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Although they narrowly failed to win the rubber, the South African cricketers who toured England in 1955 under the captaincy of J. E. Cheetham went home knowing they had done better than any of their predecessors. Never before had South Africa won two Tests in a tour in England as they did at Old Trafford and Headingley; in fact their only other victories were at Lord's in 1935 and at Nottingham in 1951.
England should have been prepared for a serious challenge, for they were fully aware of the way South Africa shared the Test honours in Australia in 1952-53 when each country won two matches. As many as ten of that combination came to England last summer and, more important, the two key-men--K. G. Viljoen, the manager, and Cheetham--were again in charge. They disciplined the team with the same thoroughness as they did in Australia, insisting upon a high standard of physical fitness, which produced an exceptionally brilliant fielding combination and kept the men fresh throughout a long and arduous tour. By the end of June the South Africans could show only four wins, against M.C.C., Oxford, Somerset, and Sussex, but afterwards their first-class victories numbered eleven, including two over England, and only one more match was lost--the final Test at The Oval.
Considering their adversities in May and June, the South Africans deserved the highest praise for finishing the summer with flying colours. Few touring teams have begun so discouragingly and yet arrived at The Oval in August with the rubber still at stake. Bitterly cold weather in May produced conditions entirely foreign to the majority of the side, and not only were they beaten in the very first match at Worcester, but they lost the first two Tests at Trent Bridge and Lord's. On those occasions the pace of Tyson and Statham in turn brought about their undoing; but when the sun shone warmly they went to Old Trafford resolved to meet the fast bowling unflinchingly, and their positive approach was rewarded with a total of 521 and victory by a margin of three wickets.
This success came early in July when the team struck such excellent form that, besides going on to win the fourth Test at Headingley, they mastered the two strongest counties, Yorkshire at Sheffield by 193 runs and Surrey at The Oval by 82. While England could point to injuries disturbing the composition of the side, no one would say that these detracted from the merit of South Africa's wonderful recovery and everybody was prepared for a hard and close contest in the final match. Thanks almost entirely to a not out innings of 89 by their captain, May, and accurate and persistent spin bowling by Lock and Laker, England gained the verdict in a match which drew 100,000 spectators in four days.
That South Africa did not achieve their ambition to win the rubber was due almost entirely to inconsistent batting. D. J. McGlew, their vice-captain, was the only really dependable batsman, and even he failed in both innings at Lord's; otherwise he enjoyed a successful tour with easily the highest aggregate and average. Much will be found about McGlew and Tayfield in their biographies in the Five Cricketers of the Year, but here one would emphasise that besides his ability as a run-maker McGlew was outstanding at cover in a set of brilliant fielders, and in addition he proved himself a most capable understudy to Cheetham when the captain was away. Indeed, the South Africans' two Test victories were achieved under McGlew's leadership.
A valuable ally to McGlew as a batsman, and especially in the Tests, was Goddard, who besides scoring 1,163 runs in the first-class matches also took 60 wickets. Standing six feet two inches, Goddard was new to Test matches. Left-handed in batting as well as bowling and a capable slip fielder, he was the best all-rounder. In most of his work Goddard showed himself to be a defensive cricketer. When batting, survival at the crease was his main consideration, and when bowling (left arm over the wicket at medium pace) he pegged down the opposition by aiming persistently at or outside the leg-stump to a field set suitably for these tactics. As he was only 23, much more may be yet heard of Goddard who was obviously a cricketer of great possibilities.
By far the most attractive batsman--apart from the sheer hitters--was McLean. He visited England first in 1951 when only twenty, and on this his second tour he gave many fine exhibitions of clean stylish stroke play. His purposeful driving was an absolute delight. Most notable were his devastating 142 in the Lord's Test and a simply superb innings of 151 out of a total of 242 against Surrey at The Oval. Unfortunately for South Africa, McLean in the vital Oval Test made only a single in two innings. Endean and the left-handed Keith also failed badly in that match. After taking a long time to settle down, Endean found his best form in the fourth Test at Headingley where he made 116 not out, but considering his experience in big cricket he should have made more than 1,242 runs during the whole tour.
On his day, Waite, the wicket-keeper, looked a better batsman than his modest aggregate would suggest. He seized one of the big occasions to hit his only century of the tour--113 in the Manchester Test--and he alone really challenged Laker and Lock when they were carrying all before them in the deciding game of the rubber. As Waite served his side splendidly in his arduous duties behind the stumps, he could be excused any shortcomings with the bat.
Much was expected from Winslow, a tall (six feet three inches), lean player with a reputation for big hitting. He reserved his two best displays for the Old Trafford ground. On his first visit, when he faced the Lancashire bowlers, Winslow scored 40 in the course of eight successive balls that he received, punishing Ikin for 30 in an over and following with 4 and 6 off Goodwin. Then a month later he drove with such power in the Third Test that he hit three 6's and thirteen 4's while making 108 in an innings worthy almost of Jessop himself. Moreover, Winslow and Waite engaged in a memorable partnership that day which produced 171, a new South African Test record for the sixth wicket.
