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1966/67: The less remembered tour

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Bob_Simpson_Australia_CricketWhen Bobby Simpson took his Australian side to South Africa for the 1966-67 tour, his team were expecting a hard-fought series but were confident of their chances. Four months later, the visitors returned home - crushingly defeated by a rampant home side that was on the way to becoming the best Test team in the world over the next three years, culminating in their 4-0 series win over the same opponents in 1969-70.

The end of the tour was also unusual in that it involved a match that could give ‘One Day International' statisticians something to ponder - more of that later.

A 3-1 series triumph barely reflected the home side's domination with large winning margins in their successes, and only rain preventing a fourth South African win; whilst the Australians’ victory in the 2nd Test was the only time that they were not outplayed in the series.

The South Africans were superior in all departments. Wicketkeeper Denis Lindsay thumped a staggering 606 runs, with devastatingly attacking batting, as well as taking 24 catches and conceding only six byes in five Tests. Graeme Pollock elegantly enhanced his reputation as the best young batsman in Test cricket with 537 runs. All-rounder Trevor Goddard topped the bowling averages with 26 wickets - backed up by Peter Pollock, Eddie Barlow and exciting newcomer Mike Procter.

So what went wrong for the tourists - a team that had drawn the recent home Ashes series and seemed to have a good blend of experience and exciting new prospects?

The problems started before the Australians had even left home - new batting sensation Doug Walters was unavailable due to National Service call up. There were also concerns (eventually unfounded) that the apartheid government in South Africa would object to Grahame Thomas's inclusion due to his American Indian background - a sign of what was to come eighteen months later with the D'Oliveira affair.

Record-breaking Australian pace bowler Graham Mckenzie recalls the start of the tour: "There was some controversy on this, but from my knowledge there was never a real risk of the tour being cancelled...we had played the South Africans a few years previously and knew they would not be easy opposition at home, although we hoped to go much better than we did."

Looking back, veteran Australian off-spinner Tom Veivers could pinpoint some of the difficulties as the tour progressed: "We knew the South Africans would be strong, but we had problems getting our performance up to its best potential. Neil Hawke had an injured shoulder and was unable to bowl with anything like his ability - he shouldn't really have passed a fitness test to come. Jim Hubble, who had never played outside his home state of Western Australia, was so homesick for the prospect of a long tour that his mental approach to bowling was virtually lost. Nevertheless, we still had a pretty good side on paper."

Given the conditions encountered in the Tests, Graeme Mckenzie confirms that Hawke's absence was crucial: "The wickets were suited to pace bowling, which suited South Africa as they were able to call on an array of seam bowlers throughout the series. I feel that if Neil Hawke had been fit and able to bowl as he had the previous season, we would have had a much more successful series - he really was a top swing bowler. Unfortunately, he had injured his shoulder playing Australian Rules football during the winter and was only a shadow of his previous self from then on."

He continues: "the only pace back up came from Dave Renneburg who was relatively inexperienced. Otherwise, we relied heavily on spin, not ideal under these conditions."

Nevertheless, McKenzie rose to the challenge with 24 wickets in the series: "I feel that this series was the best of my career - however, the problem was the workload."

The soon to retire Tom Veivers found the Tests hard going: "The wickets were quite grassy.. Which was the last thing we needed under the circumstances. The pitches were not conducive to spin, even though I had a poor bowling tour. There were a number of reasons for this - chiefly, the need for good long spells in the earlier part of the tour. Bobby Simpson has been blamed a lot for this - Graeme Pollock, in his book 'Down the Wicket' is quite critical of him in respect of my bowling."

In his book, Pollock blames Simpson for failing to make maximum use of Veivers, "who we regarded with the greatest respect." Pollock felt that Veivers was being under-bowled and held back for the Tests, but: "when he was called upon, not unnaturally, he had lost his usual accuracy and this...probably led to loss of confidence. By not bowling Veivers enough in the provincial matches, Simpson had lost his potential match-winning qualities for the Tests."

Despite the problems, both Australians recognise that the home team played magnificently. Graham McKenzie was impressed with two players in particular: "I have always rated Graeme Pollock as one of the best batsmen I played against. Denis Lindsay had a dream series and could not do anything wrong...he played some amazing innings. He seemed to come in when the edge was off the bowlers and make the most of it. The side overall was very good, although they were to be better again in 1970."

Tom Veivers agrees: "Graeme Pollock played magnificently - I regard him as SA's best batsman possibly of all time. Denis Lindsay's performances were outstanding. He frequently turned the game...with some brilliant and aggressive batting."

The tourists had few answers to South Africa's all-round power and ended the series a demoralised outfit - Veivers recollecting the Australians attitude on the field: "Our main problem was that most of our players were under-performing and not responding positively to Bobby's overall leadership."

Now for that end of tour oddity. Before leaving, the Australians agreed to play a 50 over match against the South Africans - reputedly at the request of a sponsor. Tom Veivers doesn't regard it as particularly noteworthy: "I can't recall much about the game - it didn't carry much status as far as I can recall in those days."

Graham McKenzie has a slightly different view: "I don't know how come it was arranged except it was in the early days of one day cricket and had been popular in SA. From memory, we regarded it as a relaxing match - naturally wanting to win but without too many concerns." He finishes, however, with a controversial statement: "It should be regarded as the first One Day International."

A rewriting of the record books needed? Maybe, after all these years, the hurriedly arranged 1971 Melbourne match between Australia and England was actually the second ever ODI.

A blossoming South African side; an Australian dismantling and a final statistical oddity - just three of the reasons why the often overlooked 1966-67 series should be remembered as one of the more significant meetings of the decade.

 

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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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