Swallows and Hawke

Published: 2022
Pages: 448
Author: Parry, Richard and Odendaal, Andre
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 5 stars

This is a book for those that don’t buy into the idea that back in 1992 Kepler Wessels was the first South African Test cricketer. Whatever wrongs, and there were many, perpetrated by South African regimes in the past there remains a history of Test cricket involving South Africa dating back as far as 1889, and stretching from then on to 1970.

Swallows and Hawke looks at what is by a distance the major part of that history, the fifteen tours by English teams that were scheduled between 1889 and 1968, fourteen of which took place and one of which, that which should have been played in 1968/69, never happened amidst the furore that will always be known as The D’Oliveira Affair. For those wondering why Rachel Heyhoe-Flint’s image appears on the jacket of the book also included, as is appropriate in this enlightened age, is the women’s tour of 1960/61.
The bulk of Swallows and Hawke, following a lengthy introduction, consists of a chapter devoted to each of those tours. Some of them have been the subject of books in the past but, in the main, only on the basis of contemporary accounts. It is true that in recent years the stories have been told of the visits in 1891/92, 1922/23 and 1938/39, but the only accounts of the others were published shortly after the tours ended, and I am not aware of any books devoted to the trips of 1913/14 or 1927/28.
The authors of Swallows and Hawke, Richard Parry and Andre Odendaal, are established writers and historians with a lifelong interest in cricket. Each of them has written a number of books on the game and Odendaal is currently working on a four volume history of the game in South Africa which will look back at the entirety of South African cricket, and not merely deal with part of it. Parry, with Jonty Winch, was responsible for the excellent biography of Krom Hendricks, Too Black to Wear Whites, that appeared last year.
Odendaal also, unusually for a serious student of the game, has the benefit of having played the game at First Class level in the early 1980s, both in England whilst studying at Cambridge University, and also in South Africa where he was the only white cricketer to appear in the Howa Bowl, a competition for non-white players that was retrospectively given First Class status thirty years later. In short no one is better to qualified to write Swallows and Hawke which, whilst telling a number of distinct stories, at the same time reads as a seamless narrative.
The earliest trips were undertaken by English sides that were well short of being truly representative and many of the fixtures were against odds, with sides of many as 22 being ranged against the Englishmen. To put that further into context the two matches that later came to be recognised as Tests in 1889/90, those where eleven faced eleven, represented for three of the Englishmen their only appearances in the First Class game.
One thing that can certainly be said of the one contemporary book on the 1889/90 tour is that it is very much ‘of its time’. South Africa in 1889 was what it was but in the context of a report on a cricket tour it is hardly surprising that there was no analysis of why that was the case. One of the strengths of Swallows and Hawke is the ability of the two authors to look at the social history of the time and the changes that took place as their story moved on, not always in the same direction as or at the same speed as elsewhere in the world. These differing social and political climates perhaps explain the relative success of the 1889/90 tour and the failure of the next one. The 1891/92 trip ultimately ended up with the England captain, Walter Read, spending some time behind bars, just one of the fascinating stories that Swallows and Hawke records.
For those who are interested solely in the cricket that was played on these tours there is much to enjoy. There have been some remarkable matches over the years, not least the South Africans first ever victory in 1906 when a famous innings from Dave Nourse saw a South African side that batted all the way down to the last man get home by a single wicket. Also involved in that match, although not for once making a significant contribution, was all-rounder Jimmy Sinclair, a man who is surely worth a book in his own right.
Whilst the book is undoubtedly one about cricketing deeds as a reader would expect from these authors there is also an incidental commentary throughout the book dealing with prevailing attitudes and living conditions in South Africa during the period. Looking at that aspect of history from a twenty first century standpoint is, in some ways, perhaps the greater service that Swallows and Hawke provides.
It had been my intention to read Swallows and Hawke from start to finish, and I am sure that is the best way to approach it, but I have to confess to being sufficiently hooked by the press release reference to exciting new evidence of the unfolding of the D’Oliveira saga and the tour that never was, to start with the final chapter before moving back to the start. The D’Oliveira Affair and the story of the head on collision between politics and an MCC patently not prepared for the resulting furore is one of enduring fascination to many. Parry and Odendaal have not managed to get a definitive history of exactly what happened, but access to a number of new sources of information certainly justify the use of the word ‘exciting’, although in reality their discoveries are perhaps not so groundbreaking as to justify starting the book from anywhere other than the beginning.
A splendidly designed and produced hardback Swallows and Hawke also has two sections of photographs, reproduced as such should be on art paper. There is a ‘proper’ index and a comprehensive list of sources. This one is highly recommended.

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