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Dudley Nourse

Dudley Nourse

Being the son of famous cricketer who captained their country has proved to be a major handicap to the careers of many players. Richard Hutton and Chris Cowdrey are but two examples of test cricketers who suffered greatly in comparison to their illustrious fathers. It does not always prove to be the case. Arthur William Nourse, who officially changed his name to Dave, was called the grand old man of South African cricket. A dour left handed batsman, Dave played forty five consecutive tests for South Africa from 1902 until 1925. He captained his country on a number of occasions and set numerous batting records, including being the first left hander to hit a hundred for South Africa, whilst at the other end of his career he become the oldest centurion for his country at the age of 42 years and 294 days. In spite of all of this though, perhaps Dave is best remembered through his son, Arthur Dudley Nourse, known by all and sundry as Dudley.

Dudley was born on the 12th of November, 1910. His father Dave, who was in Australia with the South African team at that time, celebrated Dudley’s impending birth with a double century against South Australia just four days earlier. Dudley grew up in Durban in Natal, playing both cricket and soccer enthusiastically. The interesting part of Dudley’s upbringing was the total refusal of his father Dave to provide him with any coaching or assistance. Dudley reportedly said that his father had told him early on ‘I learned to play cricket with a paling from a fence. Now you go and do the same’. This was the sum total of cricketing knowledge that passed from father to son during Dudley’s formative years, however it would seem unfair to view Dave as not caring about Dudley. Instead, it would appear that Dave considered this the best way for Dudley to make his way in life, and a sign of a father not attempting to push his son to follow in his own footsteps.

Dudley’s skill at ball games was evident from an early age, however a decision about which sport to concentrate upon was not make until quite late. As a teenager Dudley was more keen on soccer, and he missed an entire season of cricket at age 17 to focus upon the round ball game. He did return to cricket the next year, and soccer quickly was forgotten. It is highly possible that Dudley’s physique counted against him in soccer, as he was a thick-set man not known for his mobility or speed. He joined the Umbilo Cricket Club in Durban and rapidly worked his way through the ranks to the top grade.

In 1930, Dudley’s performances as a middle order batsman for Umbilo had impressed the Natal selectors sufficiently to select him to act as 12th man for the province. This was seen primarily as a reward for a talented young player and the chance for experience. This game was against the touring MCC side led by Percy Chapman, and the opportunity proved extremely motivating for the twenty year old Dudley. He commented afterwards that the entire game, and in particular the ten minutes he actually spent of the field ?was sufficient to prove a turning point in my outlook on the game. I no longer had an attitude of indifference.’

The next year Dudley made his first class debut for Natal at the age of 21. Dudley first showed his true potential in a Currie Cup game against Western Province at Kingsmead in Durban, a quite an ironic state of events as it turns out. Still playing domestic first class cricket, and representing Western in the game, was a fifty three year old Dave Nourse. The Western Province captain showed his sense of drama by bring Dave, a very handy left arm spinner, on to bowl shortly after Dudley came to crease. Dudley revealed his class very clearly in the game, scoring a century. The first man to congratulate Dudley was Dave, fielding in the slips at the time. It is reported that Dave passed Dudley and said quietly ‘Son, I hope there will be many more to follow this one.’ Surprisingly, Dudley afterwards reported that this was the first time that Dave had ever seen him bat in a game.

Dudley was selected to tour England with the South African team in 1935. Solid performances saw him selected to make his debut in the first test at Nottingham. Batting at No. 4, Dudley fell to the great left arm English spinner Headley Verity for only 4 in his only innings in the rain affected draw. The second test at Lords saw South Africa record a victory that turned out to be series deciding, however Dudley again failed with scores of 3 and 2. He was then dropped for the third test, before returning for the fourth and fifth tests. He performed consistently in these two games at Manchester and the Oval, recording solid scores of 29, 53 not out, 32 and 34.

Dudley’s form in the last two tests was good enough to maintain his position in the team for the 1935/36 tour by the Australians. This series was the watershed in his career, with Dudley cementing his spot in the middle order. In the first test at his home ground in Durban, Dudley scored 30 in the first innings, and fell just short of his maiden test century in his second knock of 91, also failing to save the game for the Springboks in the process. The second test at Johannesburg proved to one of the most exciting games ever played. After South African captain Herby Wade won the toss and batted, the team was dismissed for a meager 157. Australian fast bowler Ernie McCormick bowled with great pace, the altitude obviously assisting him. The Australian team felt that Dudley had appeared vulnerable to pace in the first test, and McCormick bowled him for a duck. Australia gained a useful lead of almost one hundred, and in the second innings, their triumvirate of spinners, Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith caused immense problems, taking the first three South African wickets before the deficit was knocked off. The pitch was wearing significantly, with obvious rough for the three Australian spinners to gain purchase from. This was the setting for Dudley to play possibly his greatest ever innings.

Dudley started off his innings in a very scratchy manner, struggling to time the ball. He nervously remained on his pair for twenty five minutes, before finally forcing Grimmett away for a boundary past cover. The Australian captain, Victor Richardson had been in a dilemma over which bowlers to use against Dudley. Richardson wanted to immediately return McCormick to the attack against Dudley, but the spinners were bowling so well he persisted with them. This may have turned out to be an error, as Dudley took the time to play himself in. Nourse had been in for over an hour and had reached 14 by the time McCormick was introduced. His first over saw the desired edge from Dudley, however it flew untouched through the slips cordon to the boundary for 4. After this near miss, Dudley was in almost total control. He treated Grimmett, O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith with respect, but crashed the slightly bad ball to the fence. Dudley moved to his century and onwards, finally falling to Stan McCabe for the then record South African individual score of 231, including four successive fours off McCormick out of a total of 36 boundaries. The fact that McCabe dismissed him proved ominous, as Dudley’s great innings was soon overshadowed by McCabe smashing an amazing 189 not out. The match ended in a controversial manner, with the South Africa captain, Herby Wade, successfully appealing against the light. This was the first time that a fielding captain had ever made such an appeal, with Wade claiming that McCabe’s batting was putting the fielders in physical danger. Soon afterwards it did start raining, and Australia, who were only two wickets down chasing 399, would not have had the opportunity to score the final 125 runs anyway.

