After the gamut of one sided contests that plagued the England-South Africa encounters over a decade and a half, there was a new phase that kicked off in early 1928.

England in South Africa 1927-28 Tests 5 England 2 South Africa 2

The turnaround took place when Ron Stanyforth’s English side was in the sothern country.

The captain was one of the archetypal amateur skippers, not really meeting the standards of Test cricket. But the side he took along with him contained some really great names.

Herbert Sutcliffe was there, and instead of Jack Hobbs he had fellow Yorkshireman Percy Holmes as his partner at the top of the order. The two would famously add 555 a few years down the line. There was Ernest Tyldesley and Bob Wyatt with the bat and George Geary, Ian Peebles and Tich Freeman with the ball. And finally there was a flamboyant young batsman called Wally Hammond.

George Geary. Image Courtesy: Cricinfo

Yes, Hobbs, Patsy Hendren, Maurice Tate, Harold Larwood, Douglas Jardine and Percy Chapman, all these major names stayed back in England. Yet, the side was a reasonably strong one.

Not many thought South Africa could put up much of a resistance. Indeed, when Geary ran through the side with 12 wickets at Old Wanderers, and Sutcliffe and Tyldesley hit hundreds to ensure a huge win in the first Test, it looked more than likely that another series of one-sided routs were on the cards.

But South Africa came back to put up a strong show in the second Test at Newlands. George Bissett’s brisk pace dismissed the Englishmen for just 133, and then the old reliable Herby Taylor hit 68 to ensure an 117-run lead. With their backs to the wall, England rallied with Sutcliffe and Holmes putting on 140 for the first wicket, following which Tyldesley and Wyatt also contributed handsome scores. The eventual total of 428 meant a stiff target of 312. With Geary breaking down with an injury, the task was made a bit easier, and things looked up with 115 realised for the first wicket. But the middle order collapsed to Ewart Astill’s slow medium pace and Freman’s spin. An 87-run defeat followed, and South Africa was in the familiar situation of facing a thorough thrashing.

However, Geary’s injury was a rather crucial factor. The Leicestershire fast bowler was dangerous and experienced on the matting wickets used in the Union. Without him to spearhead the attack, the English bowling was rendered rather insipid.

At Kingsmead, England led by 184 in the first innings, with Holmes, Tyldesley, Hammond and the others getting runs. However, the pace attack, reduced to Hammond and Wyatt, could not break through, and it was a long struggle for the slow bowlers Freeman, Peebles, Sam Staples and Astill. Almost all the Springbok batsmen got runs, and hence a total of 464 for 8 ensured a draw.

Whitewash averted, South Africa took charge when the sides returned to Johannesburg for the fourth Test. Thanks to the pace of Alfred Hall and Bissett, and the timeless class of Taylor they gained a 63-run lead. After Taylor’s hundred, the initiative was seized when captain Harry Deane and the brilliant wicketkeeper batsman Jock Cameron added 89 in 47 minutes. When England batted a second time, Bisset, Hall and Nupen provided the pace while Cyril Vincent was exacting turn with his left-arm spinners. The 215 runs England managed in the second innings left 154 to get. There were some flutters on the way, but the victory was achieved with four wickets to spare.

George Bissett. Image courtesy: Kimberly City Info

The teams assembled at Kingsmead for the final Test, a four-day encounter, with England leading 2-1. And bad weather prevented any play on the first day. On the second, an adventurous Deane won the toss and put England in. When Tyldesley hit 100, Sutcliffe 51 and Hammond 66 and England were 240 for 3, it looked as if the move had backfired. But Nupen, Bisset and Vincent reaped the benefits of a varied attack, and the last seven wickets were knocked over for 42.

On the second day, Bob Catterall, one of the pillars of South African cricket between the Wars, hit a  quick 119. And Cameron, who had kept superbly, struck a furious 53, including 4,4,6,6 off successive balls from Freeman. This enabled Deane to declare at 332 for 7, after obtaining a 50-run lead, and that left enough time for the day to dismiss Holmes. The final day was a Bissett special, his pace on the matting wicket rattling the strong English line-up. The tourists were eventually bowled out for 118.

Hence, with a remarkable comeback in the series to level the rubber 2-2, South Africa had managed to resume the hard-fought tussles between the countries.

South Africa in England 1929 Tests 5 England 2 South Africa 0

When this spirited side under Deane toured England in 1929, the results were, however, not this close.

They were faced with the full might of England. There was Sutcliffe the master, there was Hammond one of the two best batsmen in the world, and alongside Hendren, Maurice Leyland, KS Duleepsinhji, Woolley formed a formidable batting nucleus. There was also a bowling attack consisting of Larwood, Tate, Geary and Freeman.

Yet, the visitors played splendidly to draw the first Test at Edgbaston, mainly due to the plucky batting of Catterall and the adhesive qualities of the newcomer Bruce Mitchell.

The second Test at Lord’s saw hundreds from Sutcliffe, Leyland and a hurricane ton from Tate. However, once again the visitors fought back with useful scores through the lineup and managed to draw the match comfortably.

