South Africa offer serious challenge

Neville Cardus

For more than a quarter of a century the field or arena of international cricket was occupied almost exclusively by England and Australia, until in 1905-06, South Africa, winning four out of five Test matches against England, rushed in almost with the rude violence of the gate-crasher. South Africa had emulated Australia"s example and learned first principles from an English player, namely George Lohmann; even as Australia had learned them from Caffyn. Lord Hawke contributed to South African education in cricket when he took teams to play in a country much agitated at the time by the Jameson Raid, but not so much agitated as to overlook the genius and Attic handsomeness of C. B. Fry. Pioneers of the game born or bred in South Africa included Sir Donald Currie, the Hon. J. D. Logan, and in more recent times, Sir Abe Bailey. Another asset to the awakening cause was Frank Mitchell, not unknown in Yorkshire during the county"s greatest seasons.

In 1905, the M.C.C. sent a very good team to South Africa, under the leadership of P. F. Warner. It was soundly thrashed in the rubber; it was indeed routed by the new weapon of the period--the googly. Two years afterwards South Africa arrived full strength in England, with the greatest googly bowlers ever seen in action in one and the same match: Vogler, Schwarz, Faulkner and White. In those days cricket was played on matting in South Africa, but none the less these artists in spin caused much mental confusion amongst some of our finest batsmen, notably A. C. MacLaren, who wrote to the Press arguing that the new-fangled stuff would put an end in time to all scientific and even to decent and gentlemanly behaviour in cricket.

The new-fangled stuff certainly caused a revision of if not a revolution in the principles of batsmanship. Back-play began to supersede forward-play; and the right foot began to move across the wicket, so that pads might be used as a second, and perhaps as a first line of defence. Here beginneth the deplorable two-eyed stance. But the truth is that the superb and original spin of Vogler, Schwarz, Faulkner and White was first frustrated, not to say mastered, by batsmen who seldom employed pads self-consciously, but used their feet for stroke-making purposes. In 1907 the South African attack was countered and conquered by Jessop, Fry, Braund, Tyldesley, Spooner and others to whom a cricket bat was an instrument to be exercised freely, almost instinctively. At Lord"s, Jessop scored 93 in not much more time than 90 minutes; and he persuaded the South African captain Percy Sherwell to place four men on the boundary while Kotze was bowling; and Kotze was one of the fastest of all fast bowlers. It was in this Lord"s Test match of 1907 that Sherwell himself played an innings of memorable heroism and brilliance. Against England"s first innings total of 428 (in a three-day match), South Africa followed-on and lost a wicket for nothing. Sherwell, who often went in nearly last, opened the innings, and in an hour and three-quarters of cricket of rare power and precision reached a century.

The new-fangled stuff and the accomplished batting of Shalders, Sherwell, Nourse and Faulkner, plus the electric pace of Kotze, could not win South Africa a rubber in England.

Indeed not until 1935 did South Africa lower the England colours in this country. But on the matting at Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa were often nearly unbeatable and victorious between 1907-10. It was in 1910 that a team from South Africa first challenged Australia in Australia. The beautiful wickets there defeated even Vogler"s spin; and South Africa lost four out of five Test matches, yet enjoyed increase in batting prestige, mainly through the remarkable performances of G. A. Faulkner, whose average in the Test matches was 73. Faulkner at his best was one of the greatest all-round cricketers of all time; and Vogler at his best was nearly the most dangerous of all bowlers. The most dangerous bowler of them all, living or dead, was none other than S. F. Barnes, who in the South African season before the war of 1914-18 played in South Africa under the captaincy of J. W. H. T. Douglas, and on matting made a cricket ball spit fire, gyrate and describe angles unknown to geometry. In the Second Test match of this rubber, he took 17 out of 20 wickets; on matting Barnes was undoubtedly the most difficult bowler ever evolved by cricket and a peculiar substitution for turf. Yet at his deadliest Barnes met a worthy opponent in H. W. Taylor, who played with ease and assurance in each Test match, and for Natal at Durban in 1913-14 scored 91 and 100 out of totals of 153 and 216. The annals of the game provide no proof more convincing than this of supremely great batsmanship; for how possibly could any mortal batsman be subjected to a severer ordeal--Barnes on matting, with wickets falling at the other end all the time? H. W. Taylor must be counted one of the six greatest batsmen of the post-Grace period.

As time passed and South African cricket suffered natural and inevitable ups-and-downs, the fact became more and more obvious that until turf was cultivated in South Africa, and matting discarded, even the best talents of the country would suffer frustration on English and Australian wickets. After the end of the 1914-18 war England needed to battle hard to win in South Africa; Taylor in 1922-23 scored 176, 101, 102 and 91 in the Test matches, and two spinners, Nupen and Hall, were formidable, with Blanckenberg a splendid bowler-batsman. But when South Africa came again to England in 1924, Nupen found our turf unresponsive to his spin, so that an almost veteran South African leg-break and googly bowler was recalled to service, S. J. Pegler, another fine artist in the new-fangled stuff. A lean year or two for South Africa served as a lying fallow season. H. G. Deane, one of South Africa"s several cricket captains of rare personal appeal, led the gallant team which won friends everywhere in England in 1929, a team which included Jock Cameron, magnificent as wicket-keeper and hard-hitting batsman; and Mitchell, Owen-Smith (whose century at Leeds and a last-wicket stand with Sandy Bell worth 103 are deathless) and Morkel, not to forget the fast bowlers Ochse and Christy. South Africa yet again were unable to win a Test match in England, but had the satisfaction of declaring an innings closed at Kennington Oval with the score 492 for eight.

The writing was on the wall; sooner or later justice would be done, a long ploughing of the furrow and the soil (and sand) would surely yield the desired fruit or crop. Chapman led England"s team of 1930-31, and South Africa won the only finished match in the rubber by 28. Significantly enough, South Africa held their own on the turf wicket that had by now been planted at Cape Town. At last, in 1935, and at Lord"s, most blessed of all places for anybody"s first victory, South Africa beat England in England; and it was poetic justice to the ghost of the old spinners, Vogler, Schwarz and the rest, that the first South African victory on English turf was achieved largely by the leg-breaks and googlies of Xenophon Balaskas. Other heroes of South Africa in this great inaugural game were Cameron, Crisp, Langton, Eric Rowan and Bruce Mitchell, with Wade the unobtrusive but omnipresent captain and planner. In recent times, only yesteryear in fact, we have had proof once more of the resilience of South African cricket, following spells not at all prosperous, with old masters all falling by the way in a heap. The youthful team that forced a drawn rubber in Australia, inspired by J. E. Cheetham, heralded a fresh epoch, rich in a great off-spinner, Tayfield, and at least one batsman of brilliance, McLean. The challenge of South Africa to English cricket today is serious and likely to call for a strenuous answer. The pioneer work of years is about to receive fitting rewards and prizes--and what worthy pioneers!--Tancred (a lovely player!), Shalders, Hathorn, J. H. Sinclair (handsome giant of a hitter and bowler), Sherwell, White, Faulkner, Llewellyn, Catterall, Noah Mann, the Nourses (father and son), Viljoen, Zulch, Siedle, the Rowans, with Alan Melville as a stylist fit to compare with Taylor, the master of them all.

© John Wisden & Co