The Lost GenerationMartin Chandler |
Prior to the 1966/67 season Australia had met South Africa 44 times in Test matches spread over ten series and 64 years. Australia had won 28 Tests and eight series. South Africa had won just four Tests altogether, two of them in an exciting drawn series 1952/53. There had been only two drawn series, that in 1952/53, and more recently in Australia in 1963/64 when the South Africans were probably the better side. The series had begun with a drawn encounter in which neither side held the ascendancy, and the game was most notable for the controversy surrounding the no-balling of Ian Meckiff. Australia won the second Test comfortably enough, and South Africa squared the series in the fourth. With an extra day the visitors might have won the third Test as well – they certainly would have taken the fifth on that basis.
The South Africans had lost each of the five series played in their homeland, and indeed had never so much as won a Test against Australia on home soil before but in light of what happened in 1963/64, it was with a degree of confidence that the South Africans hosted Australia in 1966/67. That confidence was not misplaced as they ran out 3-1 winners. It really should have been 4-1, but the loss of more than a day of the fourth Test enabled Australia to escape with a draw. They ended up in their second innings still 41 runs short of making South Africa bat again, with just two wickets left to fall. As Peter Van der Merwe’s team celebrated their delight was tempered by the knowledge that the end of the road was approaching and, as a result of the events that I have chronicled elsewhere, there was to be just one more Test series for the old Springboks, once again at home against Australia, three years later in 1969/70. That side, ably led by Ali Bacher, eclipsed even the heroics of their predecessors as they swept to a 4-0 victory in the four match series. The scoreline itself was impressive enough, but the margins of victory were remarkable – 170 runs, an innings and 129 runs, 307 runs and 323 runs.
And then it was all over, and a team that might well have gone on to be the greatest the game has ever seen never took to the field again and was scattered to the four winds. For some their future was just domestic cricket, while for others they looked overseas for playing contracts and, particularly, the English County Championship. For the very best there was some “representative cricket”, in the form of the series between England and a Rest of the World XI that took place in 1970, and a similar venture in Australia in 1971/72, but it wasn’t the same. South Africa’s twenty year exile did, of course, have to happen and no reasonable human being could assert otherwise, but there remains with me a huge disappointment that during my cricket crazed adolescence some of the best players the game has ever seen were not permitted to strut their stuff on the international stage, and became “The Lost Generation”
So who were these men? I shall look at them all, but will start with the man who most agree is the finest left handed batsman to have graced the game, Graeme Pollock. At least Pollock played as many as 23 Tests, but he was still only 26 when his international career ended. He is second only to Don Bradman in the list of highest Test averages with 60.97. It was to be 17 years later that Pollock played his last game against a side from Australia, the second rebel tourists, and he scored 144 in three and a half hours, from an Australian attack that included Rod Hogg and Terry Alderman. There was a concession to old age however, the final 41 runs needing Pollock to run for just a single, ten fours flowing from his bat before he was dismissed.
A punishing batsman Pollock was immensely popular in an era when a safety first approach to batting had been in vogue. He used a heavy bat and his powerful arms and impeccable timing gave him a full range of strokes, but his signature shots were the cuts and pulls on either side of the wicket. Pollock could pierce the field with alacrity, but would often go over the infield as well, and therein lay the most obvious difference between him and Bradman. The great Australian eschewed all risk, whereas Pollock was happy to give the bowler a fighting chance. If Pollock had been as single-minded, and played Test cricket during the prime years of his late 20s and early 30s, then who knows what he might have achieved.
The quality of the 1970 South Africans is best measured by the fact that great as he was Pollock was not their finest batsman. For me Barry Richards is quite simply the best batsman I have ever seen, bar none. No man has ever made batting look so easy or so effortless. There was style and power from this most elegant of right handed opening batsmen. Richards only played in that final series when at 24, with two centuries, two fifties and an average of more than 72 he served notice of what he was capable of. A further indication of his quality was the fact that it was Richards, and not the much more experienced Pollock, who was able to unravel the wiles of the Australian mystery spinner, Johnny Gleeson.
So most of Richards’ cricket was played domestically and he was a huge draw for Hampshire in England. He quickly adjusted to the one day game, his eye and timing being so good that he rapidly perfected the technique of backing away to leg and then either playing a square drive or lifting the ball over extra cover. Sadly he did not always find it easy to motivate himself without the challenge of Test cricket to aim for, but he generally managed to raise his game when television cameras were present, and I and many others were eternally grateful for that.