Titch Freeman. Image Courtesy: Cricket Country

But at Leeds, England turned to Freeman. Brought in for the first time in the series, this enigmatic leg-spinner captured 7 wickets to dismiss the tourists for 236. Hammond, Woolley and Leyland capitalised on this and ensured a 92-run lead. On a dusty wicket, South Africa were soon struggling at 116 for 7 in the second innings. However, Tuppy Owen-Smith, an extraordinary all-round sportsman playing the only Test series of his career, essayed a magnificent 129 and the target for the Englishmen amounted to a not-too easy 184. With Vincent proving a handful on the turning wicket, it did seem dicey at one stage with England at 110 for 5. But Woolley’s graceful nonchalance, aided by some power-hitting from Tate ensured an easy victory in the end.

By the time the Test series reached Old Trafford, the visitors had run out of steam. Wyatt and Woolley hit hundreds and Freeman ran through the innings twice with 12 wickets to clinch the series winning victory by an innings. But even on this soft wicket, as Freeman mowed down the Springbok wickets like ripe corn, Cameron batted superbly to hit 83 with 10 fours and a six.

At The Oval, on a turning track, South Africa did look like making it 2-1. A Sutcliffe hundred notwithstanding, Vincent and leg-spinner Quintin McMillan dismissed the hosts for 258. Following this, Herby Taylor’s 121 and some handy knocks from Deane, Cameron, McMillan and Denijs Morkel, took the tourists to 492. But Sutcliffe scored his second hundred of the match, and 46-year-old Hobbs, playing his only match in the series, got 52 to put on 77 for the first wicket. This was followed by a spectacular 101 by Hammond. Hence the match was saved and the series won 2-0.

England in South Africa 1930-31 Tests 5 South Africa 1 England 0

The visit of the English team under Percy Chapman in 1930-31 coincided with some striking changes in the personnel and history of South African cricket.

It was a strong England side, with Hammond, White, Tate, Peebles, Hendren, Wyatt, Leyland, Hendren, Chapman himself, Tom Goddard, Bill Voce and George Duckworth among them.

Sutcliffe, Woolley and Larwood were the notable absentees, but the England squad was still formidable. But the hosts still bested them by winning the first Test, the only one not to end in a stalemate.

It was only the third time the Springboks won the rubber. And it came after a gap of more than two decades.

The second Test was the first on turf to be contested in the country. It took place at Cape Town. The other Tests did take place on matting, but this was the last season in South Africa when international matches were to be held on old fashioned matting wickets.

The series was full of curious incidents.

Sandham got injured early and missed most of the matches. At various times Chapman, Allom, Hammond, Hendren, Duckworth and Tate were ill. In fact, HW Lee of Middlesex was coaching at The Cape and he had to be summoned to turn up for the side.

The South Africans were not without their problems. Deane announced his retirement. Owen-Smith, a hero of the last tour to England, was elected a Rhodes Scholar and left for Oxford, Morkel and Christy, two other solid performers, went away to England on business commitments.

South Africa also had three captains lead them in the five Tests. Nupen guided them to a close 28-run victory at Johannesburg, after which Deane was back by popular demand for two Tests, and then it was Cameron who led in the final two Tests. There were some ugly interactions behind closed doors which ultimately made Deane walk away after the third Test.

The home team also struggled to adjust between turf and matting. Yet, they managed to win against this rather daunting England side.

Buster Nupen. Image Courtesy: Cricinfo

The first Test started with England on top. By the end of the first day, South Africa had been dismissed for 126, due to Voce and Peebles, and England were already 167 for 5 with Hammond looking ominous on 45. But the following morning Nupen dismissed the Gloucestershire great for 49 in the process of a five-wicket haul. England collapsed to 193 all out.

When South Africa batted again, Bruce Mitchell, Bob Catterall and Jock Cameron all got fifties, and the eventual score, in spite of incisive bowling by Hammond and Voce, was 306. Left 240 to win, England lost three wickets for 30, were rallied by Hammond and Maurice Turnbull, and recovered131 for 3. At this point Nupen, leading from the front, produced an inspired spell to capture 6 for 87, finishing the England innings 28 runs short.

Having gained an early lead, the South Africans maintained it with poise.

At Cape Town, on turf, Mitchell and Ivan Siedle put on 260 for the first wicket England just managed to save the match after facing a first innings total of 513 and following on.

At Kingsmead, they were helped by rain. After most of two days were washed out, South Africa were bowled out for 177, Voce breathing fire. In reply England forced the pace for a quick declaration, Hammond hitting 136 in the process. But there was not enough time to close out the match, and Herby Taylor, still a thorn in the England side, essayed a patient 64 to bail the side out of trouble.

Returning to Johannesburg England applied pressure. With Hammond, Hendren and Leyland in prime form, they totalled 442. While South Africa replied with only 295, Mitchell and Taylor took their time and yet again there was not enough time left in the match to force a result. Mitchell and Cameron hit fifties in the second knock and set 316 to win in the final innings the hosts finished on 280 for 7.

