CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1961

Neil Adcock

An hour after the South African tour had ended at Scarborough their fast bowler turned to his neighbour in the team's coach. "Well," he said with a grin. "I made it." He shook hands heartily. The man who had won more distinction than any other fast bowler from his country and who was South Africa's out-standing figure in a fateful summer was not referring to his striking success.

Neil Amwin Treharne Adcock, the 6ft. 3 in. tall 29-year-old hero of his side, was congratulating himself on avoiding a break-down. "I left the field only three times," he added, "because I had burst the seams of my trousers." Why was he haunted by a dread of disability? Injuries had so disturbed his cricket in recent years that both he and his admirers doubted whether he could stand up to a strenuous tour of five months. In England in 1955 he broke a bone in his foot and it was in plaster for a month. In each of the following three seasons he suffered set-backs.

Since Adcock emerged during the 1960 tour as South Africa's sole penetrating bowler when his young partner Geoffrey Griffin had to withdraw, any injury to him must have been disastrous to a side beset with more than a fair share of misfortune. As it was, his bowling, which some good judges thought to be the fastest in contemporary cricket, provided both an admirable spearhead of attack and a delight to spectators.

Even Adcock himself was surprised at his new-found ability and enduring stamina. He believed that the chief reasons for his success lay in his acquisition of a smooth rhythmic action which put a minimum tax on his energy, and in his building-up exercises. Unlike many fast bowlers Adcock does not employ a pronounced movement of the body at the point of delivery. He bowls without interruption in the course of his run, swinging his arm on a trunk that is virtually upright -- like a sudden gust turning a light windmill.

The one criticism which could be levelled at his methods was his recurring tendency to bowl short. This was particularly apparent in the second Test at Lord's. However he set his sights he displayed the rare gift of being able to make the ball lift to an awkward height for the batsman. Conscious of his lack of strength in his narrow shoulders he spent nine months at home -- often as frequently as three times a week -- undergoing a course of exercises and weightlifting. He was amply rewarded.

Adcock took 26 wickets in the five Tests for his side's top average of 22.57 and thus equalled the number of wickets taken by a South African in a series in England established by Hugh Tayfield in 1955. In the final match he had no fewer than five chances missed. On the tour as a whole he claimed 108 wickets (average 14.03) and thus surpassed the performances of the only two South African fast bowlers who have exceeded one hundred wickets on the tour: J.J. Kotze took 104 wickets, average of 20.50, in 1904, and R.J. Crisp reached 107 wickets, average 19.58, in 1935.

His prelude to a memorable season occurred in the second match of the tour when against Derbyshire he had a match analysis of 10 wickets for 74. Four times in the course of the summer he took two wickets with successive balls, yet he has never performed the hat-trick.

Adcock comes from English stock. He derives his unusual christian name of Amwin from the combination of the names of two aunts, Amy and Winifred. Treharne was the surname of an uncle. He inherited his love of sport from his mother's side of the family. His grandfather, W. Adcock, in 1892 made top score of 20 out of 92 for a Port Elizabeth XXII against the M.C.C. He also represented an Eastern Province XXII.

In his own words Neil's school-day cricket was quite undistinguished. He was born in Cape Town on March 8, 1931. While his father was away on active service he began to play cricket. He stayed with people on a farm at Besters near Ladysmith in Natal. The elder boys showed him the game.

He went on to St. Charles at Maritzburg, Grey High School at Port Elizabeth, and at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg, appearing in the second eleven as a medium-pace bowler.

The first indication of his impressive future came at the start of the season of 1951-52. The South African team had recently returned from England and in a club trial match Adcock played under the captaincy of Eric Rowan. As he explained, "I had never played under Rowan. Partly from nervousness I slipped myself and bowled much faster than I had ever done before. It took everybody, including myself, by surprise. I still played in the second team but a month later was promoted."

The advice of another famous cricketer, Cyril Vincent, the left-hand bowler, helped to increase his speed. Adcock was frail and weighed only 150 lb. -- against 196 today -- and he could bowl only four or five overs. Rowan played the biggest part in his development. He made his debut in first-class cricket for Transvaal against Natal in Durban in 1952-53 and the following season took 13 wickets for 65 against Orange Free State in a friendly match. His Test career started against New Zealand at home in 1953-54 when his haul for the series was 24 wickets.

Altogether Adcock has played in 24 Tests. His best single innings performance was six for 43 against Australia at Durban in 1957-58. He believes that his peak in accuracy, control and stamina was reached in the first and fifth Tests at Birmingham and The Oval in the 1960 season. At times he seemed to be over-worked but next day he would return fresh with skill unimpaired.

Light-hearted batting has earned him one more run (96) than he has taken wickets in Tests. His highest first-class score is 41. In his cheerful boyish way he used to say, One day I'm going to 'jack' someone out of the ground. The day came during the first Test match played at the new Wanderers ground in Johannesburg. He swung at his first ball -- from Johnny Wardle -- hit it for six, made his top test score of 17 and was presented with the ball, suitably mounted.

© John Wisden & Co