Eng v SA

Published on July 12th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta

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SA-Eng A Fascinating History Part 3, The two tours with the Boer War brewing in the background

1895-96 England 3 South Africa 0

In spite of his rather curious experiences with WW Read’s team, the financier James Logan bankrolled Lord Hawke’s remarkably strong side in 1895. He also diligently planned the itinerary.

The great business-minded patron, the founder of the town Matjesfontein, managed to convince Hawke to winter in South Africa with a team of formidable strength.

The magnificent Surrey bowler George Lohmann was already there. He had been suffering for long with tuberculosis, and had come to the warmer climes of South Africa on medical advice. Logan himself had provided Lohmann with shelter and means, appointing him manager of his farms. Now, Lohmann acted as the player-manager of the tour of a strong English side that included the formidable amateurs CB Fry, Hugh Bromley-Davenport and Sammy Woods alongside professionals of the quality of Tom Hayward and others.

The strength of the rest of the side did not really matter. Lohmann nearly won the Tests himself.

In the first, he picked up 15 wickets (boasting second innings bowling figures 9.4-5-7-8), as England romped home by 228 runs. In the second he got 9 for 28 and 3 for 43 to trounce the local challenge by an innings and 197 runs. He continued his magical feats into the third Test with 7 for 42 in the first innings. England completed a clean sweep, winning the final Test by an innings and 33 runs.

Lohmann finished the series with 35 wickets at 5.80. Not bad for one in the southern land for health reasons.

In retrospect, those representative matches against rather ordinary local talent should not have been granted Tests status at all.

Cecil Rhodes. Image Courtesy: BBC

Yet, the real drama of the tour lay elsewhere. Plenty of events were taking place off the field.

Dr Leander Jameson had been cahooting with millionaire Cecil Rhodes for a while now, itching to launch an attack on Johannesburg with the help of the local Uitlanders. Rhodes, after whom the country of Rhodesia had been named, had assured Jameson that the expatriate migrant workers were ready to rebel against the Boer government of Paul Kruger. Jameson was ready with more than 400 mounted Rhodesian policemen at Pitsani, part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. To add to that, he had gathered around 120 volunteers 25 miles away from Mafeking, just about within the borders of Cape Colony. Considering the Cape Coloured boys who led the spare horses, the force numbered more than 600.

He had also arranged for six Maxim machine guns, two 7-pounder mountain guns and a 12 and a half pounder field piece to blow the resistance to bits. Yet, the coded telegrams that arrived from Johannesburg told him that the reforming Uitlanders were not ready. The earlier messages had been different, and Jameson was caught in two minds. And he proceeded to commit the gravest mistake of his life.

After a tour game, the party of Englishmen proceeded to Groote Schuur, the great estate of Cecil Rhodes. Lord Hawke and his team were lavishly entertained on this spectacular property.

The Boers quickly outmanoeuvred Jameson and forced him to surrender within just a week; insets show L S Jameson (top) and Cecil Rhodes and Paul Kruger (bottom left and right). Image Courtesy: Look and Learn

Yet, even as the party went on, a bulletin arrived that Jameson had thrown caution to the wind and had marched to Johannesburg in an attempt to oust President Kruger. The infamous Jameson Raid had been set in motion.

On New Year’s Day 1896, in incredibly tense political climate, England took the field at Newlands against a Cape Colony XIII. The match was one of those regulation one-sided wins. However, on the second day of the game Jameson’s column halted close to a small whitewashed farm south of a kopje called Doornkop.

They had ridden 170 miles into Transvaal, and there had been no halt for sleep. And they found out that Johannesburg was indeed not ready for a revolution hatched from within. No help came their way. Additionally, the Boers had got wind of them long back.

Jameson’s men had judiciously hacked off the Boer telegraph wire at Malmani, but it had been too late in the game. Some said later that the drunk soldiers had instead cut the fence wire. The Boers had been dogging their tail all through, picking off the stragglers. All the lives lost till now had been British. That morning, Jameson sent the last message to Johannesburg.

Bulletins arrived at the cricket ground confirming that the Jameson raid was over. Inspector Cazalet had been hit in the chest, Major Coventry in the spine, Captain Barry was dying. Someone had raised a white flag, not a proper one but the best that could be managed. It was made from the white apron of an African servant girl. The firing had ceased and the Boers had got up from the ground all around them. Some were dressed in their Sunday best, having joined the skirmish right after the New Year celebrations. The British soldiers had been disarmed and Jameson had been led away in a cart to the gaol in Pretoria.

