England the previous summer in the unsuccessful bid to regain The Ashes from Australia, was adopted as Conservative candidate for a Cardiff constituency and while he was engaged on the hustings the task of putting some needed hustle into English representative cricket was given to a tried and proven skipper, Michael John Knight Smith who had taken Warwickshire near to the head of the county championship.
Knowledgeable cricket enthusiasts gave him hardly much chance of returning towards the end of February with the rubber, for the bowling available to him looked decidedly limited in terms of a touring venture, while at the same time South Africa had confirmed the rise of several new stars by a splendid showing in Australia. To this was added the fact that once battle was joined the pitches never struck a fair balance between bat and ball after the first Test at Kingsmead, Durban.
Yet Smith and his men achieved what Peter May's 1956-57 side failed to do and into the bargain went through their entire programme of 19 matches undefeated. Eleven matches were won and eight drawn and ten of the 17 first-class fixtures were won. How was it accomplished?
Cricket is a game played in the hearts and minds of men as well as with the hands and feet and from first day to last the choice of Carr and Smith as executives proved as near ideal as anything can be in this imperfect world.
M.C.C. have sent more powerful teams from Lord's than this one, but never one superior in terms of corporate effort on the playing pitch and harmony in the pavilion. Manager and captain set the tone by behaving naturally and unchangingly to all with whom they had to deal. On any occasion which offered for fun or relaxation they identified themselves as members of the team -- quick change atrists in the matter of switching from elder statesmen to young men who knew the meaning of joie de vivre.
Thus the foundations were right and true. Now, did M.C.C. have the men to build the edifice upon them? The batting line and the off-spin bowling of Allen and Titmus, particularly in the first half of the tour, supplied the answer.
From the start the side proved much too good for the Currie Cup and state teams pitted against it. Rhodesia, Transvaal, Natal, Eastern Province, North East Transvaal, Border, Orange Free State and Griqualand West were all decisively beaten. Three of these games were won by an innings, two by ten wickets, one by nine wickets and another by seven wickets. Of all the Currie Cup teams played, Western Province alone, held on for a draw and when time was called they had but two wickets standing with a deficit of 154.
No one had any illusions about the difference in the quality of the full South African side but England had a meed of fortune in the early Test matches and extracted full advantage.
Smith won the toss in the first two Tests and the Durban pitch quickly developed a somewhat uncharacteristic taste for spin. Bowling against the comforting cushion of an England total closed just short of 500, Titmus and Allen won the match for England with an innings and time to spare.
They very nearly repeated the performance in the second Test, but although South Africa were again forced to follow-on they were saved when their cause was on the point of foundering by one of many fine innings which brought Colin Bland an aggregate of over 800 runs against the tourists.
An attacking batsman every bit as exciting as Dexter at his best, Bland excelled in ground shots which seemed to gather in acceleration as the ball neared the boundary while his repeated lofted driving was worth the price of admission alone.
Thereafter the differential between the teams closed rapidly and never again was Smith able to bid for victory. He lost the toss at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on plumb wickets and made what the majority of observers condemned as an error of judgment when he put in South Africa after winning the toss in the fourth Test at Johannesburg.
Then South Africa paid for their traditional ingrained caution at cricket. They were one down and they had all the rub of the green in the last three Tests, but Trevor Goddard, their captain, who retired from international cricket at the end of the series at no time showed himself prepared to take the slightest risk or dangle the carrot.
He could call on Peter Pollock, the fastest bowler in the series, upon Atholl McKinnon, a left-arm spinner who had improved out of all recognition from the 1960 tour of England, all-rounders of the calibre of Barlow and himself and world class batsmen like Bland and the left-handed prodigy Graeme Pollock who did not come of age until a fortnight after the final Test. And that was only half the tale.
As South Africa's form and confidence steadily increased, misfortune to English bowlers in the closing weeks of the tour reached the point where K. Palmer of Somerset had to be brought from Johannesburg, where he was coaching, to Port Elizabeth and used as the new ball spearhead in the fifth Test.
