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In many ways the first tour made by New Zealand in South Africa was a distinct success; yet much better playing results might have been gained but for inconsistency. In several matches the New Zealanders were in a position from which it appeared probable that they would force a victory, only for the chance to be allowed to slip.
Two of these lost opportunities occurred in the Second and Fifth Test Matches, which both ended in defeat. In fact, South Africa, by winning four of the five Tests and drawing the other, achieved more success than in any of their previous Test series, and New Zealand still waited to break the ice by recording their first Test victory. As it was, at the end of the tour the New Zealand record in Test matches stood at 31 matches played without a single victory.
The touring team's defeats were limited to the Tests; they won three and drew eight of the other first-class matches. Despite their limited victories, the side proved very attractive to the public because of their bright play, and over a quarter of a million people saw the matches.
In batting, the team provided the strongest contrasts. Much of it was spectacular; the South Africans possessed nobody with the same free-scoring ability as Sutcliffe and Reid, who both made over 1,000 runs and at times played with real power and brilliance. Yet the team lacked real solidity.
Sutcliffe, the left-hander, perhaps fell a little below what had been expected of such a gifted player, but there were times when he played in a manner to live in the memory of spectators. The most notable instance of this came during the Second Test at Johannesburg. On a pitch from which the ball lifted considerably, Sutcliffe was hit on the head before scoring by a delivery from Adcock and had to go to hospital for an X-ray examination. When he returned he played a superbly aggressive innings of 80 not out during which he hit seven 6's.
Yet to Reid must be given the palm for the outstanding player of the tour, for besides exceeding 1,000 runs he also took 51 wickets, a record performance for an all-rounder during a South African season. He headed the bowling averages and was second in batting to Sutcliffe.
But for breaking a bone in the foot just before the Fourth Test Match, an injury which prevented him from playing again on the tour, Rabone, the captain, might have been rated the most valuable member of the team. A popular and efficient leader, he also enjoyed considerable all-round playing success. His dour batting provided a stiffening to the side which was often most valuable, he bowled steadily and he set a good example to a fielding side which improved as the tour progressed.
The New Zealanders' bowling, in general, seldom aspired to more than a moderate standard. The best feature was the surprising improvement during the tour of the tall, fast-medium bowler MacGibbon, who took 50 wickets. Early on he bowled with too long a run and his improvement began from the time when this was cut down. He became a reliable bowler capable of prolonged spells, and he, Reid, Blair and Overton, all of considerable pace, made up in large measure for the lack of success of the spin bowlers.
A young player who showed decided promise for the future was Beck, the 19-year-old left-handed batsman, a gifted stroke-player and an excellent fieldsman.
Much interest in the performances of the South African players centred in the prospects of the 1955 tour to England, and although there was satisfaction that they won the Tests series so clearly, some aspects were not entirely pleasing. The batting was neither so bold as it had been in Australia the previous season nor as entertaining as that seen from Reid and Sutcliffe, but South Africa possessed a greater number of reliable run-getters than their visitors, a factor of vital importance in the Tests.
McGlew, for his soundness, and van Ryneveld, for stroke-play, were perhaps the best South African batsmen, but Endean disappointed after his feats in Australia. McLean, too, was inconsistent, and lost his Test place in the final match. Cheetham, the captain, on the other hand, played several sound and painstaking innings of great value.
Waite's batting fell off so markedly that, from being opening batsman, he went in at number eight in the last two Tests. He also went in late in the Second Test, but this was because of an injured knee. Waite made up for this disappointment by establishing a new record for any Test wicket-keeper, dismissing 23 batsmen in the five matches, and he reached peak form during the last Test by disposing of seven and conceding no bye during the two innings.
A most satisfactory feature for South Africa was the success of two new opening bowlers, Adcock and Ironside. Adcock, standing six feet three inches, showed genuine pace and frequently made the ball rear unpleasantly from a good length. He also moved the ball well in the air and deserved to take most wickets in the Tests. Ironside swung the ball at medium pace and was able to bowl for long spells without losing accuracy.
In spin bowling the South Africans were much better served than their opponents. Tayfield, although inconsistent, did well again with his off-breaks, and van Ryneveld and Watkins afforded ample support.
As in Australia, where the South Africans gained a highly deserved reputation, the ground fielding was often, exceptionally brilliant, but they missed a surprising number of catches, far more in fact than did the New Zealanders.
During the return journey the touring side played three games in Australia, beating Western Australia and South Australia and drawing with Victoria. Sutcliffe earned the distinction of scoring a century in each of these three matches, and the burly J. G. Leggat, flown out from New Zealand to reinforce the side, also batted splendidly.
The tour ended with a match at Wellington against A New Zealand Xl, which the touring team won by an innings and 69 runs.
Matches--Played 17, Won 3, Lost 4, Drawn 10
Matches--Played 5, Won 0, Lost 4, Drawn 1
The touring team also played three first-class matches in Australia and one in New Zealand, winning three and drawing one.
Match reports for
1st Test: South Africa v New Zealand at Durban, Dec 11-15, 1953
2nd Test: South Africa v New Zealand at Johannesburg, Dec 24-29, 1953
3rd Test: South Africa v New Zealand at Cape Town, Jan 1-5, 1954
4th Test: South Africa v New Zealand at Johannesburg, Jan 29-Feb 2, 1954
5th Test: South Africa v New Zealand at Port Elizabeth, Feb 5-9, 1954