Jack Fingleton, who played in this test and became a noted Australian cricket journalist, wrote that Dudley’s innings was one of the greatest ever. He summed it up by saying ‘he swept past all South African records, and, on this worn pitch against some of the greatest spinners ever, he humbled us well and truly’. At one stage, looking for any ideas, Richardson asked Fleetwood-Smith if he had a solution. ‘Yeah,’ replied Fleetwood-Smith sardonically, ‘Shoot him!’ Ironically, Dudley had nearly became an Australian citizen. When he was 14, his father Dave decided to emigrate east across the Indian Ocean, however his wife fell dangerous ill, the family were forced to miss the boat, staying in South Africa and never again considering the move.

Dudley had established himself with this one innings as the best batsman in the South African team, and he maintained this until his retirement. He topped the South African test batting averages for five successive series including this home series in 1935/36 against Australia and also 1938/39 against England just prior to the Second World War. This 1938 series was notable for its timeless fifth test in Durban, that went for a record 10 days. It had been agree by both teams that the game would be played to a conclusion, but probably neither side foresaw what would take place. Dudley stamped his class on the game with 103 in the first innings, out of a total of 530. The game eventually fizzled out to probably the most bizarre draw of all time after ten days, as England had to board the boat to go back home with still no resolution to the game.

The Second World War meant that there was an eight year delay until Dudley played his next test, being selected to tour England in 1947. Whilst Dudley’s batting was still world class, he was becoming part of one of the most unsuccessful sequences for any international team. From the time of his debut, the victory at Lords in 1935 remained South African’s only test match win until they finally triumphed in against England in Trent Bridge in 1951. Dudley could hardly be blamed as a player for this lack of success. In this 1947 series he scored 621 runs in the five tests at an average of 69, with two centuries and a 97. By the time England toured in 1948/49, Dudley had replaced Alan Melville as captain of South Africa, and he responded to this by having his most productive test series as a batsman, scoring 536 runs at an average of 76.57, again with two centuries. When Australia toured in 1949/50, Dudley was again the leading batsman, however he performances had dropped a little. He scored 405 runs at an average of 45, still the best by any South African player, but falling a little short of his desired standard.

Dudley finished his test career by captaining the South African tour of England in 1951. At the age of 39, Dudley failed to top the team’s averages for the first time since 1935, scoring 301 runs at an average of only 37.62. However, Dudley did manage one final magnificent performance. Fielding in a game against Gloucestershire just prior to the first test, he badly broke the thumb of his left hand, courtesy of a fierce drive from Tom Graveney. A surgeon offered him the choice; plaster the thumb, miss six weeks of cricket and suffer no pain, or risk pinning the fractured bone, endure a lot of pain and possibly play in the first test in three weeks. Dudley chose the second option and played in extreme pain throughout the test at Trent Bridge.

Dudley won the toss, batted and came to the wicket at the precarious score of 2 for 107. Another wicket could have spelt disaster for the young South Africa team, however Dudley stood firm. After almost every ball, he was seen to wring his hand in discomfort. He finished the day 76 not out, but his thumb swelled so dramatically that he could hardly get his glove on the next day. He bravely batted on, finally being dismissed for 208 out of a team total of 483. His thumb was so bad that he was unable to field for the entire game or bat in the second innings, in spite of the side collapsing to be dismissed for only 121. Happily, the team rallied under the on field direction of Eric Rowan by bowling England out for 114 to win by 71 runs. After the game, English batsman Dennis Compton was moved to say ‘For courage and determination, possibly that display by Dudley has never been surpassed on the cricket field. Few in the crowd realised just how much he suffered.’

Sadly, this victory was to be only the second in Dudley’s 34 tests, and the only one of the fifteen tests in which he captained South Africa. His sequence of scores in the remainder of the series was 20, 3, 29, 20, 13, 4 and 4. England went on to win the series 3-1, and Dudley retired from the game. His score of 208 in that series remained the highest score by a South African captain for over fifty years however, with Graeme Smith breaking the record with his 277 against England in July 2003.

As with many great players, Dudley took up a role in cricket administration following his retirement. He acted as a national selector for many years, but also served as the manager of the 1960 South African team on their tour of England. He served as the secretary for the Natal Cricket Association, with his outside interests including pigeon racing. In 2000, Dudley was recognised as one of the ten greatest cricketers produced by South Africa. His average of 53.81 remains second only to Graeme Pollock amongst South Africans who have scored more than a thousand test runs. Dudley died in his home town of Durban at the age of 71 on the 14th of August, 1981.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

Dudley played a total of 34 test matches, scoring 2960 runs at an average of 53.81. He scored 9 test centuries with a highest score of 231, and also took 12 catches.

You can view his Stats Spider profile here.

First Class Games

In his 175 first class games from 1931 to 1953, Dudley scored 12 472 runs at an average of 51.53. He scored 41 centuries, with a highest score of 260 not out and took 135 catches.

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