Tests: England 1 South Africa 1, ODIs: England 2 South Africa 0

The South Africans in England, 1994

Scyld Berry

South Africa's first Test series in England since 1965 began in triumph, when they won the First Test at Lord's in four days, vastly superior to England in every facet except spin bowling, in which the tourists chose not to compete at all. However, in the course of the two remaining Test matches, the pendulum swung from one side to the other, as seldom happens in a three-Test series. England gained the advantage during the Second Test at Headingley and used it to full effect in the Third at The Oval. Indeed, so unsettled were the South Africans on the fast pitch there that they ended in some disarray; and ultimately their complete record on paper, after losing their final one-day game against Holland, was little better than that of the New Zealanders earlier in the summer. After the tour, Mike Procter, one of the most famous names in South African cricket, was replaced as coach by the more technically-minded Englishman, Bob Woolmer, and in November Kepler Wessels gave up the captaincy. But because they took England's last two wickets in their Lord's Test, unlike New Zealand, and because they renewed official relationships so diplomatically, the South Africans' tour of 1994 can be judged an overall success.

Amid the harmony which existed between the two teams, and between the South Africans and the public (although the tourists' approach to the county games was often cautious), there was only one controversy, albeit a huge one, and it did not directly concern the tourists at all. The Lord's Test match was played in intense heat, similar to that in the West Indies where England had toured a few months before, and where they had learned a lot about reverse-swing. On the Saturday afternoon at Lord's, the England captain, Mike Atherton, was seen on television to be taking dirt from his pocket, which everyone agreed was connected with keeping the ball dry and helping it to reverse-swing. Thereafter, public opinion differed sharply during a debate which provoked newspaper editorials and phone-in programmes, and divided even those barely interested in cricket into two factions. One faction thought Atherton was cheating and that this, combined with his economy with the truth in front of the ICC referee Peter Burge, constituted a resignation issue; the other accepted his assertion that he was trying to avoid affecting the ball. It was subsequently inferred that Burge took a very dim view of Atherton's behaviour, since he fined him half his match fee at The Oval for stepping minimally out of line, by shaking his head and looking at the inside edge of his bat after being given leg-before first ball.

If the incident at Lord's was unfortunate for Atherton, coming as it did within the first year of his England captaincy, it was no less so for the South Africans. Public attention was distracted from their magnificent victory - one of only two first-class games that they won - and due credit denied them in the British media. Moreover, Procter remarked after the series that he thought the Atherton affair had had the effect of bringing the England players together, in support of their young captain.

In any event, the tourists never quite recaptured the fervent enthusiasm which they brought to the Lord's match. After 29 years away from England, a sweeping victory at the first attempt proved to be almost a cathartic experience, after which everything else was anticlimax. There may also have been a failure to redefine goals. The two previous South African parties who won Test series in England, in 1935 and 1965, had done so by one game to nil; and on their arrival Wessels and his team had spoken of a similar aim, expecting the win to come at either Headingley or The Oval, the two grounds overtly most suited to their pace bowling. The Test at Lord's was to have been a quiet reintroduction, an acclimatisation. When England capitulated after the opening day of the series, the tourists as much as anyone were taken by surprise and did not readjust their sights upwards.

More so than Atherton's handful of dust, the return of the Surrey left-hander Graham Thorpe enlivened England and started the pendulum's swing away from the tourists towards the home side. On an unexpectedly true batting pitch at Headingley, England's batsmen were labouring as usual until Thorpe came in and swiftly embarked upon a trio of scores in the seventies which lifted his side out of their hitherto defensive and unconfident approach. Now, while Atherton kept one end going, he had a partner to attack the bowling from the other, as well as to disrupt its line. Inexplicably and wrongly omitted for four Tests after two excellent innings during the West Indian tour, Thorpe was not only powerful in his pulling, which had previously been quick and sure, but in his square-cutting and straight-driving. The four South African pace bowlers - unplayable at Lord's and considered by some to be superior to the West Indian attack - suddenly became ordinary.

At Headingley, however, the South Africans still had enough steam to fight back with the tenacity that was their trademark. Apparently doomed at 105 for five in reply to 477, their later order rallied superbly under Peter Kirsten, who drew on five seasons of experience with Derbyshire to make his maiden Test hundred at the age of 39, and the large, burly all-rounder Brian McMillan, whom Atherton considered to be as good a batsman as any on the South African side. What is more, the tourists counter-attacked with aggressive strokeplay, not dogged defence. Once they had saved the follow-on, England made no more than a gesture towards winning.

Still, the cracks which had appeared in South Africa's cricket at Headingley - for instance, the uncertainty of their vice-captain Hansie Cronje against the short-pitched bowling of Darren Gough - England widened in spectacular fashion at The Oval. Pre-tour conjecture had come up with several suggestions as to what South African cricket had missed most during the years of their absence from official cricket because of apartheid, and at The Oval the answer became apparent. In their approach - tenacious spirit, buoyant morale and hard work - the tourists were like the best of Australian teams. But their batsmen shaped more like New Zealanders when confronted with the unfamiliar spectacle of a fast and bouncy pitch. Their top-order batsmen were so startled by it that they were overwhelmed.

