In assessing the worth of the 1947 South African team in England, too much stress should not be laid on the set-backs against Worcestershire and M.C.C. in the first six matches, nor on heavy defeats in three successive Tests. South Africa approached the tour with almost identical disadvantages faced by England before the visit to Australia the previous winter. Without an opportunity for eight years of measuring their skill against another country, the South Africans could not form a true estimate of their own merits, particularly as the majority of their leading players were only recently back from lengthy war service abroad, and of the seventeen men chosen, only four possessed Test rank. In such circumstances Melville's side could not expect to rival H. F. Wade's 1935 Team, the first to win a rubber in England, but it was hoped that the younger cricketers in this largely experimental party would learn much from English conditions for their future benefit. From that point of view the tour was a distinct success. Most of the young players returned home greatly improved cricketers, but the batsmen took an inordinately long time to acclimatise themselves and, for the whole season, the four experienced members, Melville, Nourse, Mitchell and Viljoen carried the main responsibility.
At the start cold wintry weather, which included snow at Worcester in the opening game, and wet wickets provided conditions foreign to the inexperienced batsman. Of the mature players excepted to tide them over their early difficulties only Melville found form. When the weather turned and the hoped-for hard wickets became general the South Africans showed marked improvement and, of their last seventeen first-class matches, Tests excluded, they won eleven and drew six. For the first time in England, South Africa took part in four-day Tests and, although a record of three defeats and two draws was the worst since 1924, any team meeting Compton and Edrich in such tremendous form could be regarded as unfortunate. The influence which these two men bore on the tour was so great that, in the hypothetical case of one being allotted to each country, the rubber might well have gone to South Africa. Altogether during the summer the South Africans conceded over 2,000 runs to this remarkable pair (Compton 1,187--Edrich 869), but the number of runs alone did not reveal the full effect of the Terrible Twins as they became known to the South Africans. An even more important factor was that the touring team's bowlers lost much of their previous sting after the hammering they received when Compton made 745 and Edrich 708 in seven consecutive innings against them, for Middlesex and in the first three Tests. So masterful was Compton that he hit six centuries against the South Africans, three of his four in the Tests coming in successive innings.
Emphatically South Africa were not as inferior to England as results indicated. After their splendid performance in dismissing England for 208 and forcing the follow-on at Nottingham, they came so near success that, in spite of England's wonderful recovery, South Africa at the finish needed only 61 to win with nine wickets in hand. Their batting broke down on rain-affected wickets at Lord's, Manchester and Leeds, but at The Oval they finished in a blaze of glory by getting within 28 of victory with three wickets to fall after Yardley declared 450 ahead.
In both drawn matches South Africa aroused arguments whether, with a little more enterprise in batting, they could have won. The fact that it was a Test Match rather than the quality of England's bowling probably accounted for the subdued methods at Nottingham when they were left to get 227 to win in 140 minutes, but there could be nothing but praise for their magnificent effort in avoiding defeat at The Oval. In each case Yardley could have concentrated more on run-saving if defeat for England appeared imminent. Yet, the First Test was not the only instance when the South African batting lacked the aggression which might have yielded rich dividends. They spent all day on a soft but fairly easy pitch at Manchester scoring 278 for six wickets, and at Leeds they made 175 runs at an average rate of 37 an hour. True, bad light and a wet wicket at Leeds were not helpful to rapid run-getting, but in each case extreme caution played into England's hands. Indeed, until the end of the tour, runs usually came slowly unless Nourse or Melville was batting, for the other two chief scorers, Mitchell and Viljoen, concentrated mainly on defensive tactics. Unfortunately, Harris, Dawson, Fullerton and Begbie, the players from whom quick scoring was expected, showed little consistency. Most of the young men seemed slow to learn the technical adjustments needed in England where, on anything except easy-paced turf, the ball came through at varying heights. In contrast to their early misfortunes when they were dismissed for under 200 five times in their first six games, the South Africans wound up in fine style with totals of 423 for seven, 400, 410, 555 and 510 for eight in the last five matches. In one of these Sussex became the only side apart from England to make over 400 against them.
A wrong impression also could be obtained from the Test bowling figures. As a whole the South African attack was superior to that of England in the main essentials of length, direction and bowling to a field and, even when England were amassing their huge scores, the South African bowling did not became as ragged as did England's at Nottingham and The Oval. The disparity in averages was largely explained by the weakness of the South African tail. For instance, at Manchester, South Africa looked certain to save the game during a big stand by Nourse and Viljoen, but defeat became inevitable when the last seven wickets went for 50 runs. At Leeds the last six fell in an hour for 53.
The manner in which Melville, Nourse, Mitchell and Viljoen carried the side in batting was proved by the fact that between them they scored all but four of the twenty-eight centuries hit on the tour. Melville, Nourse and Mitchell set up a number of records in South African Test cricket. By following his 103 at Durban in the 1938-39 tour with three centuries in the first two Tests in 1947 Melville made four in consecutive innings against England, a feat to the credit of no other batsman. He, at Nottingham, and Mitchell at The Oval became the first South Africans to hit two separate centuries against England in Tests, and their highest scores of 189 each were the best ever for South Africa against England. Melville and Nourse at Nottingham established a South African record for any Test wicket with a stand of 319.
