Published on July 22nd, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
England v South Africa a fascinating history, Part 5: A brief period of equality
South Africa in England 1906-07: Tests 3, England 1 South Africa 0
The 1905-06 tour changed everything. For the next half decade, the tussles between England and South Africa were keen, leading to close series and delightful matches.
The devastating defeat 4-1 inflicted on Plum Warner’s men meant the Springboks were no longer considered the flimsy third dimension of the cricket world. They were not pushovers anymore.
Indeed, when Percy Sherwell’s side reached England in the summer of 1907, three Tests were arranged, to be played at Lord’s, Headingley and The Oval. This was the first time the Springboks were upgraded to a Test schedule, a far cry from the rather lukewarm opposition lined up for the teams travelling from the southern land earlier.
The arrival of the tourists was an opportunity for the English cricketers to avenge the massive defeat, but their task seemed to cut out. The visitors showed impeccable form as they started out.
Reggie Schwarz and Bert Vogler started the tour by routing the Leicestershire side. Jimmy Sinclair and Aubrey Faulkner joined the party during the innings win against Essex. MCC was defeated in a close match courtesy Vogler. Rain ruined the fixtures against the University sides, but Schwarz showed supreme form against Northamptonshire and Middlesex. Convincing victories were earned, and even Middlesex falling to the googly bowlers was an alarming sign for England. Wins followed against Warwickshire and Derbyshire, and then came a scintillating showdown against Kent at Catford Bridge.
The four googly bowlers of one side, with Colin Blythe returning the favours with his left-arm spin, a dress rehearsal to the thrilling second Test match that was to follow. The epileptic Kent violinist captured five wickets to dismiss the visitors for 95, gaining a 178-run lead for the hosts. He took five more as the Springboks followed on. The target set was 104, the South Africans recovering from the threshold of innings defeat through some resilient batting by Faulkner, SJ Snooke and Sinclair. And then Schwarz, Vogler and White skittled Kent out for 101 to clinch a heart-stopping 2-run victory.
The visitors were winning everything in sight and all the googly bowlers were in sparkling form. It was with some misgiving that Reggie Foster, captain of England, took the field at Lord’s.
The big occasion perhaps proved the undoing of a side that had put up such excellent shows thus far. Len Braund stroked his way to a century and Gilbert Jessop pulverised the bowling to plunder 93 in just an hour and a quarter. Forced to follow on, the visitors survived by virtue a gritty century by their captain and rain that washed out the final day. One may do well to recall that this same captain, Sherwell, had batted at No 11 and won the tense first Test of the previous tour, giving South Africa their maiden win in the highest format.
The three matches that followed were once again splendid testimony of the great depth and versatility of the visitors. The strong Sussex side dismissed them for 49 in the first innings, and yet they managed to win the match by 39 runs, every bowler chipping in. At Bradford, Schwarz, Faulkner and White got better of even the celebrated trio of Wilfred Rhodes, George Hirst and Schofield Haigh; and the great Yorkshire side was overcome. They lost a keen encounter with Surrey, their first defeat on the tour coming as late as in their 14th match, but even in that game their resilience and willingness to do battle were admirably demonstrated.
So, as the second Test got underway at Headingley, the spirits were again soaring and the googly bowlers were raring to go.
The only defeat on the South Africans had been inflicted by Surrey, and that due to a splendid bowling performance by the nippy pace bowler Neville Knox. This fast man, who once opened the Dulwich bowling alongside PG Wodehouse, had so impressed the selectors that they preferred his serious pace ahead of Jack Crawford’s spin at Leeds.
Hence, on a wicket soft before the start and refreshed by constant showers through the match, England went in with only Blythe’s left-arm spin as the slow bowling option, aided by Len Braund’s leg-spinners which would remain unused throughout.
It was a blunder. Knox, on his debut, bowled only three overs in the entire match. Ted Arnold, George Hirst and the rookie Knox formed various varieties of pace options, and none of that was to be effective.
Hence, it was Blythe against the four googly bowlers. Before this series, the great Kent left-armer had played just one Test at home, against Australia at Headingley in 1905, and that too because Rhodes had a damaged finger. He had claimed wickets in South Africa, but there were reservations among the experts. The whispers that went around the cricketing circles of Kent and England repeated ominously that this splendid spinner with frail constitution was a great county bowler, especially on helpful wickets, but did not enjoy Test matches at all.