By then the senior opening batsman, Andrew Hudson, had been dropped, his self-confidence gone, his shot selection indiscriminate. His one century of the tour was in the final game at Scarborough. But he had made 163 against West Indies in Barbados and perhaps he should have been persuaded to play at The Oval. In his absence, the half-brothers Gary and Peter Kirsten were paired as openers and could not cope with Devon Malcolm at his fastest. Earlier, on slower wickets, the left-handed Gary had demonstrated a fine cover drive and had set both of South Africa's innings in motion at Lord's; he was also a brave short leg. The tall and front-footed Cronje at No. 3 was ever more at sea as the series went on. For a team which had two of its first three batsmen as non-contributors throughout the series, the tourists did remarkably well.

Wessels, who suffered a hairline fracture of his right forearm at Leicester, played his major innings at the most important time, on the opening day at Lord's. His fielding at first slip was safe and sound, as was his captaincy, given the limited variety in his bowling attack. Jonty Rhodes, like Thorpe, was quick to pull but at The Oval Daryll Cullinan looked a more complete batsman. In the field, at cover, Rhodes was as influential as the bowlers in making England feel boxed in at Lord's. Like his team-mates, he sparkled less thereafter, and he did not run out an England batsman until the one-day series, when England maintained their newly acquired domination. Constantly compared with Colin Bland, Rhodes was physically more flexible in the covers for being shorter, but did not have Bland's strength of throw from the boundary.

The advantages of an all-pace attack could not have been better illustrated than at Lord's. Allan Donald, used in sharp, five-over bursts, had the speed to provoke unplanned strokes from the England batsmen, on a dry surface too loose to be true. By The Oval, the drawbacks were stark, and Wessels had nowhere to turn except to the medium-pace of Cronje. Donald was found to have no change of pace - only very fast and faster - and was hit with astonishing abandon. Had Donald not recovered from an infected toe which forced him out of the attack at Headingley, the flattish off-spinner Pat Symcox would have played in the final Test. The slow left-armer Tim Shaw was tidy but predictable when bowling round the wicket, using exactly the same position in the crease and never varying his angle.

Fanie de Villiers was the most outgoing character in the party and the most popular with the public. He bowled his out-swing brilliantly from the Nursery End at Lord's but never swung the ball much again. Though similar in size and pace to Terry Alderman, he did not get so close to the stumps, or - more likely - was not allowed to by the umpires. Craig Matthews was steadiness itself as a third seamer, a taller version of Robin Jackman, who had coached him, but without enough swing, seam or pace to take wickets in quantity. McMillan was aggressive, ready to drop the ball short, but seldom made the ball leave the right-handed bat. Richard Snell, who replaced Aubrey Martyn when he went home with a back injury (depriving Wessels of the variation of a left-armer), also pitched too short, as he had when with Somerset in 1992.

Perhaps the most consistently successful member of the party was the wicket-keeper Dave Richardson (his deputy, Gerhardus Liebenberg, had only kept wicket at club level and was chosen more for his batting). By the end of the tour Richardson, a 34-year-old lawyer by profession, was one of the only two players - Donald being the other - who had played in all 17 of South Africa's Tests since their return, and well merited the distinction for his polished keeping, resolution and crisp cutting with the bat, and his cheerful demeanour.

Procter's overall objective was to make South African cricket more attacking. Thanks largely to the robust methods of McMillan and Richardson in the later order, the Test team scored at more than three runs an over in the series, when in the previous Tests since their return they had scored at only 2.28. Having aimed over the previous two years for respectability, frequently in the shape of draws, the South Africans played a more expansive game in England. It thrillingly paid off at Lord's and in their counter-attack at Headingley. For England, after their deplorable start, a drawn series - only their second at home since 1974 - was a comforting consolation.


SOUTH AFRICAN TOURING PARTY

K. C. Wessels (Eastern Province) (captain), W. J. Cronje (Orange Free State) (vice-captain), D. J. Cullinan (Transvaal), P. S. De Villiers (Northern Transvaal), A. A. Donald (Orange Free State), A. C. Hudson (Natal), G. Kirsten (Western Province), P. N. Kirsten (Border), G. F. J. Liebenberg (Orange Free State), B. M. McMillan (Western Province), A. Martyn (Western Province), C. R. Matthews (Western Province), J. N. Rhodes (Natal), D. J. Richardson (Eastern Province), T. G. Shaw (Eastern Province), P. L. Symcox (Natal).

R. P. Snell (Transvaal) replaced Martyn, who suffered a back injury shortly after arriving in England.

Manager: F. Bing. Assistant manager: Goolam Rajah. Coach: M. J. Procter.


SOUTH AFRICAN TOUR RESULTS

Test matches - Played 3: Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 1.

First-class matches - Played 14: Won 2, Lost 2, Drawn 10.

Wins - England, Nottinghamshire.

Losses - England, Kent.

Draws - England, Sussex, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Durham, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Minor Counties, Glamorgan, President's XI.

One-day internationals - Played 2: Lost 2.

Other non first-class matches - Played 3: Won 1, Lost 1, No result 1. Win - Earl of Carnarvon's XI. Loss - President's XI. No result - Scotland.


Match reports for

1st Test: England v South Africa at Lord's, Jul 21-24, 1994
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: England v South Africa at Leeds, Aug 4-8, 1994
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: England v South Africa at The Oval, Aug 18-21, 1994
Report | Scorecard

1st ODI: England v South Africa at Birmingham, Aug 25, 1994
Report | Scorecard

2nd ODI: England v South Africa at Manchester, Aug 27-28, 1994
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co
 
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