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Rewind to 1969-70: Australia in South Africa, Part 4

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Mike_Procter_South_Africa_CricketThe contrast between the fortunes of the two teams could hardly have been starker when they assembled at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth for the fourth and final Test from March 5, 1970. It was here that South Africa had played their first Test match, against England in 1889-90. Eight decades after making their Test bow, the Springboks, determined to hammer the final nail in the Australian coffin, were on the cusp of achieving their first ever series whitewash.

The signs were ominous for Australia from the outset, as Ali Bacher won his fourth toss in succession. The retired Trevor Goddard was replaced by fast bowler Pat Trimborn, who had played three Tests in the 1966-67 series against Australia. Graham McKenzie, who was yet to take a wicket in the series, returned for the visitors, taking the place of Eric Freeman in the eleven. Abiding by the trend of the series, Barry Richards proceeded to make hay in the middle.

Richards and Eddie Barlow lorded over the Australian bowlers in the course of a 157-run partnership – the only century opening stand of the series. The duo took advantage of some sloppy fielding to reach their respective fifties. It was Alan Connolly who rejuvenated Australia, with a double strike that dispatched both openers within five minutes. Barlow was the first to fall for 73, followed by Richards, who edged one to Brian Taber behind the wicket, for 81.

Not long after, Taber pouched his second catch, off leg-spinner John Gleeson, to provide Australia with the important scalp of Graeme Pollock. Three wickets had now fallen for just two runs in 14 balls – a rare period of play where Australia dictated terms. South Africa lost Bacher and Lee Irvine too as the day progressed, and stumps were drawn at 249/5. Connolly extended his sprightly effort into the second day, and went on to produce a career-best return of 6/47.

Connolly’s third victim was Denis Lindsay, who was threatening to initiate a rearguard in the company of the tail. The end to the innings was quick, as the Victorian paceman gobbled the last three batsmen for the addition of just six runs. The final wicket of John Traicos, with the score at 311, was his 100th in Tests and gave Taber his fifth catch of the innings. Australia had managed to take ten wickets for 154, and had given themselves a chance to compete on an equal footing.

However, the batting was a letdown again, as the Springbok fast bowlers reduced the score to 82/4. Trimborn marked his Test comeback with the wickets of Ian Chappell and Doug Walters, even as Ian Redpath tried to hold the innings together with a resolute 55. Redpath and Peter Sheahan put on 70 for the fifth wicket before Mike Procter accounted for the former. Taber’s dismissal by Barlow towards the close meant that Australia ended the second day at 189/6.

Sheahan’s loss for a well-constructed 67 early on day three put paid to Australia’s hopes of getting close to South Africa’s total, and the innings terminated at 212 – the visitors’ highest first-innings total in the four matches. Peter Pollock and Procter were in the thick of things as usual, capturing three wickets apiece. Richards and Barlow consolidated South Africa’s position by adding 73 for the opening wicket before Walters’ medium pace removed the latter.

Meanwhile, Richards was on his way towards yet another batting masterclass. In the company of Bacher, Richards pulverized the Australian bowling attack for one last time. He reached his second Test hundred when the score was 159, and was out 40 runs later to Laurie Mayne for a majestic 126 from 212 balls in a little under four hours, with 16 fours and three sixes. Mayne soon added the wicket of Graeme Pollock, who was again dismissed cheaply at his home ground.

South Africa commenced the fourth day at 235/3, already ahead by 334. Bacher achieved his highest Test score, but was out hit wicket for 73 to give McKenzie his only wicket of the series. McKenzie, who had taken 21 wickets at an average of 21 in Australia’s triumph in India three months earlier, returned depressing series figures of 1/333. Lindsay rubbed salt into Australia’s wounds with a rollicking 60 from 54 balls during a sixth-wicket association of 88 with Irvine.

Irvine cruised to his maiden Test century through a four, with the ball rolling over to the fence after Redpath dropped a catch at fine leg. South Africa declared at 470/8, scoring at nearly four runs an over, and Australia’s mountainous target of 570 was the highest they had been asked to chase by the South Africans in a Test. Peter Pollock was out of the attack after bowling just seven deliveries due to a pulled hamstring muscle, perhaps giving Australia a sliver of relief.

Nevertheless, Australia were struggling at 134/4 when the fourth day concluded. Procter got rid of Keith Stackpole and Redpath, while Barlow kept things boiling by removing captain Bill Lawry and Chappell. Procter defied a flu bug on the final day to return career best figures of 6/73 (9/103 in the match, also a career-best), performing the last rites on Australia. Walters and Sheahan (46), who top-scored again, briefly resisted with a 59-run stand for the fifth wicket.

Australia’s last six wickets fell for 57, and the last four for 12, as they were bowled out for 246. With this 323-run victory, South Africa bettered their previous largest win against Australia, which was by 307 runs at Johannesburg less than three weeks earlier. It was nothing short of a ruthless annihilation as the Australians, fatigued and demoralized, returned home with their tails between their legs. Never before had they been whitewashed in a series of more than three Tests.

The numbers laid bare the extent of domination that South Africa imposed upon their visitors. Four South African batsmen crossed 350 runs in the series, while the highest tally for Australia was 283 by Redpath. There were six centuries scored by South African batsmen, and not even one by the opposition. Graeme Pollock led the run charts with 517 at 73.85, closely followed by Richards’ 508 at 72.57. Procter was the standout wicket-taker with 26 scalps at just 13.57 apiece.

Inevitably, South Africa’s record-breaking success was overshadowed by the evil of Apartheid. The spectators who witnessed the nation’s most consummate cricketing performance yet were segregated into separate sections on the basis of colour. Not surprisingly, many blacks openly supported the Australians throughout the series. The worldwide furore against the deplorable racial discrimination by the regime led to an increasing clamour for the national team’s isolation.

At a time when South Africa had arguably their most potent team in Test history, they were banned from international cricket. A whole generation of promising South African talent was lost. For Richards, this series would constitute his entire Test career. Graeme Pollock, at the peak of his powers, ended with an average of 60.97. Bacher later became an administrator, and played a significant role in paving the way for South Africa’s return to the international fold in 1991-92.

 

Part 3

Part 2

Part 1

 

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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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