First Test Match

ENGLAND v SOUTH AFRICA 1947

R.J.H.

How England fought back from a seemingly hopeless position will cause this match to be a subject of cricket discussion for a long time. Surprisingly dismissed on a perfect batting wicket for 208, England lost four men for 170 after following-on 325 behind, so that when Yardley joined Compton 155 runs were needed to avoid an innings defeat with Evans the only recognised batsman to come. Yet England made such a complete recovery that South Africa were denied a victory their early superiority deserved, and, in fact, for one brief moment on the last day faint visions were raised of a South African defeat.

In view of the harvest of runs previously gathered by county batsmen at Trent Bridge, it was expected that bowlers would face an unusually difficult task. So events proved, and, in spite of England's first innings failure, batsmen were so much in their element that the four days produced 1,458 runs while 31 wickets fell. Several records were established, of which the most notable were:

    (1) The 319 stand by Melville and Nourse beat the previous highest for the third wicket in any Test and was a South African Test record for any wicket. (2) South Africa's total of 533 was their best ever in Test cricket. (3) Melville became the first South African to score two separate centuries in a Test and his 189 stood as the biggest individual score for his country against England. Including his 103 at Durban in 1938-39, he thus made three centuries in successive innings against England (this became four in the Second Test, at Lord's). (4) Compton and Yardley shared in the highest Test fifth wicket stand in England -- 237.

    No doubt the expected docile nature of the pitch influenced the England selectors in their omission of Wright from the chosen twelve, but, in his absence, the attack looked only moderate apart from good opening and finishing spells by Bedser and some troublesome overs by Hollies. For eighty tense minutes before lunch the poor light, heavy atmosphere and slightly damp turf gave bowlers some assistance for the only time in the match, and South Africa did well to lose only Mitchell, bowled by a fine ball which went with Bedser's arm, for 44 runs. A further setback occurred when Edrich, with his fifth delivery after the interval, gained a leg-before decision against Viljoen, so that, with the only other two experienced Test batsmen out early, Melville and Nourse became associated at a critical time. Nourse at first was not comfortable, and three times he narrowly missed playing on against the fast bowlers, but soon he settled down and the big partnership between captain and vice-captain took shape. South Africa's position imposed early restraint on Melville, but he was never over-affected by his responsibility and he made many graceful strokes of perfect timing. After the initial caution he and Nourse scored rapidly, and their 319 runs together came in exactly four hours before, at 363, Nourse was bowled round his legs. He cut, hooked and drove with exhilarating power, hitting a 6 and fifteen 4's. South Africa finished the first day with 376 for three wickets, but Melville, whose 189 out of 384 contained a 6 and sixteen 4's, went early on Monday. South Africa owed him a big debt.

    Further resistance came to England's attack from Harris and Dawson, Harris scoring many runs with strong square-cuts and cover-drives and Dawson driving with ease and style. Bedser and Hollies deserved special credit for their work on the second day, when the last seven South African wickets made only 157 in three hours, but neither Cook, the left-hander, nor Martin, fast-medium, impressed on his first Test appearance. England's fielding was not satisfactory; even Evans made mistakes.

    England shocks quickly followed. Hutton and Washbrook were out for 48, but an unbroken partnership of 106 by Edrich and Compton to the end of the day gave hope of a big reply. Though 86 overs were delivered, Melville preferred to wait for the new ball till his bowlers were fresh in the morning. The mental effect of this probably cost Compton his wicket. At any rate he made a casual stroke to the second loosening-up ball by Tuckett in the first over of the day, first slip taking an easy catch. Inspired by this unexpected success Tuckett, who claimed the new ball for his first delivery against the new man Dollery, bowled splendidly, and Smith provided excellent support with accurate length leg-breaks. Against this attack, backed up by first-rate fielding, in which Melville at cover excelled, eight England wickets tumbled for 54 before lunch, and the last five produced no more than ten runs. For his unbroken spell of eighty minutes Tuckett returned an analysis of 14--7--16--4. His length and direction rarely erred and he surprised his opponents by his speed through the air and off the ground. A particular feature of their out-cricket was the manner in which all the South Africans bowled to their well-placed fields. Mann, for instance, began his Test career with eight successive maiden overs to such punishing batsmen as Compton and Edrich, and he gave away only 10 runs in 20 overs.

    In the follow-on England received another big blow through Hutton's second cheap dismissal. Tuckett sent his off stump catapulting out of its socket, but Washbrook and Edrich put on 96 before Edrich hit over a full toss. Melville and his men pursued tight tactics against Washbrook, who gave a catch at the wicket at 133 in attempting to cut a ball well outside his off stump. When Dawson took a fine low return catch off Dollery, so making four men out for 170, everything looked set for a South African victory. At this point Yardley joined Compton. Before the close they added 108 in one hundred minutes, but even so, England, with six wickets to fall at the beginning of the last day, needed 47 to make South Africa bat again.

    Yardley called for an hour's concentrated net practice from the remaining batsmen before play in the morning. He and Compton immediately displayed refreshing confidence, but Yardley added only six to his overnight 45 before being unaccountably dropped at first slip by Mitchell off Tuckett. Compton played one of the best innings of his career for his side, and Yardley provided the Yorkshire grit and ability which helped turn the tables. They made 237 together before Compton fell to a catch in the slips. He batted four hours and three-quarters without relaxing vigilance and without noticeable error. At no time did he offer the hitherto dominating attack the slightest hope and his 163 out of 291 included nineteen 4's. On Compton's dismissal the odds still heavily favoured South Africa, but Yardley found another good partner in Evans, and runs came swiftly till Yardley fell to a slip catch off the new ball when needing one for his first Test century. Apart from that chance when 51, Yardley batted soundly and showed special aptitude for leg-side play. Evans went on hitting powerfully and cleanly, and his 74, obtained in seventy-five minutes, contained fourteen 4's. Bedser and Cook gave little trouble, but South Africa's tiring bowlers conceded 51 runs to the last-wicket pair, Martin and Hollies, who for forty-eight important minutes defied all efforts to dislodge them. More accurate bowling than that of Mann, who sent down 80 overs in the match for 104 runs on a batsman's wicket, could scarcely be imagined. Mitchell's misfortune in dropping Yardley was the turning-point in the game; otherwise the South Africans gave nothing away.

    South Africa were left 140 minutes to get 227 to win, but they made no real attempt at the task. Towards the end of England's innings Melville pulled a thigh muscle and left the field, but he opened the batting again with Mitchell. Bedser quickly got rid of Mitchell, but Melville, though limping painfully, completed his second hundred in the match. When 96 he was dropped by Evans off Compton, but otherwise was master. Viljoen helped to add 145 in an unbroken stand.

    © John Wisden & Co