The visit of the seventh Australian team to tour South Africa lasted only twelve weeks, but will always be remembered by cricket enthusiasts because of the generosity of the Australian Board of Control and the willingness of W. M. Lawry and his team to tackle the Springboks immediately following a strenuous and disturbing Test series in India. Thus ended an unpleasant and totally unnecessary three-year period of isolation imposed on our cricketers--and spectators.
The South African Test-starved players were raring to go, confident of their ability to consolidate the three-one victory over R. B. Simpson's side. Four or five of the leading players had the advantage of League or County cricket in the English summer of 1969, but in order to condition the Probables the South African Board wisely framed a restricted Currie Cup competition for completion before the arrival of the tourists. This 22-match programme gave the players an opportunity of staking a claim, and at the same time it proved of inestimable value to the Test selectors.
The Australian captain expressed the utmost confidence in the ability of his players to reverse the 1966/67 decision. The team's record against England, India, West Indies and India in that order had contributed effectively in what was described as the rehabilitation of Australian cricket. Using these performances--particularly the pronounced three-one margin over the powerful West Indies--as a yardstick, Lawry's confidence appeared justified. Each of his top six batsmen was a player of proven Test calibre; the great McKenzie, it was rightly assumed, would be given the support he lacked on the previous tour and, in addition, in Mallett (off-spin) and the unpredictable and tireless Gleeson, he could call on two spin bowlers of the highest class.
It did not work that way. The end result was that the Springboks gained a clean sweep in the four Tests; the four "A" Section provincial matches were drawn, mainly because play was limited to three days, and the remaining four matches, against "B" Section sides, ended in convincing victories for the tourists, who only lost thirty-one wickets in the process.
This was indeed South Africa's year. From the moment the new Springbok captain, Dr. Ali Bacher, won the toss at Newlands and elected to bat in the First Test, the series followed an almost stereotyped pattern. Bacher wins the toss; South Africa takes first knock; the visitors' reply is characterised by the abject failure of the majority of the top six batsmen and the final phase, which always ends in a resounding victory for the Springboks, finds Australia with back to the wall facing a fourth-innings total of 452 ( First Test) increasing progressively to a formidable 570 in the final Test. Demoralised by the batting failures and an unbelievable epidemic of dropped catches--totalling almost 30 in the series--the outcome was invariably a foregone conclusion.
Individually each member of the Australian Test side was a talented cricketer in his own right and in attempting to probe the reasons for the humiliation that rocked the cricketing world, one feels that the main contributory factors were the simultaneous failure of the top-class batsmen, notably Lawry--and few teams can afford to enter an international contest with little or no batting support from number seven downwards--deplorable catching failures and the incredible and total loss of form of the leading bowler, Graham McKenzie. This tremendous cricketer was so completely lethargic and listless that in 111 overs during the series he captured only one wicket for 333 runs.
Only four members of the team enhanced their reputations. The reliable Redpath topped the scoring with 283 runs in the four Tests, followed closely by the cultured Sheahan, but more often than not their target was too formidable to hope for success. Connolly and Gleeson were the most successful bowlers; the powerfully built Connolly, always varying his pace and length, thoroughly earned the forty wickets he captured in nine matches. Gleeson, the man with the mystery delivery, maintained his mastery throughout the tour and although some of the leading South African batsmen expressed confidence in their ability to read Gleeson's flip-finger release, even the most successful were completely confused on occasions. Undoubtedly one of the outstanding slow bowlers to visit South Africa for many years, an analysis of his performances in taking fifty-nine wickets in nine matches, on pitches totally unsuited to spin, confirmed his class. In five of the matches he captured five wickets or more in an innings and in the Griqualand West match his aggregate was ten for 105 in 60 overs. Connolly's six for 47 in the final Test was mainly responsible for South Africa's slump to 311 after an opening partnership of 157 by Richards and Barlow.
The Australians' immaculate ground fielding was always a feature but the spate of dropped catches, some of which granted reprieves to Graeme Pollock and Richards, attained such alarming proportions that more than 70 chances went begging in the twelve matches. By way of contrast the Springboks held almost everything that came their way. As a team they bore a charmed life and everything they attempted turned to gold. Richards, after waiting several years for an opportunity to enter the international arena, rewarded his supporters by producing a glittering and technically perfect innings of 140, the equal of which has rarely been seen. Pollock found his touch with a brilliant 274 in the second Test and swept aside one record after another to take over the South African individual Test record. Both Pollock and Richards exceeded 500 runs in the four-match series and Richards and Barlow each scored two centuries, Barlow taking a third off the tourists in the match against Western Province. Irvine also hit a century in his maiden series and was the fourth South African to finish with an average of 50 or more, whereas Redpath topped the Australian averages with 47.16.
Barlow excelled as an all-rounder. He had a batting average of 51.43, captured eleven wickets at a cost of 23.36 and held eight brilliant catches. Another star was the fast-bowler, Procter, appearing in his second series for South Africa, whose twenty-six wickets at a modest 13.57 runs apiece brought his total to forty-one wickets in only seven Tests. He, too, emphasised his value as an all-rounder with a scintillating 155 for Western Province in the penultimate match of the tour. After reaching the hundred Procter attacked Mallett mercilessly, taking sixes off each of the last five deliveries of the off-spinner's 19th over and advancing from 100 to 155 in only twelve minutes.
Against Orange Free State in the final match Redpath emulated Procter's feat, and actually improved on it by taking 32 runs (four 6's and two 4's) off an over from Rosendorff and scoring his third 50 in twelve minutes.
AUSTRALIAN TOUR RESULTS
Test Matches--Played 4; Lost 4.
First-Class Matches--Played 12; Won 4, Lost 4, Drawn 4.
Wins-- North-Eastern Transvaal, Griqualand West, Border, Orange Free State.
Losses-- South Africa (4).
Draws-- Eastern Province, Transvaal, Natal, Western Province.