Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Was It All Cricket?

The South Africans

The South Africans

The appearance of a South African team upon the cricket fields of England did not excite the same interest as did the Australians of 1878. England had fostered the cricket of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope, just as she had helped to develop the game in Australia and the other colonies. The Africans were slower off the mark than the men of the Commonwealth. Playing on matting wickets was a handicap compared with the billiard-table grass wickets of Australia. Over the years, English professionals had been engaged by the South Africans, and many young Englishmen migrated to the land of gold and diamonds. The regular flow of English touring sides to the Cape completed their education on the cricket field.

At last they were ready to be as bold as the Australians, and challenge English sides on their home grounds. They were to make a modest start. It takes an attractive side if the gate takings are to exceed the cost of such a tour. The Springboks failed to do this. When I met Mr. C. W. Alcock in 1903, the question of a New Zealand side visiting England came up in page 434 the conversation. He laughingly said, “By Jove, Mr. Reese, unless you play well you'll be travelling third-class in the trains as the South Africans did.”

But these young men of the Cape were not to be denied. A splendid patron arose in Sir Abe Bailey who spared no expense to lift his country's cricket to International standard. In 1902 the Australian team returned from England via South Africa. This was great experience for the South Africans who so far had met English players only. As showing the difference in playing conditions, it is worth noting that on the matting wickets, when Trumble beat a batsman with a good length ball, it always popped over the top of the sticks. His team-mates had great fun barracking him to hit the wickets. Spofforth had a similar experience in New Zealand, when, playing against Wanganui in 1880, the Australians were beaten.

The 1906 English team that toured South Africa reported a big improvement in the game there, but when the South African team of 1907 arrived in England it did not at first attract any more attention than previous teams. England's complacency was soon to be given a jolt, for the inclusion of three googly bowlers on one side was something that had not previously been encountered. Vogler, Schwarz and Faulkner began to reap a harvest of wickets. County match after county match was won, and with the approach of the one Test Match to be played, the Springboks were looked upon as having an even chance. England won, but it was a good match. Faulkner was ranked among the great batsmen and Sherwell one of the world's best wicket-keepers.

It was now generally admitted that South Africa had become a third great cricketing country. Four years later I saw this African team play in Australia. I was immensely impressed with Faulkner's batting. The bowlers, however, were not so happy on Australian wickets; they met Trumper in splendid form, and three great left-handers in Hill, Bardsley and Ransford were a disturbing element for the googly bowlers. It was an exasperating experience to have a right- and a left-hand batsman nearly always at the crease.

Australian batting was exceptionally strong at this time, as may be judged when the names of Armstrong and Macartney are added to the above four. One might well ask; was it ever stronger? Schwarz bowled extraordinarily well, but I was page 435 surprised to find that he bowled the googly only. Sitting in the pavilion, watching a match in Melbourne, Trumble turned to me and said, “By Jove, this fellow would be a world-beater if he could mix a leg break with that ball!” The same could have been said of Braund and Mead had they been able to bowl a googly mixed with their accurate leg breaks. As a matter of fact, my Essex colleagues told me that Mead was the first to bowl the googly, but that he did not know how he bowled it! It must have been something like one of those “straight” leg breaks of Warwick Armstrong's! The batsman was always expecting Armstrong to break from leg more than he did, but the Victorian's wrist action imparted top-spin more than break, and many a player fell to this ball, which was next-of-kin to the googly. I saw Syd. Gregory, meeting him for the first time, play inches outside a ball that went straight on to hit the middle stump.

It was a great pity that Vogler was not seen at his best in Australia; like Lockwood, when out with Stoddart's team, he never settled down to the hard and serious cricket that one is called upon to play on such a tour. Australia won four out of the five Tests against Sherwell's team.

When the South Africans were in New Zealand in 1932 I asked Tandy, the manager of the team, whom he considered the best of all African bowlers. His immediate reply was: “Vogler.” He said that in South Africa he could start off as a first-class medium-pace bowler with an off-spin and swinger, and then, when the ball began to get “feathers” on it, change to his regular googly bowling. Neither before nor since have I heard the word feathers used to describe a ball that gets worn by repeatedly hitting the matting wicket. Vogler was a little faster than Schwarz and it was harder for batsmen to jump in to hit him. It will thus be seen what it meant to the South Africans to have their best bowler out of form on this Australian tour.

The Springboks on their first visit to this Dominion played two Test Matches. New Zealanders at this time were basking in the reflected glory of the improved status won for our cricket by the performances of the fine sides Lowry had led on English tours in 1927 and 1931. We had the feeling that in the cricket world we were catching up on the South Africans. These ideas were soon knocked out of our heads, for the page 436 Springboks won the first Test Match by an innings, and the second by eight wickets. Lowry had retired to his sheep station, and Merritt, New Zealand's googly bowler, had gone to play League cricket in England. It was difficult to believe that the absence of two players could make such a difference to New Zealand's XI, but the South Africans were a well-balanced side and proved overwhelmingly superior. We were ashamed of our bowling and not very proud of our fielding.

In the second Test a splendid century and 73 by young Vivian, and a good innings by Dempster, went some way to show the visitors that we had batsmen who could bat. If ever a country's cricket got a cold douche, it was New Zealand's in 1932.

These pictures of the South Africans' tours of England, Australia and New Zealand may enable readers to estimate the relative strength of the Springboks and their status in the world's cricket.