Even as England won the match, it was followed by tension and uncertainty. The following encounter was scheduled in Johannesburg, in the heart of Boer-land. According to Cape Argus:

“There is considerable doubt about the future movement of Lord Hawke’s team. It was intended that they should proceed to Matjesfontein and play a match against a local 22, Mr Logan and the professionals having already proceeded there. But it has been found impossible to raise a team, and Mr Logan with the professionals have [sic] gone to Kimberley. Lord Hawke, with the remainder of the team, remain [sic] in Cape Town, until arrangements for the continuance of the tour are completed. In the event of affairs in the Transvaal settling down, they will proceed to Pretoria; otherwise they will proceed to Maritzburg, a fixture for the 17 having been arranged provisionally.”

Lord Hawke. Image Courtesy: Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Hawke’s men found themselves stuck in Cape Town for ten days. Wild rumours floated around them. Rhodes tried his utmost to diffuse the situation. Finally, it was decided that they would be sent North as a sort of distraction against the backdrop of political unrest.

The team boarded the train and set off for the Boer heartland at dusk, and travelled through the night. And in the wee hours of the morning, they came to a halt at the frontier of the Transvaal Republic. But soon, the train was boarded by Boer commandos, armed to the teeth and distinctly unwelcoming.

Hawke’s men were gruffly ordered off the train and their luggage was put through severe inspection. Duties were levied on every item, including cricket equipment. The Irish temper of O’Brien flared dangerously, but Hawke intervened with his famous tact and composure.

There were further problems. Something in the luggage of Hewett looked like a revolver. When asked to submit to being searched he refused point blank. Armed Boer commandos surrounded him, angry words were exchanged, and once again Hawke had to step in again. The diplomatic acumen of the English peer won the day. The offending item was discovered as Hewett’s cylindrical toothbrush bottle.

Eventually, the English cricketers were allowed to resume their journey, but only after some of their bats had been presented to the customs officials.

The arrival in Johannesburg took place only a few hours after another train, this one transporting dynamite for the mining work, had blown up in the station leaving hundreds dead and injured. The Old Wanderers had been converted to a hospital, the Boer artillery was being ranged on the city from commanding heights of the nearby hills; commandos were patrolling the streets.

The legendary financier Abe Bailey had been expected to meet the cricketers at the station, but he could not make it. He had a good reason. With several other leading British citizens, Bailey had been imprisoned, given the option of buying his freedom or rotting behind the bars.

In these circumstances, one of the two matches scheduled in the city was called off. The magazine Cricket quaintly attributed the cancellation to ‘disturbed times.’

However, on January 13, Lord Hawke’s side did walk out on to the Old Wanderers and take on a Johannesburg XV. As James Coldham notes in Hawke’s biography, “Hawke’s men went about their business with the complacent assurance of the English abroad. They made a virtue of making the best of a bad deal, almost behaving as if there was no problem.”

Obviously, the Boers were not too delighted with the Englishmen playing cricket in such circumstances. Even then, crowds flocked to the ground and £800 as taken at the gate. The match was drawn, with Jimmy Sinclair of the local side hitting his way to 75 and captured 7 wickets to demonstrate his enormous potential.

All the while General Piet Cronje marched through the town with his victorious army, and also attended the game in all his pomp. When the booing of the crowd hinted at potential trouble, Hawke, not having his revolver with him, bolted into the Club.

During the days in Johannesburg, Hawke, O’Brien and Charles Wright also dined with the prisoners at the gaol. The men in the cells included George Farrer, Frank Rhodes, Percy Fitzpatrick and Lionel Phillips.

Cecil Rhodes was also supposed to entertain them but had to rush away to a Cabinet Council just before the cricketers were scheduled to arrive.

Nevertheless, it was a relief when the match at Johannesburg came to an end and the party travelled to Pietermaritzburg. After all the tension and political turmoil of Transvaal, it was a soothing change in Natal. Hawke stayed as a guest in the Government House and members of the team were either put up by the Hussars or accommodated in the best hotels.

The England team did return to Johannesburg to play the second Test match of the tour, but that was two months down the line. By then the embers of political frenzy had died down to a great extent.

1898-99 England 2 South Africa 0

Lord Hawke was built of stern stuff. The travails of 1895-96 did not deter him from visiting South Africa again in 1899. As it turned out, the tour all but coincided with the start of the long and bloody Boer War.

President Kruger. Image Courtesy: Cricket Country

But perhaps the bitter memories of his earlier visit resulted in his not visiting President Kruger’s residence.

Three years down the line the political situation was supposedly a lot calmer. Yet, Alfred Milner and Paul Kruger were not really bosom friends. For all the hopeful diplomacy of Jan Smuts and Kruger’s wish for bloodless peace, there were machinations of War being slowly and surely put in place. Much of it was the brainchild of Milner, the rather ruthless Empire-builder. Indeed, less than eight months after the Johannesburg Test that followed, the Anglo-Boer War would commence and stretch into three years of brutal conflict. The longest and bloodiest War of modern times before the two World Wars would create new benchmarks in the realm of atrocities.

Actually, Hawke could have been politically savvy enough to stay away from the man soon to be an enemy of the Empire. He could have been bitter as well. The scheduled first Test had fallen through because of supposed problems of selection on the part of the South African colonies.

