First Test Match

ENGLAND v SOUTH AFRICA 1956-57

At Johannesburg, December 24, 26, 27, 28, 29. England won by 131 runs in a slow-scoring match. The scoring rate averaged 28 runs an hour over the entire game and there were many periods when it dropped considerably lower. Admittedly the pitch did not encourage batsmen to make strokes, for the ball often lifted a little and much of the bowling was negative, but even so hardly any batsmen made the slightest effort to take the initiative. Although the match was saved as a spectacle by the frequent fall of wickets after the opening day, the first 100,000 crowd to attend a game in South Africa saw nothing of the charm of cricket.

This was the first Test Match to be played on the new Wanderers ground, and although the pitch showed no sign of wear it always helped the faster bowlers because of the lift and movement in the air and off the turf they were able to obtain. South Africa were unfortunate to lose their captain and most dependable batsman, McGlew, who dropped out the day before the match with a slightly dislocated left shoulder.

Still seeking a satisfactory opening partner for Richardson, May decided to give Bailey a further opportunity when he won the toss. Bailey had occasionally opened the innings in Test Matches, but he had not been tried there in earlier matches on the tour. The general pattern of the game was shown in the first hour when Richardson and Bailey scored only 20. In two hours twenty minutes to lunch England reached 45 while losing the wickets of Bailey and Compton, and when May left soon afterwards the situation looked bad for them.

Then occurred the one effective partnership of the game. Richardson and Cowdrey remained together for the rest of the day, England finishing with 157 for three after six hours. Richardson, who rarely attempted a scoring stroke unless absolutely safe, batted all day for 69.

The stand, which added 121 in three and a half hours, soon ended next day but Richardson continued his stubborn defensive tactics and his century, after eight hours eight minutes, was the slowest in the history of Test cricket. In all he batted eight hours forty-six minutes for 117 and hit only six 4's.

At the end of the second day South Africa looked to be getting on top for they had lost only one wicket for 91. England's fight back began first thing on the third morning. Tyson developed tonsillitis overnight and could not bowl or field again in the match. Largely because of this Bailey was given more opportunity with the ball and it proved a telling factor. After Statham dismissed Goddard in the opening over, Bailey sent back Keith and McLean in one over and from these quick shocks South Africa failed to recover. The tail-end batsmen improved matters slightly, 74 being added for the last three wickets, but England gained a useful lead of 53 in what was obviously to be a low-scoring match.

They were forced to struggle again, and at the end of the third day three men were out for 42. Evans brought the only sparkle into the batting, everyone else having to fight desperately for runs. South Africa were set to get 204 to win, not an unreasonable task with plenty of time to spare, but their hopes quickly disappeared. Against good bowling by Bailey and Statham they lost seven wickets for 40 runs in one and three-quarter hours to the close, batting very poorly.

The match was over within eighty minutes on the last morning, South Africa being dismissed for their lowest total in a home Test since 1898-99 and the lowest score they had made against England since being dismissed for 30 at Birmingham in 1924.

Apart from the slow scoring, good bowling and weak batting, the match was notable for the excellent standard of catching. Bailey held a wonderful diving catch at slip to get rid of van Ryneveld in the first innings, and Endean, at square-leg, threw himself horizontally in the air to grasp a firm hit by May in England's second innings. Cowdrey, Insole, Goddard and Keith also held fine catches. South Africa's ground fielding was also of the highest class.

© John Wisden & Co