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.
By the time South Africa landed in Australia in late 1963, the side had been touched by genius. There was a tall young left-handed batsman in the ranks, who made his debut in the Brisbane Test, scored hundreds at Sydney and Adelaide, and left the country as one of the most exciting names in world cricket.
However, Graeme Pollock was not the only name among the visitors destined to be great. There was a man who looked curiously more like Billy Bunter than any cricketer and kept hitting centuries. Eddie Paynter, bespectacled and unorthodox, hit three centuries, including a double at Adelaide. He was not too bad with the ball either.
Another couple of batsmen of significant pedigree were all-round talents. Denis Lindsay was a classy batsman and a wicketkeeper of quality. And Colin Bland was one of the first fielding all-rounders who would end his career with a Test average of 48.
And in the bowling department, there was Graeme Pollock’s elder brother, Peter, completing one of the fascinating fraternal combinations in international cricket.
The captain Trevor Goddard was one of the most underrated cricketers of all time, one who was good enough to open the batting and bowling of the side with equal aplomb.
The Springboks were no longer underdogs or a side of promise. They were a real emerging power.
Yet, the focus at Brisbane was on something totally different. And deplorable.
Ian Meckiff had been the leading wicket-taker in the 1962-63 season. With the great Alan Davidson having retired, it seemed quite natural for this left-arm pace bowler to try and fill the enormous chasm as the spearhead of the attack.
But for the controversies that lingered about his action, the stigma of throwing that dogged him from the 1958-59 tour of Peter May’s Englishmen. And now the Australian Board of Control had agreed to the strong persuasions of the Imperial Cricket Conference and agreed to get tough on throwing.
Given this, the choice of Meckiff in Richie Benaud’s side was surprising. And in retrospect, it did seem to be some sort of a conspiracy. Fingers were pointed at Don Bradman, now Board member and selector, the virtual head of Australian cricket. The fact that Bradman shared a long train journey with Egar on the eve of the match did not go unnoticed.
In fact, Keith Miller voiced concerns about the responsibilities thrust on umpires Lou Rowan and Col Egar, and expressed the hope that Meckiff would not be used as a scapegoat.
It was especially tough on Egar. Meckiff was a close friend of the umpire. The two had won a pairs lawn bowling competition just a few months earlier.
At Brisbane, Australia batted first and scored 435. Just after lunch on the second day, South Africa began their first innings. Garth McKenzie’s first over was expensive, going for 13 runs. And then Meckiff prepared to run in from the Vulture Street End, as Goddard took strike. With a sense of occasion, on the Gabba Hill South African manager Ken Viljoen started filming the action with a movie camera.
Umpire Egar, Meckiff’s close friend, stood at square leg. And he called the second, third, fifth and ninth deliveries.
Some thought the first call had come from the crowd. Some others wondered whether there were three men behind square on the leg side that had prompted the decision. Benaud, standing at gully, was rather taken aback.
After the third delivery, Benaud ran up to Meckiff. “We’ve got a bit of a problem here. Concentrate on keeping your arm as straight as you can.”
But, the fifth ball, a full toss that Goddard struck for four, was called again. Benaud approached his bowler again. “If you want to bowl underarm that’s okay.” Meckiff refused.
The ninth ball was called again before the over dragged to an end.
The rest of the 133.5 eight ball overs were bowled by McKenzie, Alan Connolly, Tom Veivers, Benaud himself, Bobby Simpson and Norman O’Neill. That Australia played with five regular bowlers apart from Simpson and O’Neill added to the speculation that there indeed had been a plot. Some, like Dick Whitington, even raised eyebrows at the fact that Benaud did not try bowling Meckiff from the other end.
Even as the crowd stood vociferously behind Meckiff, carrying him off the ground at the end of the day’s play, and Egar had to be escorted out by the Queensland Police, the unfortunate bowler never bowled for Australia again. After the Test, he retired from all forms of the game.
The Test ended in a dull draw, and speculations of foul play and conspiracy dogged the aftermath.
Strangely, Meckiff and Egar remained friends for life.
Australia take lead
Benaud missed the second Test at Melbourne due to a broken finger and Simpson was asked to captain the side. Till then Simpson had played 23 Tests averaging 33 without a hundred against his name. There were plenty of voices against his elevation.
However, on winning the toss Simpson had enough guts to insert the Springboks. Barlow did score his second hundred of the series, but led by McKenzie, the Australians restricted the visitors to 274.
In response, the first wicket stand between Bill Lawry and Ian Redpath amounted to 219. Simpson got a duck, but Lawry’s 157 and Redpath’s 97, along with Barry Shepherd’s 96, helped Australia to 447. The South Africans did not give in easily but eventually lost by 8 wickets.
However, at Sydney, the tourists fought back. The wicket had a lot of grass, and Peter Pollock relished bowling in such conditions. His 5 for 83 saw Australia managing only a moderate 260. In response, Graeme Pollock struck 19 fours and a six in a magnificent 122, scored out of 186. However, with McKenzie yorking John Waite and Peter van der Merwe in the same over, the lead amounted to just 42.
And now Lawry, O’Neill and down the order Benaud and even McKenzie stayed long enough to total 450 before leaving South Africa with 409 to win in seven and a half hours. They decided to play out time, reaching 326 for 5 when the Test ended.
But by the time the tour reached Adelaide, the visitors were well into the groove. Peter Pollock removed Lawry and O’Neill in the fifth over, and Goddard’s nagging line and length saw him capture 5 for 60. Yet, the 345-run total was quite a decent one.
The Barlow-Pollock Massacre
But soon it looked rather puny. Barlow and Graeme Pollock came together at 70 for 2 and massacred the attack. The runs were scored at more than 80 an hour. Pollock’s 18 fours and 3 sixes were stamped with class as he raced to 175 in four and three-quarter hours. Barlow amassed 201. The pair added 341, and the total was 595.
Australians still fought hard and on the fourth afternoon, with the score on 301 for 5, had hopes of saving the match. But now Barlow was given a bowl and he picked up three quick wickets to settle the issue. The result was a 10-wicket victory, Australia’s heaviest defeat at home since the Second World War.
In the final Test, Goddard inserted the Australians and Joe Partridge swung the ball prodigiously to capture 7 wickets. The Australian score was just 311, and the South Africans were in a strong position quite soon. But they batted a bit too slowly, and compounded with rain and bad light it left them too little time to force the issue. The 411 runs they scored to achieve a lead of 100 was gathered in more than 10 hours.
Brian Booth, centurion in the first innings, batted nearly five hours in the second for 87. Waite dropped him early in the innings and it cost South Africa the series. The visitors still looked set to win it when Australia were 225 for nine with quite some time to play on the final day. But Tom Veivers and Neil Hawke batted 75 crucial minutes to add 45. The resulting target of 171 runs in 85 minutes was too far-fetched to attempt.
The series ended 1-1, but South Africans had reached a new level in their bid to emerge as one of the best sides of the world.
And cashing in on the relative misfortunes of their Ashes rivals, London’s Daily Mail announced, “Australia is in a blue funk about her cricket.”
1963-64: Australia 1 South Africa 1