However, Frank Mitchell and Clem Wilson did call upon Kruger as the team played a Transvaal XV in Pretoria. It took two and a half hours to get to Johannesburg by the fastest train, but these two amateur cricketers were ready to be received by the President at six o’clock in the morning.

Kruger greeted them in a frowsy frock coat of extraordinary cut and colour. The effect was made more curious because of a tall hat. He ended up looking every bit the old unsophisticated patriarch.

The President was in good humour and spoke to the cricketers cordially, albeit he addressed them in Dutch and thus communicated through an interpreter. He asked them if they liked the country. Mitchell and Wilson replied that they did and were having a very good time. Kruger was pleased with the answer. “Englishmen as a rule try to run down the land,” he observed. When Mitchell extended Hawke’s invitation to Kruger for the forthcoming Test match, ‘Oom Paul’ Kruger replied that he knew nothing about cricket. He had a nephew, though, Tjaart Kruger, head of the Secret Police. He was a keen cricketer and had been present on all the days that Transvaal XV played against Hawke’s men.

The Test that followed at Johannesburg was a close affair.

While the Englishmen were a formidable side, especially with the Australian import Albert Trott turning out for them, the South Africans were boosted by the phenomenal talents of Jimmy Sinclair and Buck Llewellyn

As the tourists batted, the host bowlers stuck to a splendid line and the entire side fielded magnificently. Both Tyldesley and Trott were run out, while Bonnor Middleton, George Rowe, Robert Graham and Llewellyn captured two wickets apiece. The England innings amounted to 145.

In response, Sinclair played a memorable innings of 86, full of stirring strokes that reminded many a participating Englishman of the huge hits of the giant Australian George Bonnor.

Llewellyn, of uncertain origins, arguably the first non-white cricketer to represent South Africa, was shaky during his first few moments at the wicket but gained enough confidence with time to stroke his way to 38. The innings ended with South Africans 106 ahead, and even the names of Trott and Haigh on the bowling card were not enough to wrest the advantage for the visitors.

When Llewellyn ran in and got Mitchell early with his left-arm medium pace, the first ever South African Test win loomed on the cards. The Colonials were bowling impeccably and ‘fielding like cats’. Middleton kept pegging away. Tyldesley, Wilson and Willis Cuttell all settled down and then gave their wickets away to this persevering slow-medium bowler.

But Warner stood tall at one end, his bat as straight as can be, playing every ball with perfect technique. Trott, Haigh and Milligan made their quick ventures to the wicket and back, but the Middlesex opener held fort at one end. He ended the day at 97, with England seven down for 171, just 65 runs ahead.

The following morning, Llewellyn castled Hawke.

Yet, the Springboks made one costly error. Warner was missed at point before he had added to his score. Jack Broad, the wicketkeeper, stayed with him for long, adding 34 crucial runs. And although Middleton dismissed Broad and Bromley-Davenport in succession to end with 5 for 51, Warner’s 132 not out had stretched the innings to 237. It left the hosts 132 to win.

The pitch was still playing magnificently, with a large crowd egging on the home cricketers. The fans around the ground were already celebrating the win. But now, the professionals of England came into their element.

It was Haigh who started the collapse, dismissing the openers with 21 on the board. And then  Trott ran through them, with Cuttell. Keeping one end fixed. Over after over, he wheeled in his slow stuff, and the Springbok men could not get him off the square.

The match was still in balance at 97 for 7. And then Middleton had a go at Trott and Bromley-Davenport caught him splendidly on the off side. The end hastened soon.

In an atmosphere charged with excitement, with 6,000 spectators hanging on to the edge of their seats, England had pulled off a sensational 32-run win.

Both Hawke and Warner confessed in their memoirs that it was one of the most brilliant games they had ever taken part in. That night, Lord Hawke presented Warner with a signet ring in which was inscribed simply: “Lord Hawke’s XI vs South Africa 1899. P.F.W., 132, from H”

There was a huge gathering on the platform of the Johannesburg station the next day as the players made their way to the special coach that had been reserved for them. Just before the team left, Abe Bailey presented each of the professionals with a Kruger sovereign made up as a pendant for a watch chain.

In the second Test, South Africa rode the brilliance of Sinclair to take a 85-run first innings lead. The champion all-rounder captured 6 for 26 in England’s first innings of 92 and then hit 106 out of a total of 177.

He did capture 3 wickets in the second innings for good measure, but Johnny Tyldesley hit 122 impeccable runs to enable England get 330. With 246 to win, South Africa finally ran out of steam, falling to the high-class bowling of Haigh and Trott for just 35.

This series was the first ever instance of South Africa showing signs of competing on near-equal terms in the matches designated as Tests. They were still a relatively weak, inexperienced side; but at last the matches played against their representative elevens resembled something of real Test cricket.

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About the Author

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Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.



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