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Great Test Matches VI: South Africa v England, Johannesburg 1905
by Gulu Ezekiel
Oct 06, 2008
South Africa's early years in Test cricket were difficult ones. They lost 10 of the 11 since their debut against England in 1889, the third nation after England and Australia to gain international status. Questions were being asked as to whether their elevation was justified or not. South Africa had shown some improvement on their tour to England in 1904 though they failed to win a Test. England had made four previous visits to South Africa before this 1905-06 tour, playing eight Test matches and winning all with ease.

This time they were led by Pelham 'Plum' Warner who had two seasons earlier captained England to victory in Australia. One of the stars of that triumph was BJT Bosanquet, the inventor of the googly or the 'bosie'. He had bamboozled the Aussies with this new weapon and the South Africans were quick to pick it up. It would be their secret weapon of the series. The home team for the first Test at the Old Wanderers ground in Johannesburg contained six debutants and four of them were googly bowlers—Aubrey Faulkner, Ernie Vogler, Reggie Schwarz and Gordon White.

The South Africans would go onto win their first series on 4-1 with the four leggies taking 43 wickets between them. As with all Test matches in South Africa till 1930-31, this Test was played on matting. England swept past the first five teams they faced in the warm-up matches and looked to be in great form. But they got a jolt just before the first Test when they were beaten by 60 runs by Transvaal.

Warner won the toss and decided to bat. But his side could not take advantage and crumbled for 184. Eight of the wickets fell to the spin quartet. Only the teenaged Jack Crawford on debut could cross the 20s, finishing top scorer with 44. England's bowlers though more than made up for the failings of their batsmen and by close had captured eight wickets for just 78 runs. It was a sensational start to the series—18 wickets on the very first day.

Medium pacer Walter Lees, another debutant had the excellent figures of 5 for 34 while left-arm spinner Colin Blythe, England's most famous bowler, took 3 for 33. South Africa collapsed to 91 all out after losing their top seven wickets with a measly 44 on the board. England sought to consolidate on their useful lead of 93 runs. But once again the batsmen failed to drive home the advantage. The total of 190 was only a marginal improvement on the first innings effort.

Opening the innings captain Warner (51) recorded England's sole half-century of the match with Crawford chipping in with 43. Faulkner led the charge of the leggies this time with 4 for 26 as they once again accounted for eight wickets. The victory target was 283, which would be by far the biggest total of the match. It looked to be a formidable task beyond the capabilities of the home side who after all had failed to reach three figures in their first innings.

By stumps on then second day they had reached 66, losing the wickets of Tancred and Hathorn. Opener Shalders was run out for 38 without a run being added on the third morning and now wickets began to tumble as South Africa's task looked increasingly improbable. Snooke had made nine when he fell leg before to Lees who also accounted for the big hitting Jimmy Sinclair (5). When all-rounder Faulkner was run out by wicket-keeper Jack Board for six, it looked like it was all over with the score-board reading a dismal 105 for 6.

White had been gallantly holding the fort even as wickets fell around him and now he found an able partner in AW 'Dave' Nourse, the first of the South African batting superstars who would play Test cricket till 1924 and would be followed by his equally famous son Dudley. Their seventh wicket stand was worth 121 invaluable runs as the total was more than doubled. White was at the crease for four hours and had hit 11 boundaries before he was bowled by Albert Relf for 81. His stand with Nourse had taken the score to 226 and suddenly the South Africans felt they had a chance to pull of a great win. But they received two quick setbacks with Vogler (2) bowled by Hayes at 230 for eight and Schwarz (2) caught and bowled by Relf just nine runs later.

The last wicket pair of Nourse and captain and wicket-keeper Percy Sherwell now had the unenviable task of scoring 45 runs to reach the victory target. But Nourse was in supreme touch and the South African captain was a pretty capable number 11. In fact the first ball he received was dispatched to the boundary. Warner switched his bowlers around but nothing could fluster the two batsmen. The required runs slipped below 10 and with eight needed the crowd first gasped and then cheered as Sherwell edged Crawford between Heyes and Relf to the boundary. Nourse then hit Relf for three to tie the scores. The tension was becoming unbearable but it got to the bowler rather than the batsmen. Relf bowled a full toss down the leg side and Sherwell gleefully smashed it to the boundary to seal the win.

The last wicket pair had added 48 runs with Sherwell unbeaten on 22 and Nourse on a masterly 93. He was not dismissed in the match as he had scored 18 not out in the first innings. Warner wrote of the scenes at the end of the match: "Men were shrieking hysterically, some were even crying and hats and sticks were flying everywhere. When the winning hit had been made the crowd simply flung themselves at Nourse and Sherwell and carried them into the pavilion, while for half an hour after it was all over, thousands lingered on and the whole of the South African Eleven had to come on to the balcony of the committee room." Warner was asked to address the crowd and he did so with good grace. His words were prophetic. "And so we were beaten, but defeat in such a struggle was glorious, for the first Test match will be talked of in South Africa as long as cricket is played there."

Their first victory behind them, the South Africans were now unstoppable as England were crushed 4-1. There is however a tragic footnote to this series. Schwartz, White and Blythe would perish young in World War I. And Faulkner, after a brilliant career as an all-rounder and then a famous coach, committed suicide in 1930 at the age of 48.
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