From March, Australia and South Africa will face each other in one of the most eagerly awaited contests of this year. The two superpowers of world cricket will play a four-match Test series which is expected to be a thrilling encounter. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the past encounters between these two cricketing giants.
Googlies and Cash Crunch
At long last, with the advent of a battery of googly bowlers, South Africa emerged as a force to reckon with and added a third dimension to the Test playing world. They beat England 4-1 in 1905-06 and 3-2 in 1909-10 on the matting wickets at home, while holding their own in a narrow 0-1 loss in Old Blighty in 1907.
If we look back at the country’s chequered cricketing history now, we will find that it was just a brief period of ascendancy and they took several more decades to shrug off the underdog tag. But during the first decade of the last century, their stars were indeed shining brightly.
Hence, arrangements were made for the inaugural Triangular Test tournament in England in 1912. Besides, the perennially exclusive Australian Board invited them to visit their shores in 1910-11.
However, the invitation came with a caveat. The Australians were not too sure how much of a draw the Springboks would turn out to be. And hence, initially, there was no cash guarantee offered for the South African Cricket Authority.
Of course, the invited board did not like this. In June 1910, the South African cricket board deliberated the issue and almost decided to call the tour off. The Sun newspaper, in a bid to promote cricket, offered to put up the money, but this was denied by the board on grounds of principle.
The deadlock was resolved when the Australian board finally agreed to provide the financial guarantee. However, minor and semi-major caveats remained. The South Africans demanded £5000 guarantee and half the gate returns, plus tried to arrange a New Zealand venture as well. The Australians haggled it down to £5000 plus the ground receipts, but without the enormous sums collected from the grandstands. The New Zealand deal did not come off.
Percy Sherwell’s team boarded the ship amongst final negotiations and uncertainty, but thankfully the tour went ahead. Yes, it was always about the money, even in the good old days.
Gordon White, the classy batsman who was also one of the four googly exponents of the side, dropped out of the tour because of other commitments. He had just been promised a promotion in the mining group where he worked.
However, the novelty of the googly was still a major craze. In Aubrey Faulkner, Reggie Schwarz and Bertie Vogler South Africans had three famed wrist spinners, and the cricket world waited with bated breath to see how their offerings would flower on the hard Australian wickets.
Australia had their own googly bowler, a dentist of swarthy complexion HV ‘Ranji’ Hordern.
In the end, it was a sort of anti-climax.
The Hill Hurricane
The great Clem Hill, captaining Australia, outgeneralled the visitors with some smart tactics. From the very first morning of the first Test at Sydney, he and Warren Bardsley, two southpaws, launched a tremendous attack on the googly bowlers. Hill raced to 191 from just 200 deliveries, and Bardsley contributed 132 from 150, denting the confidence of the bowlers on these unfamiliar tracks. Australia ended the first day of the series at 494 for 6.
After the innings ended at 528, the visitors found the pace of Tibby Cotter too hot to handle. The impeccable Faulkner, the supreme all-rounder, battled on his own, but the first innings of the tourists amounted to just 174. In the second, they fared somewhat better but managed just 240. Australians had not only triumphed, they had played havoc with the morale of the South Africans.
But the South Africans fought back at Melbourne. They restricted the hosts to 348, the final catch by Dave Nourse earning him the ball for his brilliant effort in the outfield. Faulkner, promoted to No 3, batted 315 minutes for a brilliant 204, underlining his claims as the best all-rounder in the world. The South Africans totaled 516. And Schwarz had the Australian batsmen in a tangle in the second innings, reducing them to 176 for 5.
But, if they had dealt with the greatness of Hill in the first Test, there was the genius of Trumper on offer now. The magician was in his element, striking 15 fours and a six in his 158-ball 159. Only 237 was on board when he was dismissed, underlining the dominance of his batting. Charles Kelleway and Warwick Armstrong pushed the score along, and the target was a tricky 170.
And then in ran Cotter and Whitty. The tourists, holding a distinct advantage in the Test for four days, now fell away for 80 in the final innings.
Faulkner: Greatness among ruins
Just as the series looked doomed to be a one-sided affair, the South Africans snatched a win at Adelaide.
Buoyed by hundreds by Billy Zulch and Tip Snooke, they rattled up 482. However, Trumper was at them again, jumping out to Schwarz and Llewellyn. At one point, Schwarz was bemused enough to turn to captain Sherwell and say, “It’s no use. I just can’t bowl to him.” The skipper had astute advice for him: “Forget it. Victor will get himself out when he is ready.” But Trumper was still unbeaten on 214 when the innings ended at 465.
Faulkner now hit 115, and the persevering Llewellyn 80. In spite of Whitty’s six-wicket haul, a score of 360 meant a stiff target of 378.
Bardsley, Hill, Kelleway all got half-centuries. Armstrong scored 48. Cotter slammed two sixes in his 36. On the sixth day, South Africa triumphed by 38 runs.
But the series would not get any closer than that.
At Melbourne, the Australian googly bowler Hordern joined hands with Whitty to ensure a 123-run first innings lead. The series was decided after that when Australia piled up 578 in the second innings, all the great names clicking in unison. Armstrong scored 132, Vernon Ransford, the first graceful left-hander in history, got 95. But the highlight was a 154-run fourth wicket stand in an hour and a half between Hill and Trumper. Hill hit 100 in 98 balls and Trumper 87 in 85. What a partnership that must have been.
With a target as ridiculous as 702, only Faulkner fought with 80. The rest succumbed to Hordern’s spin and the pace of Cotter and Whitty for 171.
By the time the fifth Test was played, the contest was distinctly one-sided. Returning to Sydney, the South Africans were unfortunate to were unfortunate to run into another Australian great in the form of Charlie Macartney. The young man’s 137 propelled Australia to 364. Faulkner’s 52 was the only saving grace as South Africa fell for 160.
Following on, they did put up a fight. With Zulch striking a fighting 150, and Faulkner once again showing his class with 92, they were 357 for 4 at one point. But the final six wickets tumbled for 44. The 198-run target could have been problematic, but Trumper and Macartney were brilliant once again. Australia won by seven wickets.
The 4-1 scoreline underlined that South Africa still had a long way to go before becoming a competitive side overseas. They were no doubt plagued by the absence of White and the rather shambolic form of Vogler. But Faulkner’s 732 runs in the series did signal that they had produced their first ever great cricketer.
After the tour, South African manager RP Fitzgerald wrote: “The first visit of a South African cricket team to Australia made history. Not history by way of cricket records, colossal scores, or other incidents in the game, but by opening up, as we hope, a series of inter-Colonial visits, not only of immense interest to all cricketers, but which will help to bring the people of the great dominions of the Empire into closer touch.”
Scoreline: Australia 4 South Africa 1