For the second time in eighteen months South Africa showed their powers of recovery against England. In 1955 they found themselves two down in the series after the first two Tests, then fought back to level matters only to lose the final Test at The Oval. This time, in their own country, they were again two down with three to play, but they drew the Third Test and won the next two, thus sharing the rubber with England for the second time in the history of matches between the two countries. England had won the previous five series.
The tour will be remembered for the remarkably low rate of scoring in the Test matches. Over the five games England averaged 32.69 and South Africa 29.04 runs an hour.
The M. C. C. team originally set sail with the following sixteen players--P. B. H. May (Surrey) (captain), D. J. Insole (Essex) (vice-captain), T. E. Bailey (Essex), P. E. Richardson (Worcestershire), M. C. Cowdrey (Kent), A. S. M. Oakman (Sussex), D. C. S. Compton (Middlesex), J. H. Parks (Sussex), T. G. Evans (Kent), B. Taylor (Essex), J. H. Wardle (Yorkshire), J. B. Statham (Lancashire), F. H. Tyson (Northamptonshire), P. J. Loader (Surrey), G. A. R. Lock (Surrey), J. C. Laker (Surrey), with F. R. Brown, the manager.
Almost as soon as he landed Parks developed eye trouble, and after playing one match he flew home. A short while later he attempted to return to South Africa, but collapsed when about to leave by aeroplane. M. C. C. decided not to send a replacement and the tour continued with fifteen players. Fortunately the team did not suffer much from injuries and the absence of Parks was not too severe a handicap, although as the series developed it became obvious that another batsman, preferably a left-hander to counter the bowling of Goddard and Tayfield, would have been invaluable.
It was expected before the team sailed that the bowling would be one of the most powerful forces ever to undertake a tour. So it proved, and it is remarkable to record that in the twenty-two matches played, all but two first-class, only one three-figure partnership came off the M. C. C. attack and only two South Africa batsmen obtained centuries. The batting, England's weakness for several years, failed again and almost entirely through this England were unable to win a series which at one point looked like being a walk-over for them.
South Africa also had their batting problems and the dominance of bowlers over batsmen in practically every innings was largely responsible for the slow scoring in the series. Other factors which contributed were the run-saving fields usually employed by the captains, the accuracy of the two attacks in bowling to their fields and the sluggishness of some of the pitches, but undoubtedly the fact that the majority of batsmen were unwilling to take the slightest chance was the major cause.
The pattern was set in the First Test when Richardson, normally a fairly fast-scoring batsman, took a little over eight hours to reach his hundred, the slowest century ever made in official Test cricket. Richardson's innings helped considerably to win the match and these methods were adopted by the majority of the Test batsmen.
An attempt was made to show that the slow scoring was driving people away from the matches, but this proved to be a fallacy. Record crowds turned up almost everywhere M. C. C. played and the Test matches were often exciting and pleasing to the public. Slow cricket does not necessarily mean dull cricket and four of the Tests developed into closely contested matches; only on the first day of each game, before the state of the match had developed, was the dullness really felt. At the same time, from a personal point of view, I hope never again to watch a series in which so many batsmen were frightened to make forcing strokes and mere occupation of the crease was the prime consideration of nearly everyone.
Outside the Tests M. C. C. often gave attractive displays, but the batsmen could usually afford to take risks then because of the complete superiority of the bowling over the majority of the South African sides.
Biggest disappointment to the English side in the Test Matches came in the form of May, the captain. Acknowledged to be in a class of his own, May had an outstanding tour, doing almost as he pleased in every match except in the five games against South Africa. He began with five centuries, one a double hundred, in his first six first-class matches and his magnificent form caused a wave of depression to sweep over the South African supporters. This changed completely when Heine dismissed him first ball in the Transvaal match, and when the Tests started he just could not get going.
At first May was a little unfortunate to lose his wicket to some remarkable catches, but later it seemed that he was becoming a little anxious over his run of low scores and even in his only innings of any size, 61 in the Fourth Test, he was never a dominating force.
May had proved his big match temperament so many times before that his failures could hardly be put down to that. It appeared that he became a little over-anxious to do well and the strain of captaincy on and off the field became increasingly severe on him. Well before the end he looked rather tired and drawn. A charming person, always polite and ready to please, May, like many before him, found that captaining a team abroad was a vastly different proposition from leading a side at home. He won many friends by his charm at the numerous social functions, but he rarely seemed completely at ease on these occasions.
On the field May made few mistakes, usually adopting a safe policy. Possibly worried about the uncertainty of the batting, he at times appeared unwilling to risk a few runs in the field in the effort to snatch a wicket or two. I remember on one occasion, in particular, when at the start of a match, not a Test, he employed only one slip for Statham and not until the second ball had been edged to the vacant second slip position, and several other snicks went close there, was a normal attacking field set. Apart from leading England in two home series May had had little experience as captain, but having since been appointed to that position with Surrey this should be remedied. Perhaps he will get more appreciation of the right time to make a bold move without erring on the side of recklessness.
As for his batting, May, taking the tour as a whole, again showed himself to be head and shoulders above the rest. He thrilled thousands of South Africans by the quality and grace of his stroke-play and he was one of the few batsmen throughout the tour who regarded a half-volley without suspicion. With batting in most countries at a low ebb, May stands out like a beacon and England are fortunate to possess such a magnificent player.
The highest Test average for either side, 39.00, was achieved by Insole, the vice-captain, who also finished second to May in the full tour record. Somewhat ungainly in style and often suspect outside the off stump, Insole improved tremendously as the tour progressed and proved his splendid temperament and fighting qualities on several vital occasions. A powerful on-side player, he made the most of his fine eye both as a batsman and fieldsman, usually at slip where he held many brilliant catches. His success proved most popular for he was an excellent tourist, being full of humour off the field and extremely keen on it.
