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1964-65: When England toured South Africa


South_Africa_England_Test_1964-65_CricketWhen the MCC tour party left Heathrow Airport for South Africa in October 1964, the players and management could not have imagined that three decades would pass until another official England side would play a Test series in the country. In many ways, this would one of the last of the 'old-fashioned' tours, with nineteen matches being played over four months, yet glimpses of the modern age were evident with this being the first MCC party to fly to Southern Africa.

Selection for the tour had not always gone smoothly, particularly where two leading batsmen were concerned. Ted Dexter, captain during the 1964 Ashes series, was due to stand as a Conservative candidate in the General Election - held on the day of the team's departure; whilst Colin Cowdrey declared himself unavailable - changing his mind later but too late for inclusion, as a young Mike Brearley had already been chosen instead.

Middlesex and England fast bowler John Price remembers that he learned of his selection "the usual way at the time - listening to the Sunday 11am announcement on the radio. An official invitation would normally be found in the dressing room the following morning." Following the news, Price recalls that "I was playing in a Benefit Match for Don Bennett in the afternoon - at the ground, I met Fred Trueman who was also taking part but who had not heard the tour party names. We started chatting and he was not happy on hearing that he had been left out". Trueman's indignation apparently increased with every name that he was given, including that of Tony Nicholson his county team mate - later to withdraw through injury.

With proven leadership experience needed for the tour, Warwickshire's Mike (MJK) Smith was given the tour captaincy and Donald Carr named as manager. Interestingly, for the first time in living memory, the MCC party did not include a member of the current county champions - Worcestershire having just won their first ever title.

The South African team was on the verge of an exciting new era. Led by veteran Trevor Goddard, a young, talented and exciting group of players had emerged with credit from the previous year's tour of Australia - their attacking batting in particular marking a change from the caution that had often been associated with the country's cricket. Players such as Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow, Colin Bland and Peter Pollock seemed ready to hit the world stage. It promised to be a tough series for England and expectations of success were not high as the party departed.

Eight unbeaten games before the first Test, including wins over Currie Cup teams Rhodesia; Transvaal and Natal, meant that morale was high. The party had also been joined by Dexter, following a fairly predictable poll defeat to Labour's Jim Callaghan in Cardiff. A further victory over Eastern Province gave the tourists an early glimpse of Graeme Pollock - John Price noting that the batsman "was not at all convincing and struggled against the off spinners." An early indication of how influential Fred Titmus and David Allen in particular would prove to be on South African wickets.

Durban hosted the first Test and after winning the toss, Mike Smith's team set about compiling a large total. John Price had a long rest in the dressing room, watching as "we batted until tea on the second day - although the scoring seemed slow, it was a very lush outfield and runs were worth far more." Geoff Boycott and Bob Barber put on a century opening partnership before Ken Barrington and Jim Parks scored centuries - with a declaration finally coming at 485-5. When the home team started their reply, they were in trouble immediately with an early wicket each for Price and Ian Thomson. The spinners then took over as the Durban wicket began to turn dramatically - Allen, Titmus and leg spinner Barber forcing the home side to follow on 330 runs behind. They fared little better second time around, as the off spinners exploited the conditions to give England a triumph by an innings and 104 runs - Allen finishing with seven wickets in the match alongside Titmus's six.

This would prove to be the decisive result in the series - despite following on in the second Test at Johannesburg, the home side saved the game easily as the match became a run-fest and set the pattern for the remaining encounters. For John Price, it was "hard work bowling on these batsmen-friendly wickets as South Africa got better and we struggled to bowl them out in these conditions. It was the same for the home side's pace men - even Peter Pollock's wickets cost nearly forty runs each."

High-scoring draws at Cape Town; Johannesburg again and Port Elizabeth resulted in stalemates, with England's only slight scares coming in the 4th Test after Mike Smith sent the opposition in and then subsequent injuries to pace bowlers Price; Tom Cartwright and David Brown before the final Test started - Somerset's Ken Palmer, already coaching in the country , being called up for a Test cap. Although behind after the first match, the home side adopted a disappointingly risk-free approach and rarely seemed willing to show the imagination or urgency needed to gain a victory. Whilst their batsmen eventually prospered on featherbed wickets, large totals gave them little time to bowl the opposition out twice in a match. The series averages for both sides showed the imbalance between bat and ball - five South African batsmen scored over 400 runs, with Bland and Barlow achieving well over 500 each. After his initial struggles against the tourists, Graeme Pollock was one of the successes - managing, as John Price ruefully noted, to have "worked out how to play the spinners as the series went on."

For Mike Smith's team, the tour was a triumph - an unexpected series victory and unbeaten in first class matches throughout the tour. Smith's appointment was to prove a master stroke - John Price recounting that "MJK was the best of tour captains, one of the boys away from matches but hugely respected on the field." Titmus, with 18 wickets, and Allen, with 17, dominated the bowling averages; whilst Price and Thomson both took a number of valuable wickets on wickets that did not help pace attacks. Barrington accumulated over 500 runs, with Dexter; Boycott; Barber; Smith; Peter Parfitt and Parks all scoring heavily at times.

The tour was also a diplomatic success - on the field there were few controversies; whilst off it, Nelson Mandela's recent imprisonment and the growing struggle against apartheid in the country presented potential difficulties for the tourists away from the cricket. However, after being given some brief advice before leaving England, the team carefully avoided any political awkwardness. Nevertheless, although there were no matches against non-white sides, on their travels the tourists could scarcely fail to notice and be shocked by the harshly segregated facilities in cricket grounds and in the towns and cities.

For Price, "it was a long but fantastic tour, finishing in February 1965". Within several months, the two teams would be meeting again - this time in a three match Test series in England. Led by a new captain in Peter van de Merwe, the South Africans would play more adventurous cricket and be rewarded with a series win. For England, the political situation meant that it would be take the welcome end of apartheid to restore cricketing relations and a thirty year wait to meet South Africa again.

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A cricket-loving teacher who has written articles on the game for various media outlets. Years in t...

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