The deeds of Melville and Nourse are fully enumerated in Five Cricketers of the Year, but they were less consistent in all matches than Mitchell, who did so well after a poor start that he alone reached 2,000 runs. Mitchell's peak occurred in the Fifth Test when he literally stood between England and an apparently certain victory. Except for fifteen minutes he was on the field for the whole of the four days and he batted altogether for 13 hours 20 minutes. His second innings of 189 carried his Test aggregate to 2,996, beating the previous highest for South Africa of 2,936 by H. W. Taylor. For a man who first toured England in 1929 he showed little signs of the passing of years and, by subsequent displays, confounded an earlier suggestion that his eye was not so keen as before. Towards the end of May he hit four centuries in six innings and at intervals during the season he obtained another four. His average of 61.03 was 12 points higher than that of any other batsman. Though never spectacularly attractive and often a very slow scorer, Mitchell was seldom dull to watch. In defence, especially when against odds, as in the Fifth Test, he was superb, and occasionally he produced one of the most beautiful off-drives off the back foot in the game. On his second visit Viljoen accomplished much excellent work, though his best performances took place in county games. He deserved sympathy for falling seven short of a century at Manchester, which would have repeated his Test feat there twelve years before. A specially good on-side player, Viljoen also cut strongly.
Melville experienced no greater disappointment than the failure of Dyer as an opening batsman. Dyer began so badly that for the first two Tests Melville was compelled to revise his plans to keep himself for the middle of the batting order and, though Dyer played in the last three Tests, his 62 at Manchester was his only innings of any length. Dyer was not always in the best of health and a weakness for following the rising ball outside the off-stump repeatedly cost him his wicket. At the end of the season he underwent an operation for appendicitis, but he was able to return home with the rest of the party. Harris, a stocky batsman who square cut and drove through the covers particularly well, played some forcing innings which revealed his possibilities and, although Dawson took a long time to get going, he always looked a fine batsman in the making. His driving, notable for the long, free swing, evoked real admiration. Another making big strides at the end of the tour was Fullerton, a stylish batsman, quick on his feet, good in cutting and driving. Begbie and Rowan gave glimpses of their skill, and Mann made one devastating attack on county bowling when he hit 97 in 55 minutes against Glamorgan, but the South Africans felt the absence of a left-handed batsman.
South Africa's bowlers did extremely well to dismiss England so cheaply in the first innings at Nottingham, and they put out Derbyshire for 32, but only on occasions did the attack look deadly. So well did Tuckett begin that he seemed set for a good season as the side's chief fast-medium bowler. In the opening games he troubled most batsmen with lift and sustained hostility, and he returned many fine analyses with inswingers which went through quickly. During the First Test he strained a groin muscle in a gallant 80-minute spell which brought him four wickets for 16 in fourteen overs. Though this strain affected him for the remainder of the season he continued to be as impressive as any pace bowler in the country, but, even so, some of his earlier sting was missing. Dawson, who began the bowling with Tuckett in four of the five Tests, possessed an almost perfect action, but he was of no more than medium pace and lacked the control essential for his markedly late swing. Plimsoll, medium-fast left-arm round, met with considerable success when the wicket gave any help, but otherwise he caused less trouble to class batsmen.
So South Africa relied mainly on a spin attack, but they felt the want of a googly bowler, an almost indispensable part of any previous South African side. Curiously Athol Rowan, the first off-break bowler brought over by South Africa, performed the best work and alone took over 100 wickets. Athol, brother of E. A. Rowan who toured England in 1935, varied his off-breaks with a deceptive leg-cutter. A tall man, he bowled from a good height and delivered the ball more quickly than any of his English counterparts. He gave examples of his considerable ability when taking twenty-one wickets for 63 in two days in Ireland and his eleven for 87 against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham was better than Goddard's five for 153. Probably if Rowan had played half his matches at Bristol or Cheltenham, where spin bowlers received valuable assistance, he would have finished with remarkable figures. Rowan's keenness was typified in the previous season in South Africa where, following a leg injury, he played club cricket with his leg in irons. Mann, the left-arm slow bowler, Cambridge Golf Blue and former P.o.W. in Italy, signalised his first Test appearance by opening with eight successive maiden overs to Compton and Edrich, and altogether gave away only 104 runs in 80 overs on the feather-bed Nottingham wicket. On the second day of the Fourth Test Mann took four wickets for 59 in 42 overs and all through the tour his immaculate length so tied down his opponents that 350 on his 954 overs were maidens. Mann rarely departed from his orthodox going-away ball on the middle or off stump and on account of his low trajectory batsmen seldom were able to get to the pitch. Smith, who started with ten for 76 against Cambridge University, played a big part in England's first innings collapse at Nottingham, and against Derbyshire he performed a feat unprecedented in English first-class cricket by taking six wickets, including a hat-trick, for 1 run in 4.5 overs. Smith mixed leg-breaks and top-spinners and rarely dropped the ball short, but his inability to bowl a googly made him less dangerous than otherwise he might have been. Begbie, another leg-break bowler without a googly, and Payn, the third left-arm bowler, did little.
South Africa possessed three wicket-keepers in Lindsay, Ovenstone and Fullerton. Lindsay was regarded as first choice, but though he always gave the impression of much natural skill, he began shakily on the wet wickets and seemed to lose confidence so that Fullerton, a much better batsman, displaced him in the last two Tests. Against Nottinghamshire, Ovenstone broke a finger and was out of the game for two months, but there were times when he looked very good. In fielding the South Africans gave many English sides an object lesson. Melville, a fine captain, distinguished himself at silly mid-off and cover-point, and of the others Dawson attracted chief attention as a fine thrower and superb catcher.
Whatever their abilities or defects, the South Africans played the game in the best and happiest spirit so that the Tests were nothing more serious than the sporting encounters they were always meant to be. In addition to making £10,000 profit the South Africans gave half their gates against Surrey and Lancashire to help the counties rebuild their war-battered grounds.
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