Bailey yet again showed his value as England's one top class all-rounder. A highly intelligent player, he often saved his best form for the Test Matches. Forced into the role of opening batsmen when Cowdrey forsook that position, Bailey became more than an adequate stop-gap, but more important was his bowling which helped largely to win one Test and gave him first place in the Test averages.
Cowdrey had a moderate tour for a player of his capabilities. There were days when he looked in the highest class, but on other occasions he found himself tied down completely by slow bowling, particularly that of Tayfield. Because of his splendid anticipation, Cowdrey developed into a first-class slip field to the slow bowlers. Far better on the big occasion than in the minor matches, Richardson again showed his ideal temperament for Test Matches and his fielding at cover was excellent. For Compton it was not altogether a happy tour. Occasionally he revealed glimpses of past glories, but inability to get down the pitch as much as he used to do because of his knee trouble reduced his effectiveness and he became bogged down by steady bowling. In the field his lack of speed and agility cost many runs, but considering the extent of his handicap he did as well as might have been expected.
The Test batting was virtually settled from the start, for with Parks absent and Oakman and Taylor unable to get going properly there was no challenge to the established players.
In a powerful all-round bowling side, Wardle stood out above the rest and his feat of taking 105 wickets in all matches is unlikely to be surpassed for a long time on a tour of South Africa. Wardle usually bowled left-handed off-breaks and googlies and he often mesmerised batsmen who had seen little of this type of attack. Never afraid of being hit, he often invited punishment, but his control of flight and spin was so good that attempts to attack him were rarely successful. A humorist on the field, he made himself a great favourite throughout Southern Africa.
Lock, the other slow left-hander who took the second highest number of wickets on the tour, was kept out of the Test side by Wardle, playing only in the last Test when injury to the Yorkshireman gave him his chance. Extremely keen throughout, Lock again showed his brilliance as a short-leg fieldsman and his batting continued to improve. The other slow bowler, Laker, took 50 wickets, but only eleven in the Tests and, compared with the South African off-break bowler Tayfield, he had a disappointing time. Laker found he could not spin the ball to anything like the same extent as in England and he did not look happy under punishment.
Even though Tyson lost much of his speed and accuracy, the fast bowling combination of Statham, Tyson and Loader, with support from Bailey, was always menacing. Statham had days when he looked the best fast bowler in the world, but was sometimes worried by injuries and towards the end lost his snap. On the other hand Loader made a big advance, bowling far better than his figures show. Always experimenting, he revealed excellent control of pace and direction, and judged on the number of times he beat the bat without reward he was by far the unluckiest bowler in the side. Taylor, the second wicket-keeper, tried hard, but came nowhere near challenging Evans, who maintained his astonishingly high standard behind the stumps. Evans showed positive brilliance on a most difficult pitch in the Fifth Test at Port Elizabeth.
The South Africans were expected to be stronger in batting than England, but this was not the case, although in the last two Tests the length of the batting helped to bring improvement after complete collapses in the first two games. The loss of their captain and leading batsman, McGlew, who developed injuries to a knee and shoulder, proved a severe blow. He was able to play in only one of the Tests.
Goddard, the left hander, showed himself to be one of the big personalities in world cricket, displaying splendid form with the bat and steadiness with the ball which the England batsmen found difficult to overcome. He usually attacked on or outside the leg stump to two short fine legs and four other fieldsmen on the leg side, and although this method was not pretty to watch it was certainly effective.
McLean played two big Test innings and, at times, looked good, but was inconsistent. Van Ryneveld took over the captaincy from McGlew and his boyish enthusiasm became infectious, the South Africans being keen and lively in the field even when things were going against them.
In fact, the biggest advantage South Africa held throughout the series was their magnificent ground work. Both sides took their catches well, but the South Africans saved many more runs than England largely because of the way they threw themselves at the ball and often prevented certain-looking boundaries. These diving tactics could be said to have given them their narrow victory in the Fourth Test.
Tayfield took the bowling honours and his almost perfect length was something the English batsmen found hard to counter. He spun the ball only a little, but made good use of the one which floated away and trapped several batsmen outside the off stump. His pace and flight were beautifully controlled and led to his great triumphs in the Third and Fourth Tests when he took eight and nine wickets in each second innings.
Adcock was the more effective of the two fast bowlers, but Heine always looked capable of producing the unplayable ball and his liberal use of the bumper caused plenty of concern to the England batsmen.
M. C. C. found a marked difference between the standard of play during the tour. Transvaal, Natal and perhaps Western Province were the only provincial sides capable of extending them. Most of the other teams were hopelessly outclassed. The chief criticisms of the tour were its length and the inadequate facilities for net practices. Long before the end of the tour the M. C. C. players were tired and jaded and it was said, with plenty of justification, that the return matches with the four leading provincial sides could have been eliminated. For their own benefit the South Africans should make every effort to improve the standard of their practice nets.
Also they probably learned that it is almost impossible to prepare playing surfaces in two or three months. Twice, at Benoni and in the Fifth Test at Port Elizabeth, they relaid pitches shortly before matches and each time it failed, conditions deteriorating rapidly after the first few hours so that it was almost impossible for batsmen to make scoring strokes with safety.
The tour, capably managed by F. R. Brown, was the first run on a profit basis as far a M. C. C. side in South Africa was concerned. Previously expenses only had been covered. Taking as their share approximately £60,000, representing a profit of £26,500, M. C. C. must have been well satisfied with the new arrangement.
All Matches--Played 22, Won 13, Lost 3, Drawn 6
First-Class Matches--Played 20, Won 11, Lost 3, Drawn 6
Test Matches--Played 5, Won 2, Lost 2, Drawn 1
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