The four-match Test series between South Africa and Australia is under way. It is expected to be a thrilling encounter. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the past encounters between these two cricketing giants.

The Brilliant and the Bickering

Bill Lawry’s Australians were not a happy brigade. Their trip to India had been arduous. Victory had come against heat, humidity and unruly crowd behaviour, and had left them full of complaints and bickering. They had various cribs about pay-checks, hardship and facilities on tours.

As Lawry and his team landed on BOAC VC-10 at Johannesburg’s Jan Smuts airport in early January, Alan McGilvray reported, “They looked haggard. Their eyes seemed to be standing out of their heads and some of them looked positively yellow.”

When McGilvray walked past the Australian enclosure at Pretoria’s Berea Park four days later, he found most of the team asleep on benches out in front only half an hour after the start of play.

Yet, few had braced themselves for a 4-0 rout. Through the 1960s one had realised that the Springboks were developing into a rather major cricketing power. But the immense powerhouse that steamrolled Australia to submission was rather unexpected.

The hosts were not only brimming with incredible talent, they were also starved of cricket. The last team to tour their shores had been the Australians under Bobby Simpson in 1966-67.

The England tour had been cancelled because of Prime Minister Vorster’s rigid stance on Basil D’Olliveira. And there was the imminent threat of isolation hanging like a sword of Damocles on their cricketing future. Hence, not only did the cricketers put in their best effort, people also flocked to watch the Tests in huge numbers.

The Total Routs

The Tests went on to be absolute routs. At Cape Town, Eddie Barlow’s 127 lifted the hosts to 382. And then Procter, Pollock, Goddard and the others fell among the batsmen. Captain Ali Bacher did not enforce follow-on, and the Australian bowlers did a commendable job in the second innings, but the end result was defeat by 170 runs.

And then came the exhibition of a majestic masterclass at Durban. Graeme Pollock’s 274 was one of the greatest innings ever. At this stage of his career, the southpaw could destroy pace and spin with ease. And at the other end, there was a special talent making his initial marks on the world cricket landscape. Barry Richards saw the ball earlier and better than anyone else in the game and was wristy and graceful to boot.

At lunch on opening day, South Africa were 126 for 2. Of that Richards had hit an unbeaten 94. He got his century in the first over after the break, off just 116 balls.

Barry Richards. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

The following hour saw 103 put on between Richards and Pollock, and such dominance from both ends has seldom been witnessed across grounds and eras. In three magical hours, driving and hooking with élan, Richards stroked his way to 140. Pollock continued to torment the Australians for six more hours. According to Wisden Cricketer’s Rodney Hartman, “Pollock was the broadsword to Richards’s rapier.” One of the first players to use a heavy bat, the South African left-handed master cover drove with imperious timing. Even a 7-2 offside field could not stop him. Down the years had developed a pull and on drive to counter his earlier inability to score on the leg-side. He continued to smash everything offered to him. The double hundred was reached in just over five hours. 200 was put on for the sixth wicket with Tiger Lance. It took an innocuous Keith Stackpole delivery to finally get him out. The 274 contained 43 boundaries and a five.

Graeme Pollock. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

Having watched the innings, Don Bradman simply said that Pollock was the best left-handed batsman he had ever seen. This was high praise indeed from the greatest batsman of all time, moreover, someone who had been enchanted by Arthur Morris, had seen Neil Harvey develop into his full bloom and had followed the career of Garry Sobers closely.

And after the 622 run total, Procter, Peter Pollock and Eddie Barlow bowled the hosts to a resounding innings win to go up 2-0 in the series.

Another rout followed at Johannesburg. Peter Pollock and Procter once again proved too much of a handful for the visitors. Graeme Pollock and Richards hit mere fifties this time around, the former getting two of them. The hundred was scored by Barlow. Lee Irvine scored two half-centuries as well, underlining the depth of resources in the side. By now there was little fight left in the Australians and Keith Miller had taken to writing match reports while spending his day at the races.

The final Test at Port Elizabeth emphasised the tale of South African dominance.

Richards hit 81 in the first innings before running amok with a spectacular display of strokeplay in the second. The 126 contained 16 fours and three sixes.

The enormous all-round versatility of the side was once again in display with Irvine scoring a hundred and Denis Lindsay getting 43 and 60. Lindsay kept wickets, and Irvine played as a batsman. They could have as easily turned out with their roles reversed.

In the Australian first innings, Peter Pollock and Procter struck telling blows with the ball. In the second, the premier fast bowler of South Africa limped off the ground with a torn hamstring, unable to finish his second over – which turned out to be the last of his career. But, Procter knocked over six Australians and Pollock’s absence was not even felt.

Nipped in the bud

The Australians were originally scheduled to play a fifth Test, which was mercifully cancelled after financial details could not be agreed to.

The lasting memory of the series is of captain Ali Bacher being chaired off the ground by his proud team.

Barry Richards amassed over 500 runs in his first Test series.

Graeme Pollock was the best batsman in the world alongside Garry Sobers, with an average over 60.

His brother Peter was one of the great fast bowlers of the era, with 116 Test wickets already under his belt.

Mike Procter had played seven Tests capturing 41 wickets at just 15 apiece. He would go on to stand alongside Don Bradman and CB Fry with six consecutive hundreds in First-class cricket, and take two hat-tricks in First-Class cricket. A genuine all-rounder equally gifted in all departments, he could score a century before lunch and follow it up by running through the opposition with searing pace.

Mike Procter. Image Courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

Eddie Barlow was a fantastic batsman who could open the innings, an unusually effective medium pacer who often pleaded with his captain to have a bowl, and a slip fielder of uncanny reflexes.

Lee Irvine was coasting on a great start to his Test career. Denis Lindsay was touted as the greatest ever batsmen among wicketkeepers, surpassing the deeds of Les Ames.

Pat Trimborn had performed the role of the economic seamer to perfection, carrying on the job Trevor Goddard had done so ably all these years. And on the spinning front, a young man named John Traicos had just started to turn his off-breaks.

In 1970, man for man, this was by far the strongest side in the world.

Among these wonderful band of men, only Traicos would manage to play a few more Tests — for Zimbabwe.

As the capacity crowds cheered the victorious side through the series, even the happy stands spoke eloquently of the political situation. The spectators sat segregated according to colour, in line with the Separate Amenities Act of 1953. The cricket loving blacks turned out in large numbers, especially in Cape Town and Durban.

However, it was apparent that most of them were cheering for Australia.

And all through the series, dark clouds gathered over the cricketing future of the nation.

The next time the country would appear in a Test match would be in April 1992.

A superb cricketing unit nipped in the bud. The most tragic of all things cricketing and otherwise.


1969-70: South Africa 4 Australia 0

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