Foster won the toss and chose to bat, more out of tradition than any decent advantage the doubtful wicket would hold. And the English batting fell apart. Only Tom Hayward, Johnny Tyldesley and George Hirst made it double figures. Faulkner, that great, great all-rounder, disguised his break with what Wisden termed ‘utmost skill’, and turned the ball both ways and scooped out the cream of English batting. Ultimately his figures read a miraculous 6 for 17 from 11 overs. England collapsed to 76 all out.
But Blythe struck back. There were ominous signs of Test match nerves that had plagued him all his career. His normally impeccable length was frequently lost, especially towards the end of his spell. He was guilty of over-pitching. Yet, his gifts were so marvellous that on that wicket none of his errors seemed to matter. Four catches went down two off Blythe’s bowling. Even then, after an hour and a half of batting, South Africa were reduced to 59 for 7, six of the wickets falling to the left-arm spinner.
There was some resistance down the order, but Knox made his only major contribution of the match by dismissing Snooke. Blythe, expensive towards the latter part of his spell, did away with the rest of them. There was still plenty of time left in the first day’s play when South Africa finished their first innings at 110, the clock pointing to ten minutes before six. Blythe ended with his career best figures of 8 for 59.
The light was hardly satisfactory, but in the 25 minutes of play that remained, England scored at a run a minute. Fry and Hayward, sent in after much deliberation about the alternative ploy of reversing the batting order, batted with considerable skill and pluck.
The second day saw recurrent interruptions due to rain. The players had to dart in as many as four times. And during this stop-start day, Fry played one of the best innings of his Test career.
Vogler, Schwarz and Faulkner, with their own variety of googlies, tried their utmost. Schwarz, with his reliance on the googly, had almost given up leg-breaks altogether. Vogler and Faulkner slipped in their wrong ’uns judiciously within a smattering of leg-breaks. White was also called into action for a while. But Fry stood firm. Finally, it was a White googly that trapped him in front. The versatile English amateur’s countenance, which according to many resembled that of a Greek god, showed distinct displeasure at the decision. But it had been an invaluable innings of 54. Some ranked it even higher than his 144 against Australia two years earlier.
Against weather and a dicey wicket, England struggled to 110 for 4 before rain intervened and in spite of the best efforts, the match could not be restarted that day.
Yet, the night was unusually fine, and the next morning dawned bright, sunny and windy. It was a pleasant surprise when the match was resumed at 11. A couple of showers did interrupt the proceedings, but the game was poised for a finish.
The wicket had been rendered extremely difficult for batting. Only captain Foster batted exceptionally against the hugely turning ball, scoring a valuable 22 in an arduous hour and a quarter. Faulkner (3 for 58) and White (4 for 47) ran through the rest of the batting, and a total of 162 left the visitors 129 to win.
On this wicket, with Blythe in such ominous form, the smallish target seemed gigantic from the start. The South Africans did themselves no favour by picking on Jessop in the field. Sherwell, in spite of all his immense experience, struck the ball to the left of this great cover-point and called Tancred for a quick run. The Croucher swooped down to pick up and broke the wicket with the latter well out of his ground.
Sherwell, perhaps disconcerted by this, hit a slow half volley from Blythe into Foster’s hands. Rain stopped play just before lunch and South Africa were already struggling at 10 for 2.
It was five to three when play was resumed and it soon became18 for 5. Rather, a defeat was staring at the tourists. Sinclair counter-attacked, hit 12 off a Blythe over, and then chopped a slower delivery straight to Braund at slip.
Faulkner and Snooke resisted for a while. The target seemed unassailable, but they could still play out time. The wicket was getting marginally easier.
But after restraining himself for an hour, Faulkner was tempted. Blythe flighted the ball and the big drive was edged. Foster caught him at point. It was all over soon after that. England had won, by 53 runs, and Blythe’s 7 for 40 gave him match figures of 15 for 99. One of the greatest bowling performances ever.
The frail man with tendency to have epileptic fits had won the match single-handedly against four googly bowlers of great repute and form. Apart from one over he had bowled unchanged all through the match. Wisden thought he had bowled himself to a standstill, and that was a euphemism. Fry wrote that he was “completely knocked up”. In a situation where a slight loss of length would have left England no option, Blythe had stuck to his task and delivered.
The Test was played in conditions and wicket far from ideal but produced one of the rip-roaring contests that make the game so special. This was the only result in the three Test series.
In the third Test Fry got a hundred and Blythe five in the first innings to make things uncomfortable for South Africa, but there was not enough time in the game to get a result. England thus won the three-Test series 1-0.
