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.

Australia in South Africa 1921-22

The fourth series between South Africa and Australia was arranged as yet another footnote to The Ashes.

Warwick Armstrong’s men had vanquished England at home, and in the summer of 1921 had conquered all frontiers in the Mother Country. It was on the way back from England that the team halted in South Africa to play another series against the Springboks.

But it was not to be Armstrong’s side as the tourists prepared for the first Test match at Durban. The Big Ship was taken ill and lay recovering in a nearby sanatorium.

Herbie Collins. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

Herbie Collins, a battle-scarred veteran of the First World War, skippered the team at the Durban Lord’s and tossed the coin against his namesake. Herbie Taylor was by now a pillar of South African batting.

Having crushed England at home and away, the Australians probably expected to breeze through the series against the unfancied South Africans. However, it was not really a cakewalk.

The start was smooth enough. Collins himself opened with the swashbuckling all-rounder Jack Gregory. The latter sped to a quick half-century, and the great Charlie Macartney scored even faster while notching up 59. But the medium-pace of Jimmy Blanckenburg and the left-arm spin of Claude Carter turned out to be quite challenging.

These bowlers were in no way as skilled or hyped as the googly battery, but they did chip away at the wickets with every bit of zeal. Jack Ryder held one end up with an unbeaten 78, but the final score of 299 was less than what the mighty side had bargained for. At the end of the innings, Blanckenburg’s analysis showed 5 for 78. Carter had 3 for 68.

But then Gregory and his partner in crime Ted McDonald let fly at the home batsmen. The former was at his devastating best. Taylor managed just 1, and the hosts finished the first day at 8 for 1.

The following morning McDonald dismissed Charles Frank, also a solitary run. A rout seemed imminent.

However, opening batsman Billy Zulch proved difficult to budge, and Messrs Blanckenburg and Carter, this time with the bat, rose to the occasion once again, taking the response to 232.

Macartney regaled the crowd in the second essay, scoring a 114-ball 116, with 17 boundaries and a six. Towards the fag end of the third day, Collins declared, perhaps after letting the innings continue a bit longer than necessary, setting 392 for win.

But, when makeshift opener stumper Tom Ward was dismissed before stumps, it seemed likely that Australia would still walk away with the match.

However, despite the efforts of Gregory, McDonald and the colourful leg-spinner Arthur Mailey, the gritty South African batsmen hung on for a draw. Once again, it was an extremely encouraging start for the younger cricketing nation.

Remarkable resistance

The second Test at Old Wanderers started with Gregory blowing the home team away with a hundred struck in just 70 minutes, and 67 balls. It was the quickest century ever recorded in Test cricket. His 85-ball 119 just snatched the initiative away from the Springboks early in the game.

Carter bowled his heart out for six wickets but Collins batted four and a half hours for 203 and Australia reached 450 in just a ball less than 98 overs. The scoring rate of 4.59 was incredible indeed.

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As if the devastation wrought with his bat was not enough, Gregory now tore through the batting with blistering pace. Dave Nourse resisted with 64, and Blanckenburg, once again, managed 45 low down the order. But the 243 the side managed was not good enough to avoid the follow-on. Before the second day was over Gregory sent Zulch’s stump cartwheeling. The game looked all but over.

However, yet again the hosts showed remarkable resistance. Frank stroked his way to 152, Taylor counter-attacked with 80 and Dave Nourse hit the only hundred of an excellent career. The innings lasted 195 overs before Taylor declared at 472 for 8. The match ended in another draw.

The Springboks run out of steam

Having held the tourists to a stalemate over two Tests, the hosts sadly lost their way in the third and final meeting at Newlands. The pitch assisted spin, and Mailey used it to good effect. His 4 for 40, and assistance from McDonald and Ryder, saw the South African first innings end at 180.

Blannckenburg and Carter once again bowled brilliantly, but the depth of the Australian batting proved way too much. It was Ryder who led the way with 142, and the eventual resulting lead amounted to 216.

The track was turning quite viciously by now, and Collins opened the bowling with Gregory and  Mailey. And soon, Macartney’s left arm spin was in action. It was the less-heralded spin of Macartney that claimed five and South Africa just about managed to save the innings defeat.

With only one run to score, Mailey pleaded Collins to send him out to open the innings, since he would never have such a chance again. Collins relented, sending in Mailey alongside wicketkeeper Hanson Carter.

The only ball Mailey faced was hit straight to mid-on and the eccentric cricketer sprinted down the track in all excitement. Both the batsmen ended up at the non-striker’s end, but the Springbok fielders played along and allowed Carter to cross over and complete Mailey’s run.

Thus, with this bizarre end, Australia clinched the series 1-0. But it was only after a rather spirited fight by South Africa in the first two Tests.


Australia 1 South Africa 0

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