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 Australian squad that left for South Africa in 1966-67 was said to be ‘at a stage of rebuilding’. Actually, however, that was a fancy way of saying ‘incredibly inexperienced’.
Captain Bobby Simpson and his opening partner Bill Lawry were the only ones with more than 1000 Test runs. Among the bowlers, only Garth McKenzie had more than 100 wickets.
In 1957-58, Ian Craig had led a similarly inexperienced side to the land, and had come back after a 3-0 win. But they had faced a South African side still coming to terms with playing at the top level, trying to squeeze time for the game from their daily lives. In contrast, Peter van der Merwe’s men who awaited the Aussie brigade were fabulously talented and had an appetite whetted by lack of quality opponents visiting with any regularity.
Simpson’s side created an undesirable record of becoming the first Australian side to lose against a First-Class side in South Africa when they were defeated by Transvaal. They followed it up with a loss to a South African Invitation XI.
The response to these poor forays was to launch an attack on the umpires. This was carried out by both the Australian captain and the brigade of visiting journalists, including famous names like Richie Benaud, Ian McGilvray, Phil Tresidder, Bob Gray and Dick Whittington. Particularly targeted for criticism was Hayward Kidson, a 41-year-old official.
Criticism of Kidson was perhaps justified. In the first Test at Johannesburg, Australia were cruising 204 for 1 in response to South Africa’s 199. Lawry was nearing his century. It was now that he drove at a rather wide ball from Trevor Goddard and missed it by miles. Kidson raised his finger and it triggered a collapse, finishing the Australian innings for 325.
The tourists were still on course for victory, especially when Graeme Pollock was scalped by part-timer Bob Cowper for a 114-minute gem amounting to 90. The home side at that moment were on 268 for 5, with almost an hour remaining on Day 3.
But Brian Taber dropped Denis Lindsay at this stage, with the batsman on 10. The following morning, Kidson’s colleague Les Baxter rejected the most confident appeal for caught behind against van der Merwe. The next ball was edged to Simpson in the slip, and the captain, perhaps still mouthing oaths at the umpire, grassed the waist-high chance. In the following over, van der Merwe edged again, and McKenzie at second slip dropped the offering. And in McKenzie’s next over, Taber dropped him down the leg side.
Buoyed by this extraordinary saga of fortune, Lindsay and van der Merwe put on 221. The wicketkeeper got 182, off just 227 balls, with 5 sixes. The captain capitalised on all the chances to produce 76. The second South African innings amounted to 620, leaving the tourists a near-impossible 495 to win. And at 4:23 on the final afternoon, McKenzie swiped at Goddard. A substitute fielder on the boundary ran around to take the catch to finish the Test. Goddard’s figures read 32.5-4-53-6. The name of the substitute fielder who took the catch was Mike Procter.
At Cape Town Australia roared back. Simpson scored a masterly 153 and young Keith Stackpole hammered a blistering 134. The tourists ended their first innings at 542. There followed a supreme exhibition of batting, with Graeme Pollock waging a lone battle with a superlative 209. But the rest of the batting collapsed around him. They followed on, and despite solid resistance, in the second innings, the Australians won with plenty to spare.
It was after this match that history was made with Simpson lodging an official complaint against Kidson.
This formal and confidential communication was leaked to press. Simpson received a lot of flak for his action. Important voices like Denis Compton were loud in their views that he had crossed certain lines of diplomacy. Even countryman Whittington was unforgiving. It actually made Kidson a celebrity. There was another controversy gunning for his head back home. Simpson received a summons for a defamation suit filed by Ian Meckiff. The former fast bowler was not happy with what the present captain had written about his bowling action in his autobiography.
It was perhaps all this desperation that led the Australian captain to become a bit reckless in predicting a 4-1 win in the Test series. It would come back to haunt him.
At Durban, Eddie Barlow chipped the first ball of the Test match back to McKenzie. However, once again Lindsay showed his phenomenal batting abilities with 137. And debutant Procter had the Australian batsmen hopping with his pace. As his side followed on, Simpson batted with a lot of pose for 94. But at that score he was given out leg before by Kidson, the appeal suspiciously appeared to have been upheld with a lot of enthusiasm.
Kidson controlled … but howlers continue
Having lost the Test by 8 wickets, the Australian management changed their tactics with Kidson. They invited the umpire and his wife to a barbecue on Australia Day. Following this, the decisions were way less outrageous against Australia. In fact, he upheld quite a few leg-before appeals against South Africa.
But, the change of heart of the umpire did not really affect the trend of the series. They struggled to post 143 in the first innings, following which Lindsay hit another terrific hundred. Trailing by 189 runs in the first innings, Australia ended on 148 for eight in the second when weather came to their mercy. The entire fourth day and most of the fifth day were lost due to rain and they escaped with a draw.
The umpiring howlers were back in the fifth Test. Van der Merwe inserted the Australians in on a treacherous Port Elizabeth pitch in the fifth Test. Peter Pollock, Procter and Goddard ran through them and Graeme Pollock played the innings that made all the difference. At 93, there was a loud snick following which he took a couple of steps towards the pavilion. However, umpire Gordon Draper did not agree. Pollock, looking confused, carried on batting. When he brought up his hundred, it was announced: “It is Graeme Pollock’s birthday today.” Quite a few Australians claimed that it was obvious.
The final Test was lost by 7 wickets, and only the aforementioned rain in the fourth Test prevented the visitors from losing by the exact margin that Simpson had predicted in their favour.
The 3-1 win for South Africa was the first time that they had emerged victorious in a series against Australia in 12 attempts.