South Africa's real strength was their well-equipped attack and the grand fielding that gave all possible support. There were eight first-class bowlers in a party of sixteen players and standing above them all was Tayfield, the renowned off-spinner. Altogether, he took 143 wickets at 15.75 runs each and between them Tayfield, Goddard and Heine claimed 72 of the 90 England wickets which fell to bowlers in the five Tests. Tayfield's success was expected, but Heine and Goddard came without experience of Test cricket.
Apparently the South Africans themselves did not at first appreciate the worth of Heine, for they left him out of the Trent Bridge Test. One of many splendidly-built cricketers in this very popular team, Heine was the tallest of them all, six feet four inches, and he could be extremely hostile with the new ball which he moved each way. Also when he desired he bounced the ball nastily. Adcock was the fastest member of the attack, but his length was poor and he never achieved the number of victims his admirers anticipated. Indeed, he gave way in the end to Fuller, a spirited bowler of fast-medium pace. Murray made the fifth seamer in the side, but like Duckworth, the reserve wicket-keeper, no room could be found for him in the representative matches.
There were three spin bowlers, Tayfield (off) and Smith and Mansell (leg), but with Tayfield showing no decline in his powers there were not many opportunities for the other two and each claimed only one wicket in the Tests.
Both on and off the field Cheetham showed himself a talented and determined leader but he accomplished little with the bat in the Tests, scoring only 96 runs in the three matches in which he played. When Cheetham might well have run into form he received a blow on the left elbow from the very last ball sent down on the Saturday evening of the Lord's Test. The bone was chipped and Cheetham remained out of cricket for a whole month, but when he returned he eventually found his form and hit his only century against Kent at Canterbury.
Wherever the South Africans went they were most agreeable companions and foes. They will always be remembered for their superb fielding. In such a team where all were so alert in the field, it is somewhat invidious to single out individuals, but besides McGlew whose prowess at cover has already been noted, one particularly recalls McLean in the deep, Mansell, Goddard, Heine and Tayfield close to the wicket and, last but not least, Cheetham himself, always setting a grand example at mid-on.
To hold England for so long was a great performance, and no doubt when the M.C.C. visit South Africa in the coming winter they will find these talented Springboks even more formidable on their native Veld.
Test Matches.--Played 5, Won 2, Lost 3.
First-Class Matches.--Played 28, Won 15, Lost 4, Drawn 9.
All Matches.--Played 31, Won 16, Lost 4, Drawn 11.
Wins.--England (2), M.C.C., Oxford University, Somerset, Sussex, Yorkshire, Surrey, Glamorgan, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Durham, T. N. Pearce's XI.
Draws-- Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridge University, Glamorgan, Essex, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Minor Counties, Gloucestershire, An England XI, Cumberland and Westmorland.
Losses.-- England (3), Worcestershire.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Worcestershire v South Africans at Worcester, May 7-10, 1955
Tour Match: Derbyshire v South Africans at Derby, May 11-13, 1955
Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v South Africans at Nottingham, May 14-17, 1955
Tour Match: Cambridge University v South Africans at Cambridge, May 18-20, 1955
Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v South Africans at Lord's, May 21-24, 1955
Tour Match: Oxford University v South Africans at Oxford, May 25-27, 1955
Tour Match: Glamorgan v South Africans at Cardiff, May 28-31, 1955
Tour Match: Essex v South Africans at Colchester, Jun 1-3, 1955
Tour Match: Lancashire v South Africans at Manchester, Jun 4-7, 1955
Tour Match: Somerset v South Africans at Taunton, Jun 15-17, 1955
Tour Match: Sussex v South Africans at Hove, Jun 18-21, 1955
Tour Match: Northamptonshire v South Africans at Northampton, Jun 29-Jul 1, 1955
Tour Match: Yorkshire v South Africans at Sheffield, Jul 2-5, 1955
Tour Match: Surrey v South Africans at The Oval, Jul 16-19, 1955
Tour Match: Glamorgan v South Africans at Swansea, Jul 30-Aug 2, 1955
Tour Match: Warwickshire v South Africans at Birmingham, Aug 3-5, 1955
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v South Africans at Cheltenham, Aug 6-9, 1955
Tour Match: Leicestershire v South Africans at Leicester, Aug 10-12, 1955
Tour Match: Hampshire v South Africans at Southampton, Aug 20-23, 1955
Tour Match: Kent v South Africans at Canterbury, Aug 24-26, 1955
Tour Match: Middlesex v South Africans at Lord's, Aug 27-30, 1955
Tour Match: England XI v South Africans at Hastings, Aug 31-Sep 2, 1955
Tour Match: TN Pearce's XI v South Africans at Scarborough, Sep 7-9, 1955