There is no getting away from the fact that South African cricket suffered a severe set back last summer. The tour in England was frankly a failure. When the last match had been played, H.W. Taylor, the captain, pleaded no excuse on the score of bad weather. In his opinion the cause of the ill success of his side lay in the fact that the bowlers whose form at home on matting had inspired high hopes were quite ineffective on turf wickets. This criticism, though he took 127 wickets during the tour, applied with some force to Blanckenberg and more particularly to Nupen, about whom a good deal had been said in advance. Even before the season began, English cricketers were not in the least apprehensive as to what was likely to happen. They regarded the Test matches as little more than pleasant preliminaries to the tasks which had to be faced in Australia during the present winter and at home in 1926. This feeling of easy confidence was more than justified by events. Not at any point of the game, except wicket keeping, could the South Africans last summer bear comparison for a moment with the great Australian team of 1921. Against that famous combination, very few English sides after the loss of the Test Matches at Nottingham and Lord's, went into the field with any real hope of victory. Last summer, on the other hand, any good eleven could face the South Africans without being at all disturbed. Our visitors had no extravagant ideas of what they were likely to do in the Test matches, but they did not expect to be so completely overwhelmed. As in our own case in 1921, the rubber was decided straight away, the first three Test matches being lost by tremendous margins. Indeed the defeat at Lord's, when England declared with two wickets down for 531 and won in a single innings, was in point of actual fact the heaviest defeat in the history of Test match cricket. Still it was in the five Test matches that the South Africans, with scores of 390 at Birmingham, 273 and 240 at Lord's, 323 at Leeds and 342 at the Oval, did themselves most credit as a batting side.
In all, the team took part in 38 fixtures of which they won only eight, and lost nine, the remaining twenty one being left drawn. It was a severe commentary on the weather against which cricketers had to contend last season that of twenty matches with the first class counties, twelve were unfinished. The figures, taken by themselves, do not give a true idea of how little the South Africans were to be feared. Not once did they overcome a really powerful eleven, the best of the eight victories being gained at the expense of Hampshire, Somerset, Essex and Cambridge University- a truly modest record. Apart from the three defeats in the Test matches, they were beaten by Notts, Lancashire, Mr. Leveson-Gower's Eleven, the Minor Counties, Kent and, at Scarborough in the last match of the tour, by Mr. C.I. Thornton's England Eleven. Everything went to prove that, despite the bad weather, they were far stronger in batting than in bowling. Again and again it was the bowling that let them down. The problem of how to get England out weighed so heavily on Taylor that he brought in G.M. Parker, a young fast bowler from the Yorkshire League, at Birmingham and Lord's, and at Lord's persuaded G.A. Faulkner to make a single appearance for the team. How the side would get on without Pegler it is painful to think. Pegler was not one of the players originally chosen, but he joined the team on the voyage home and permission was obtained from the South African Cricket Association to play him if he proved to be in form. He was soon found to be indispensable, being obviously more difficult than anyone else on slow wickets. Indeed, in Taylor's opinion, he was a better bowler than he had been in 1912 when he bore the brunt of the work in the Triangular Tournament. One would scarcely like to go so far as this but he did a lot of good work and deserved far stronger support than he received. Blanckenberg had days of marked success against weak sides but it would be idle to pretend that he had any terrors for our best batsmen. He did not attempt to explain away his lack of effectiveness in the Test and other big matches, admitting in the frankest way that our turf wickets baffled him. He could not spin the ball as he was accustomed to on matting. It was admittedly an experiment to bring over so young a fast bowler as Bissett and, as ill luck would have it, just as he seemed likely to be useful an injury to his foot laid him aside. Nupen was handicapped at one time by a strained back but before anything happened to him he failed badly.
The batsmen's figures for the tour came out vastly better than those of the bowlers. Five men had aggregates of over twelve hundred runs and, ranging down from Taylor's 41, there were eight averages of over 21. Expert opinion was unanimous in placing Taylor among the best of living sportsmen and yet, though he scored 192 runs, he disappointed both himself and his friends. He could not find his best form on the big occasions, his highest score in the five Test matches being 59 not out. There can be no doubt that the anxiety of captaining a beaten team told upon him and that he would have done far better if he had had nothing to think about but his own batting. In some of the smaller fixtures he was quite himself, hitting up hundreds against Essex, the Combined Services, Warwickshire and Nothamptonshire. On his good days, there could be no question to his class. In point of style he was a model and the strength of his back play made his defence look almost impregnable. In strongest contrast to Taylor's experiences were those of R.H. Catterall. Taking the whole tour through, Catterall had a modest record- 1389 runs with an average of 27- but inasmuch as he triumphed in the Test matches, scoring 120 at Birmingham, 120 at Lord's and 95 at the Oval, he was in a sense the outstanding figure on the side. Generally a bad starter, he not either at Birmingham or Lord's begin in a way that even remotely suggested an innings of a hundred, but once he settled down he played splendid cricket of a most attractive style. In these days, when so many batsmen are only aggressive when they pull, it was a sheer delight to see such magnificent driving. We had been told to expect a good deal from him and his form in the England matches afforded clear proof that he had not been over praised. His success against England dwarfed everything else that was done by the team. The veteran Nourse- a man of over forty six- had a great season, heading Taylor in the aggregate of runs and being only three behind him in the averages. He was as good as ever, wonderfully strong in defence and a master of many strokes but, true to his traditions, he could not play his game in the Test matches, 37 being his highest score in eight innings. Apart from the all important fixtures, he was the most consistent run getter on the side. Like Taylor, he made four hundreds, the best of them being a splendid 147 not out against Notts at Trent Bridge in May, when the South Africans suffered their first defeat. Another excellent batsman was M.J.Susskind, who did great things in the latter part of the tour. Still, though he scored so well, he did not command much admiration. Considering his advantages in height and reach, he nearly always seemed cramped in style, only on rare occasions venturing to let himself go, and no one in the team was so constantly open to the charge of playing with his legs. This was especially noticeable when he was trying to save the Test match at Lord's, appeal after appeal against him for leg before wicket being made before at last the umpire gave him out. Commaille was a good useful batsman but, though a consistent run getter, he did nothing out of the common.
As a fielding side, the south Africans were just an average combination- good enough but not within a hundred miles of the Australians in 1921. To T.A. Ward, the wicket keeper, however, unstinted praise should be given. Compelled to get through an enormous amount of work, and at times rather badly knocked about, he kept up his form wonderfully well, making very few mistakes and proving himself a real successor to Halliwell and Percy Sherwell.
Considering the dreadful weather and their small measure of success the team did well in the financial sense, getting through, so Mr. Allsopp the manager said, with modest balance on the right side.
The team consisted of:
H.W. TAYLOR (Natal), captain, J.M.M. COMMAILLE (Western Province), A.D. NOURSE (Natal), J.M. BLANCKENBERG (Natal), C. CARTER (Natal), H.G. DEANE (Transvaal), M.J. SUSSKIND (Transvaal), D.J. MEINTJES (Transvaal), C.D. DIXON (Transvaal), T.A. WARD (Transvaal), S.J. PEGLER (Transvaal), P.A.M. HANDS (Western Province), R.H. CATTERALL (Rhodesia), G.F. BISSETT (Griqualand West) and G. HEARNE (South Western).
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