Price developed a stomach muscle strain which put him out of action, Cartwright revived an old soccer injury, helping to save the penultimate match against the powerful South African Invitation XI at Cape Town, and David Brown damaged his heel. The side was reduced to such straits that Smith was frequently glad to call upon Boycott, his opening batsman, as a medium-pace change bowler.
In all the given circumstances Smith fought to preserve his slender lead with the only weapon left to him -- containment. With Goddard playing into his hands this wily and phlegmatic captain won the battle of attrition and the rubber with something in hand.
In the matter of individuals little if anything was learnt that was not already known. Of the young, comparatively untried players, none was able to force his way irresistibly to the fore as Boycott of Yorkshire had done in a matter of two years.
David Brown who finished the previous English season by dismissing the Australian captain Simpson for a pair at Lord's, was too inexperienced to re-adapt his bowling from the often helpful English pitches and conditions, to the decidedly unfriendly ones in South Africa. Too much of his effort seemed to be directed down the leg side.
Brearley was bitterly disappointing for himself as much as for everyone else. In his last 14 innings he scored barely 200 runs but as an older and wiser head reminded him: "You made over 2,000 runs in an English season and no man can do that from what he picked up off the back of old cigarette cards. You'll come again." This personable young man who conducted himself well in adversity should also draw comfort from the fact that many distinguished cricketers made a hash of their first tour. I can think of one England captain who practically sat out his maiden trip.
I am still convinced that Hobbs has a lot of cricket in him. He did not enjoy the best of luck either with his bowling or in the extent to which it was used. One of the mild criticisms I would make of M. J. K. Smith was his typical English captain's reluctance to use his leg spinners more. There were times when a big score was inevitable and nothing much would have been lost and perhaps a deal to be gained by a greater trust in wrist spin than Smith was prepared to show.
Barrington, notwithstanding, was still able to finish top of both batting and bowling averages achieving at Kimberley his best performance with the ball. Dexter, who joined the party after an hounourable defeat at the polls against a formidable opponent, Mr. James Callaghan who became Chancellor of the Exchequer, undoubtedly benefited from being relieved of the burden of captaincy.
He seemed more relaxed and at ease than at any previous time in his career and made a major contribution to what was always an excellent dressing-room atmosphere. He hit 172 in the second Test and would have made a string of big scores but for his inability to lose the distressing knack of getting out in a variety of strange and peculiar ways when seemingly well set and about to cut loose.
Parks must not be forgotten for the century he made when England's first innings in the opening Test was in the balance while Barber confirmed that he is a cricketer of high international class. The broken finger he sustained in catching Goddard in the fourth Test, and which gave him the melancholy experience of flying home alone before the end of the tour, could have been the sickener to destroy the morale of a less well adjusted party than this one.
It was also good to see the batting develop that often envied Australian quality of someone always coming good. Boycott, after doing little in the first three Tests, played two vital innings in the last two.
Finally it was refreshing to reach the end of a modern tour and realise that it had been almost entirely devoid of what has come to be euphemistically called incidents. The only affair which could remotely be considered for the label was when Titmus thought he had Barlow caught and Barlow stood his ground to receive the benefit of the doubt. A short verbal exchange in the heat of the moment was swiftly and diplomatically handled by Smith and the ship sailed so serenely on that it was almost impossible to detect the slightest ruffle on the water. Neither side attempted to make capital out of this with the result that the only winner was the game of cricket.
First-Class Matches -- Played 17, Won 10, Drawn 7
All Matches -- Played 19, Won 11, Drawn 8
Test Matches -- Played 5, Won 1, Drawn 4.
Match reports for
1st Test: South Africa v England at Durban, Dec 4-8, 1964
2nd Test: South Africa v England at Johannesburg, Dec 23-29, 1964
3rd Test: South Africa v England at Cape Town, Jan 1-6, 1965
4th Test: South Africa v England at Johannesburg, Jan 22-27, 1965
5th Test: South Africa v England at Port Elizabeth, Feb 12-17, 1965