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.

State of Flux

The circumstances had changed rather drastically by the time the sides faced off again.

Ian Craig. Image Courtesy: NDTV

By the latter half of the 1950s, the South Africans were an established side ready to take on the best in the world. With the old hands like Jackie McGlew, Russel Endean and John Waite, the great offspinner in Hugh Tayfield, one of the terrifying pace duo consisting of Neil Adcock and Peter Heine, and the emerging all-rounder Trevor Goddard, they were a rising power in the game.

On the other hand, the Australian side was going through serious rebuilding. Keith Miller had played his last Test, Ray Lindwall was nearing the end of his great career and was not on the tour, Lindsay Hassett, Arthur Morris, Bill Johnston and Ian Johnson had all moved away.

The captaincy rested on the young shoulders of the 22-year-old prodigy Ian Craig. There had been some names of potential, all-round talents that had been trying to establish themselves during the last few years, but they had not quite managed to do so yet. Names like Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson.

However, the series turned out to be, to use a cliché, the watershed moment for Australia. It was the making of Benaud, who hammered 329 runs at an average of 54 and captured 30 wickets at 22 apiece, underlining his claims as one of the greatest forces in the game. And with Craig demonstrating with every failure that he could no longer be considered a prodigy, Benaud’s claims as the future captain received a stupendous boost. And alongside, Davidson skittled out 25 men in the series at a mere 17 apiece. The future framework of Australia was thus established. It would be Benaud and Davidson who would carry the team along for several years.

Contrasting preparations

Benaud wanted to succeed, dearly. He bowled more than 1000 balls in the nets before his first delivery in a tour match. According to Australian cricket correspondent Ray Robinson, “I have never seen a bowler prepare more thoroughly for a Test tour.”

When the rest of the team went golfing or to the races, Benaud remained spinning the ball, and then applying calomine borciac lotion to his corn-embossed fingers.

In contrast, the South African preparations were not that focused. The skipper Clive van Ryneveld was busy setting up his law practice. Besides, as a member of the United Party, he had been elected to the parliament a couple of months before the start of the tour. His constituency was 600 miles away in East London, making things a logistic monstrosity. A short net session on the first day of each Test match was all that his preparation had amounted to.

The difference was palpable in the resulting 3-0 verdict in favour of Australia.

Benaud Brilliance

However, when the series kicked off at Johannesburg, a long, laborious leather hunt did look likely for the tourists. McGlew and Goddard opened proceedings with a 176-run stand and Waite walked in to pile on 115. The 470 for 9 declared was not really the first thing that the Australians wanted to be up against, even though left-arm pacer Ian Meckiff did get five wickets on his Test debut.

And then there was the terrifying Heine, bowling with every bit of hostility. The innings tottered at 62 for 4 when a rescue operation was set in motion by the experienced Colin McDonald and a debutant batting at No 6 by the name of Bobby Simpson.

It was at 151 for 5 that Benaud walked out and produced a blistering 122 with 20 hits to the fence. Australia totalled 368.

Richie Benaud. Image Courtesy: Fox Sports

In the second knock, Davidson soon had the hosts gasping at 19 for 4 before Endean and Waite settled down to add 129. Davidson’s 6 for 34 saw the South Africans bowled out for 201, but there was not enough time to overhaul the 304-run target.

Craig had no success with the bat, but his correct call at Cape Town had a lot of bearing on the match. McDonald and Jim Burke put of 190 for the opening stand in the Australian total of 449. But Tayfield’s 5 for 120 did indicate that the wicket was taking spin. Indeed, Benaud and chinaman bowler Lindsay Kline reduced the Springbok response to 209. When they followed on, Craig brought Benaud on early. His 5 for 49 reduced the hosts to 99 for 7 before Kline ended the Test with a hattrick.

Strange Stonewalling

But the South Africans had made a habit of coming back from behind through the 1950s. And at Durban it really looked like something similar was on the cards. Adcock ran in with every bit of hostile pace, restricting the visitors to 163 all out, picking up 6 for 43. The 52 runs scored by Craig in this innings constituted one of the best knocks of his career.

Jackie Mcglew. Image Courtesy: Cricket Country

And then the old hands McGlew and Waite added 231 for the third wicket. However, the approach was rather curious. McGlew’s 105 came off 499 balls in 575 minutes, the slowest century by a South African. Waite also took 510 minutes over his 134. Starting the third day at 150 for 2, just 13 behind with all those wickets in hand, they scored just 168 during the day.  When it was announced that McGlew and Waite had reached another partnership record, wicketkeeper Wally Grout chirped from behind the stumps, “Must be a long playing record.” After that, the captain Ryneveld allowed the innings to run its course till the last wicket fell at 384.

Burke, Harvey, Mackay got patient fifties, and McDonald spent 200 minutes for his 33. Even Benaud batted over an hour for his 20. The Australians batted out the day and a half with three wickets to spare.

Benaud Brilliance, again

With the series returning to Johannesburg, Benaud was promoted up the order to No 4. And he celebrated with exactly 100, compiled over three hours, even as Heine captured 6 for 96. Burke got 81, McKay 83 and Davidson chipped in with 62 from No 9. The resulting total was 401.

Having done his bit with the bat, Benaud now went after the Springboks with the ball. 4 for 70 and 5 for 84 ensured that Australia needed just a single to win. It was one of the most remarkable all-round performances in Test cricket.

By the fifth Test, held at Port Elizabeth, the hosts were in shambles. The batsmen surrendered listlessly, and Tayfield, with 66, had to produce the runs to ensure a 200-plus total. He also took three wickets, and with Heine, Adcock, Goddard everyone chipping in the lead was restricted to just 77.

Richie Benaud. Image Courtesy: Fox Sports

But, with Davidson and Benaud bowling in tandem for the first of many memorable occasions, the batting collapsed again in the second innings. The 144-run total meant only 68 to win.

Adcock charged in, sending bouncers that nearly decapitated McDonald before having him fending to slips. But van Ryneveld asked his paceman to restrict himself to one bumper an over. When Adcock continued to pitch short, the captain took him off. The runs were obtained for the loss of just 3 wickets. The series was thus secured 3-0.

Craig’s own performance was pitiable. 103 runs at 14.71, and he never played for Australia again. But he did receive a telegram from the Prime Minister Robert Menzies which said, “Congratulations on a remarkable team success.”


1957-58: Australia 3 South Africa 0


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