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.
The Bradman Effect
The South Africans had till now been spirited but limited in the resistance they accorded to the powerful Australians across the ages.
However, by the time ‘Jock’ Cameron’s men travelled to the land Down Under in 1931-32, they came up against a force that would make a mockery of any attempts at contest.
Don Bradman had already made his colossal mark on the cricket world. He had toured England in 1930 and amassed 974 runs in 5 Tests. The 1930-31 series against West Indies had been lukewarm by his standards, only 447 runs in 5 Tests at 74.50, with a 223 and 152 as the only two three-figure scores. Yes, by Don’s standards, that was lukewarm.
He was awaiting the Springbok brigade with plenty of relishes. And he launched into them as soon as the Tests began.
The first frontal attack resulted in 226 at Brisbane, as the tourists were blown away by an innings and 163 runs. This was followed by 112 at Sydney as victory was obtained by an innings and 155 runs. A low score of 2 in the first innings was rectified by 167 in the second at Melbourne as Australia triumphed by 169 runs. And at Adelaide, he hammered the inexperienced attack to pile up an unbeaten 299 and missed his triple hundred when No 11 Pud Thurlow was run out. The visitors were crushed by 10 wickets.
And then there was Dainty
By then Bradman had 806 runs at 201.50 in the series. An injury meant that he did not bat in the fifth Test at MCG. The ten Australian batsmen managed just 153. But even that was way more than enough. With Bert Ironmonger picking up 11 wickets the visitors could total just 36 and 45 in the two innings to lose by an innings and 79 runs.
5-0. Utter rout.
Bradman, however, was not the only one to boast incredible figures.
Bill Woodfull’s 421 runs in the series were gathered at 70.16, puny in comparison to The Don’s 200-plus average, but intimidating nevertheless.
Clarrie Grimmett’s legspinners remained a mystery all through the series, and his 33 wickets were claimed at 16.87 apiece.
But the most stupendous numbers belonged to ‘Dainty’ Ironmonger. The Springboks had no clue how to deal with his left-arm slows, especially on damp wickets, and the 31 scalps came through at a ridiculously low average of 9.54 apiece.
Like Bradman’s scores, Ironmonger’s hauls were phenomenal both in terms of impact and statistics. 9 for 86 from 77 overs at the Gabba, 4 for 60 at Sydney, 7 for 126 at Melbourne, and he actually missed the Adelaide Test before coming back to claim 11 for 24 from 22.5 overs at MCG.
There were a handful of notable performances from the South Africans. The new ball pair of ‘Sandy’ Bell and Neville Quinn. At Melbourne, in the third Test, Ken Viljoen even scored 111 to secure a 160-run lead for the visitors before Bradman and Woodfull countered with big hundreds.
However, by the time the final Test was played, even Bradman’s absence from the crease because of injury did not really help matters. The entire match lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, the shortest completed Test ever. Ironmonger finished things off with 7.2-5-6-5 and 15.3-7-18-6. That remains the cheapest 10-wicket haul ever.
The South Africans had thus far had limited opportunities of clashing with the Australians. But whenever the sides had played, the younger cricketing nation had displayed plenty of pluck and stomach for the fight. However, with the dawn of the Bradman era, the Australians emerged way too strong to produce any sort of a contest.
South Africa in Australia 1931-32. Australia 5 South Africa 0