At Kingsmead, in the final Test, rain again ensured that valuable chunks of time was lost. When the four-day Test saw South Africa finishing their first innings at the end of the second day, there was hardly any possibility of a result left in the game. Besides, there was yet another irritant. Twenty minutes were wasted when Chapman inserted South Africa to bat on a wet wicket because there was no bail to fit the new stumps that were being used. An angry Chapman lodged a formal protest to the South African Board.

It remains the only cricket series where Tests were played both on grass and matting.

South Africa in England 1935 Tests 5 South Africa 1 England 0

The success of the 1935 team that visited England established a landmark in the history of South African cricket. They became the first Springbok side to win a Test in England and went ahead to extend it to a series win.

It was also their first overseas rubber, won after 45 years in Test cricket.

Indeed, they barely managed to save the first Test at Nottingham because of rain. And for the second at Lord’s they summoned Xenophenon Balaskas.

This leg-spinner of Greek origin was walking aimlessly in the back alleys of Leicester Square, with journalist Louis Duffus for company. Suddenly, Duffus pointed to a rather shady, dimly lit street and cried, “You must go up here — this will surely bring you luck.” He gestured towards the name, “Greek Street.” And it was not really the most gentile of neighbourhoods, with quick approaches, beckoning glances and feminine invitations of the form ‘Hullo boys.’

Bruce mItchell. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Balaskas, however, had other ideas of dipping into sources of luck. After spending some enjoyable moments in the aforementioned street, he was on his way back when he noticed a pregnant woman. It was his belief that if he patted her, there would be loads of luck to follow. And he proceeded to do so, some light banter with the girl paving the way for a few pats on the back. Did it have something to do with the 9 wickets he picked up in the match? One will never know.

But Bruce Mitchell batted through the second innings to score 164 not out. On a wicket ravaged by a cluster of insects known as the leather jackets, Balaskas picked up 9 wickets to engineer the first ever Test victory for the Springboks in England.

At Leeds they were at a tough corner, but it helped to have a limpet like Mitchell at the top of the order, a fighter of the Cameron sort in the lower middle order, and a schedule that allotted three days per Test match. There was not enough time left for England to force a result in spite of being at an obvious advantage.

At Manchester, Ken Vijloen stood up to be counted and in the second innings a new star was born in the form of Dudley Nourse, the son of the old South African cricketer Dave. England were in the driver’s seat once again for most of the game, but again three-day Tests often did not offer enough time to finish things.

There was a final chance for England to square the series at The Oval. But, Micthell hit 128 serene runs and Eric Dalton and Arthur Langton, the latter an unexpected pick based on one performance in Durban, added 137 for the 9th wicket. The 476 runs gathered over one and a half days ensured a deadlock, and even hard-hitting hundreds by Leyland and wicketkeeper Les Ames did not quite manage to breathe life into the match after that.

So, South Africa triumphed in the series 1-0, thus marking a milestone in the history of their cricket.

England in South Africa 1938-39 Tests 5   England 1 South Africa 0

Hence, when Wally Hammond took the England side to the southern land in late 1938, it was recognised as the first fully representative English team to visit South Africa. And it had taken a victory in England to achieve this distinction.

The series in South Africa, the last contest between the two sides before the Second World War, is remembered for the final Test at Durban.

Bill Edric. Image Courtesy: Cricket Country

Chasing a ridiculous 696 to win, Bill Edrich scored a career shaping double hundred. England were on 654 for 5 on the 10th day when rain started pelting down. The teams decided they had had enough. England could not afford to play another day and miss the mail-ship bound for Southampton. The match went down to a draw with ‘by arrangement’ in parenthesis.

The Test was timeless because the series was still alive.

England and South Africa had drawn a tall scoring first Test at Johannesburg. At Cape Town South Africa followed on, but they saved the match without much difficulty.

However, during the third Test at Durban, the stalemate was broken.  Eddie Paynter and Wally Hammond added 242, the former scoring an unbeaten 243. England raced to 373 for 2 on the first day, and aware of the dangers of running out of time in four-day Tests they declared early on the second day at 469 for 4.

After this, the young fast bowler Ken Farnes got Dudley Nourse for a duck and picked up four wickets to dismiss the hosts for 103. Following on, South Africa did a lot better in their second innings but even a century by Mitchell and fifties by Eric Rowan and Viljoen could not carry the match into the fourth day.

In the fourth Test, South Africa applied considerable pressure, achieving a 134-run lead as only Len Hutton among the English batsmen could negotiate Langton’s pace. But the third day was washed out and Hammond defended stubbornly on the fourth to play out time.

Thus England led by a 1-0 margin as the series moved to the fifth Test, and as per the rules the fifth Test had to be played to finish.  And on and on it went till the ‘on arrangement’ draw was agreed upon.


South African middle-order batsman Ken Viljoen later remembered it as the only time he needed two haircuts during a match!

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