But by now South Africa were competing and there was no way that England could take them lightly any more.
England in South Africa 1909-10 Tests 5 South Africa 3 England 2
Two and a half years down the line, England were defeated once again. For the second consecutive visit, England bit the dust in the southern land. And this time not because they had sent a weaker side. The 1905-06 series had taught them that weaker, experimental, or all amateur sides were not options against a rapidly improving cricketing power.
A young sensation called Jack Hobbs played, as did Wilfred Rhodes and another youngster called Frank Woolley. the frail genius of Colin Blythe was also available. The pace bowling had much room for improvement, but the team led by HDG Leveson-Gower was well supplied in the other departments. Herbert Strudwick kept wickets, and the visitors did have a quaint weapon of their own to counter the googly bowlers., the champion lobster in the form of GHT Simpson-Hayward. From the very beginning, it was a pitched battle between this curious English bowler and the battery of googly exponents.
In the first Test at the Old Wanderers, Simpson-Hayward was introduced on the first day. Cruising at 133 for 2 at one stage, the hosts were wrecked by the unusual spin. Simpson-Hayward claimed 6 for 43, the best by an Englishman on debut till Alec Bedser claimed 7 for 49 in 1946. South Africa were bowled out for just 208. And thanks to a 159-run first wicket association between Hobbs and Rhodes, England took the lead with just 3 wickets in the debit. However, Faulkner and Vogler claimed 5 each, and the lead was restricted to 102.
Thereafter Faulkner, the great all-rounder, hit 123 in just short of 3 hours. This was after his 78 in the first innings. England were left with 244 to win. But Vogler and Faulker were on to them again, the former with 7 wickets, the latter with 3. Only George Thompson fought to score 63 and brought the visitors within striking distance of win. Ultimately England fell 19 short.
Faukner’s all-round acts of 8 wickets in the match alongside 123 and 78 have seldom been bettered by anyone in a Test match.
At Durban South Africa went two up. The sides finished neck and neck in the first innings, both getting 199.
South Africa went 2-0 up at Lord’s, Durban. Both sides finished on 199 in the first innings, Simpson-Hayward’s 4 wickets countered by 5 of Vogler and 2 of Faulkner.
In the second innings, however, from 23 for 3, the hosts were rescued by a hundred by Gordon White and 69 by Dave Nourse.
England claimed a 15-run lead at Old Wanderers. This time Simpson-Hayward was not willing to let go the advantage. His 5 for 69 left England to score 221, and a though they were reduced to 42 for 4, and later 93 for 6, a youngster called Jack Hobbs saw them home with 93 not out. Hobbs did fight hard, but the 348 required for win was a bit too steep, especially against a rampaging Faulkner who claimed 6 for 87.
In the third Test, back at Old Wanderers, England hit back. A five wicket haul to paceman Claude Buckenham and a hundred by David Denton allowed them a slim first innings lead of 17 runs in spite of the four wickets picked up by Vogler and Faulkner apiece. In the second innings, Simpson-Hayward ran through the side, capturing 5 for 69, and only some hefty contributions from the lower order allowed South Africa to get to 237. In response, England were 42 for 4, and then 93 for 6, the scores slightly misleading because they had opened with two tail-enders to bat out the last few overs of the fourth day. However, the young Jack Hobbs struck a magnificent 93 not out to take the side to victory by 3 wickets.
That remains the only instance when a victory in Test cricket can be attributed to a lob bowler.
South Africa won the fourth Test and England the fifth, both at Newlands. Despite claiming 21 wickets from the first three Tests, Simpson-Hayward got to bowl only 25.5 overs in the last four innings, taking two wickets.
The fourth Test was once again a keenly fought affair, the two teams separated by only 4 runs after the first innings. After that Vogler with 5 wickets and Faulkner with 3 destroyed England for 178. With 175 required to win, South Africa got there with the help of Faulkner’s unbeaten 49, winning the Test by 4 wickets and thus taking the series.
In the final Test, Hobbs struck a majestic 187, and Blythe picked up 10 wickets to earn a consolation win by 9 wickets.
Simpson-Hayward had 23 wickets at 18.26. Thompson too ended the series with 23 wickets at a much more expensive 26.91. But they had been outdone by Vogler’s 36 wickets at 21.75 and Faulkner, who stood head and shoulders above all with 29 wickets at 21.89 and 545 runs at 60.55.
Thus, for a brief while in the second half of the first decade 1900s, South Africa emerged as a force to reckon with. But it would not last long.