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Rewind to 1969/70: Australia in South Africa, Part 1


Barry_Richards_South_Africa_Cricket_legendIt is rather mystifying that despite sharing arguably the most fiercely contested Test rivalry for the best part of the last 25 years, Australia and South Africa have not faced each other in a series of more than three Tests since the latter’s return to the Test fold in 1992. However, this anomaly is set to change this season, as the much-awaited four-Test rubber gets underway in Durban – the first such instance between the two southern hemisphere adversaries since 1969-70.

The South African public, having been starved of Test cricket for three years, were enthusiastically looking forward to the visit of Bill Lawry’s Australians in 1969-70. Australia, under Bob Simpson, had endured a 3-1 reversal when they last toured South Africa in 1966-67, and thus had amends to make. South Africa, on the other hand, was raring to go after the vexing cancellation of their 1968-69 series against England due to the Basil D’Oliveira controversy.

When they arrived in South Africa in January 1970, the Australians were a bone-tired lot. Although riding on a wave of success – having beaten a Gary Sobers-led West Indian outfit at home and India in India within the past one year – they were saddled with issues related to pay with the team management. Moreover, their preceding Indian sojourn had drained them out, what with the heat and the incidents of crowd trouble adding to the negativity over wages.

The tourists had among their ranks plenty of experienced and competent batsmen – the line-up reading Keith Stackpole, Lawry, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters and Ian Redpath was as good as any – as well as variety in their bowling attack. Their strike bowlers were paceman Graham McKenzie and off-spinner Ashley Mallett, who captured 21 and 28 wickets respectively in the Test series in India. They also had John Gleeson, the much-touted ‘mystery’ leg-spinner.

Lawry’s men were up against a South African unit replete with extraordinary talent. The hosts had immensely bolstered their all-round strength in the three years following the 1966-67 triumph. Opener Barry Richards was finally set to make his highly-anticipated Test debut. The 24-year-old had made the cricket fraternity sit up and take notice of his aggressive stroke-making while plying his trade for Natal in the Currie Cup and Hampshire in the County Championship.

Then there was Graeme Pollock, a left-hander of the highest class, who had already hit four Test centuries off the Australians; wicketkeeper-batsman Dennis Lindsay, who scored a humungous 606 runs in the 1966-67 series; Eddie Barlow, the bespectacled all-rounder who was right up there with the best; Trevor Goddard and Mike Procter, both fine multi-faceted players who brought great value to the side; and the skillful Peter Pollock, leader of the team’s pace attack.

South Africa also had a new captain in the form of Dr. Aron ‘Ali’ Bacher, who was a dependable batsman for Traansvaal on the domestic circuit as well as a medical practitioner at a multi-racial hospital in Johannesburg. When he walked out for the toss with Lawry at Newlands in Cape Town, the venue for the opening Test, on January 22, 1970, he must have been well aware that under his able leadership, South Africa had the potential to become the best team in the world.

South Africa were yet to defeat Australia in Cape Town – the visitors had won all six Tests at the venue thus far, including a six-wicket victory in their last meeting in 1966-67. Bacher elected to bat after winning the toss, a pattern that was to repeat in each of the following Tests. Walters’ medium pace accounted for Goddard early, but Richards, one of four South African debutants, and Bacher (57) put on 77 for the second wicket before both fell to fast bowler Alan Connolly.

Barlow walked in at 111/3, and began to show great application at the crease. Along with Graeme Pollock (49), he added 76 for the fourth wicket, and was unbeaten on 66 when stumps were drawn on the first day at 254/4, with Lee Irvine at the other end. The first ball of the second day saw quite a bit of friction between the two sides, resulting from the Australians’ clear displeasure at the turning down of a contentious caught-behind appeal against Barlow.

Nevertheless, the overnight pair had extended their fifth-wicket alliance to 94, when Mallett removed Irvine to take the first of his five wickets. Barlow defied the wiles of Mallett to bring up his fifth Test century - his fourth against Australia - soon after. The South African innings terminated at 382, with Barlow the seventh man out (to Gleeson at 363) for a resolute 127 that took six hours and featured 11 fours and a six. Mallett ate into the tail, returning figures of 5/126.

The Australian reply began disastrously, as Peter Pollock struck twice in five balls to send Lawry and Chappell on their way back, thereby reducing the score to 5/2. Procter added to Australia’s misery by nailing Stackpole and Redpath – the scoreboard now read 39/4. The slide continued despite Walters’ resistance. Debutant left-arm spinner Grahame Chevalier dismissed Paul Sheahan, while off-spinner Kelly Seymour got rid of wicketkeeper Brian Taber. Australia ended the second day at 108/6.

The South African pacers had repeatedly exploited the Australian batsmen’s tendency to go after rising deliveries, and the fielders behind the wicket did the rest with their catching. Walters, who resumed the third day on 58*, did not find any notable support as Australia were bowled out for 164. Peter Pollock collected 4/20, including the scalp of Walters, who was ninth out for 73. Despite his team holding a strong lead of 218, Bacher decided against enforcing the follow-on.

Australia produced a better bowling performance in the second innings, particularly thanks to Connolly and Gleeson. Connolly bowled with purpose, his variations fetching him a tidy 5/47, while Gleeson dented the middle and lower order to return 4/70. Graeme Pollock (50) continued his good form, with Procter (48) not too far behind. South Africa were all out for 232 in the first session of the fourth day, giving the bowlers ample time to defend their lead of 450.

Stackpole and Lawry began the steep run chase assuredly, sharing an opening stand of 75 before Goddard removed the former. Lawry and Chappell added a further 55 for the second wicket, and at 130/1, it seemed that the bowlers would have to work harder than they might have thought. Procter persisted, and earned the prized wicket of Lawry, out leg-before for a three-hour 83. At the other end, Chevalier bowled Chappell to continue his impressive debut.

Walters and Sheahan also perished before stumps, positioning Australia at 181/5. Procter (4/47) dismissed Taber and Mallett early on day five, even as Redpath (47*) tried to dig in. Richards chipped in too, bowling Gleeson for his only Test wicket. A last-wicket stand of 41 only delayed the inevitable, and Chevalier (3/68) bowled Connolly to wind up Australia’s innings at 280. With this facile 170-run win, South Africa finally tasted success against Australia in Cape Town.


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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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