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Remembering South Africa's first fast bowling hero

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Strange as it sounds in the age of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, there was a time when South Africa didn't produce fast bowlers. There were spinners - and "bosie" bowlers, who graduated from matting wickets - and what Rod Marsh might have called "pie chuckers", but quick men were as rare as winter flowers in the veld.

So when Lindsay Tuckett, who died on Monday in Bloemfontein aged 97, came on the scene, great hope followed in his wake. He caught the eye before the Second World War while still a schoolboy at St Andrews College in Bloem, with his strong physique, efficient run-up and easy action, but it wasn't until the 1947 South Africa tour of England that he became someone little boys would seek out for an autograph.

He only took 2 for 51 in the traditional tour opener in Worcester but took nine wickets (5 for 27, and 4 for 32) against Leicestershire before being rested against Cambridge University. Big hauls followed against Surrey and Glamorgan as the English press corps, ever eager for a story, began to peck out approving notices on their typewriters.

His finest moments came early. He was one of seven South African debuts in the Test opener at Trent Bridge, taking 5 for 68 in 37 overs of toil as England responded to the visitors' 533. He only managed a single peg in England's follow-on innings, but as Drew Forrest recounts in his painstakingly researched book on South African fast bowlers, The Pacemen, it might have been rather different.

"Tuckett was a taciturn man, not given to self-promotion or sentimentality, and he didn't discuss his war years with anyone, describing them as "five years of my life best forgotten"

Fielding in the slips, Bruce Mitchell dropped Norman Yardley off Tuckett's bowling at a crucial juncture in the England second innings - doing so "unaccountably", according to Wisden. Tuckett always maintained that Mitchell was distracted by his wife entering the ground and wasn't concentrating. The match was drawn.

As he had done in the first innings in Nottingham, Tuckett accounted for Denis Compton at Lord's in taking 5 for 115 as England won by ten wickets. By now a pattern had emerged. Tuckett bowled 84 overs at Trent Bridge and 50 at Lord's. All in all he bowled 252 overs in the five Tests, becoming progressively more and more blunted the deeper the season eased into an exceptionally hot summer.

He ended up using a knee brace around his niggly groin, recounts Forrest, and although Tuckett took four England wickets in the third Test, in Manchester, he went wicketless at Leeds and The Oval. In all, he bowled 724 overs on tour, his captain, Alan Melville, literally bowling him into the ground.

In a sense, Tuckett was doubly unlucky. Not only did he have to spearhead the South Africans' bowling vanguard with little support, he also lost the best years of his cricketing life to the war, turning 28 on the mail ship journey to Southampton ahead of the '47 tour. He was a taciturn man, not given to self-promotion or sentimentality, and he didn't discuss his war years with anyone, describing them as "five years of my life best forgotten".

The war darkened many a life among those in the '47 team. Tufty Mann, the spinner, survived only because he lived in a pigsty with a false wall. He was befriended by a family of Italian peasants in the land north of Venice and lived for years in a state of feral high alert. He had lost so much weight hiding from German patrols that his sweetheart didn't recognise him when he was finally shipped home. For years afterwards she would find apples secreted underneath pillows and half-eaten sandwiches under the bed.

The 1947 tourists were issued with ration cards when they arrived in England. With slightly neurotic attention to detail, the South African newspaperman Louis Duffus, recorded that red meat and butter were so scarce that he ate no fewer than 131 kippers while on tour. Athol Rowan, the offspinner with big hands, frequently used to eat second dinners after dining at the team hotel. Ossie Dawson, another team-mate, mentioned the post-war scarcity of soap.

Tuckett played in four Tests in the 1948-49 home series against England, but there is an argument to be made for the fact that he was crippled by the 1947 tour. Despite also being overshadowed by the rise of Cuan McCarthy, Tuckett ended up bowling the final - infamous - over of the fifth Test, in Port Elizabeth, with John Arlott in the commentary box reporting: "…and heaven knows who dare bowl it [the last over]. Lindsay Tuckett looks to me like a man who doesn't want to."

In the event, he conceded six runs in the over, as England won via a leg-bye off the last ball. Tuckett believed his captain, Dudley Nourse, never forgave him. And so died his Test career.