In 1970 all-rounder Mike Procter was, at 23, slightly younger than his great friend Richards. Both of them would have made their debuts in 1966/67 had it not been for some loutish behaviour by Richards in a nightclub. Procter did however make his debut and therefore he played seven Tests all told. Procter was a superb fast bowler. There was nothing graceful about his run as he charged up to the stumps like a runaway train, and his very chest-on action then appeared to force him to bowl of the wrong foot. The inswinger that followed was very rapid indeed and Procter’s record is hugely impressive, 41 wickets at just 15 runs each.
Procter was also a fine batsman and, with CB Fry and Bradman, shares the distinction of having recorded six First Class centuries in successive innings. He batted much like he bowled, and was a ferocious attacking batsman, but a man does not score 48 centuries without a sound orthodox technique. At Test level he did not get a fifty, but as he was in the winning side in six out of his seven Tests, and batted at seven, there was little need for runs from him. He was consistent nonetheless, and in his seven visits to the crease in 1969/70, his lowest score was 22. There was one occasion that season when his batting was needed. After the Test series was finished the tourists played Western Province and declared their first innings at 354-4. At 68-3 Procter came to the crease and rescued his team with a majestic 155. There were only 56 scoring shots, and his last fifty runs came in just twelve minutes.
For Procter, like Richards, there was a long and successful county career, in his case with Gloucestershire. In time, at 34 in 1980, he even became qualified to play for England, and Geoffrey Boycott for one advocated his selection for England’s 1980/81 touring party to the Caribbean, although there is no evidence that I am aware of thet he was ever seriously considered as a candidate for an England cap.
Like Richards and Pollock, Procter was an all time great, but there was a lot more to the 1970 South Africans than those three. Eddie Barlow was 29 when his country’s sporting isolation began. He had made his debut against New Zealand in 1961/62 and had played 30 Tests. He had nothing like the talent of Pollock or Richards but had inexhaustible self-belief and what he lacked in talent he made up for in effort. An opening batsman who averages 47 is a fine player.
But there was another dimension to Eddie Barlow in addition to his batting. He bowled what appeared to be innocuous right arm medium pace away swingers, but certainly had his moments. He took only 40 Test wickets but tended to take them in clutches. At Kingsmead in 1970, after 274 from Pollock and 140 from Richards, South Africa declared at 622-9. Barlow scored just a single. So desperate was he to catch his captain’s eye in the field that legend has it he sent Ali Bacher a telgram asking for a bowl. Whether that tale is apocryphal or not he got his wish in the Australian first innings and took three wickets while just four runs were added. He did exactly the same in the second innings, and the following summer he of all men was the leading wicket-taker for the Rest of the World against England.
If Barlow’s batting and bowling were based more on work ethic than talent the same could not be said for his fielding. He was a predatory slipper and got to just about everything and dropped next to nothing. His eight catches in 1969/70 were a major factor in the ease of South Africa’s victory.
Lee Irvine celebrated his 26th birthday during the final Test of the 1970 series. He is one of the more curious members of the cast. He made a fairly slow start to his career and for two years played as an overseas player for Essex. He was a left hander who hit the ball very hard indeed and was happy to take the aerial route. He did enough to secure his place in the South African side for all four Tests in 1970 and averaged just over 50 for the series. After isolation began Irvine did not return to England, and although he averaged more than 80 for the 1970/71 domestic season he never again played outside South Africa.
In 1969/70 both Richards and Pollock averaged more than 70 and Barlow and Irvine more than 50. It is those four who would, together with Procter, have continued to be the backbone of South African batting throughout the 1970s. The other specialist batsman in the 1969/70 side was skipper Ali Bacher who, as he did in both his other series, averaged just over 30 and scored a couple of half-centuries. Just how much he brought to the party as captain is unclear. A modest man his own opinion was that his side was so good it needed no special input from him. Peter Pollock took a rather different view; Ali played a very important role in his quiet and unassuming way
All-rounder Tiger Lance was 29. His Test record is modest and he did not contribute greatly in 1969/70. It is unlikely he would have played much of a role in the future. The wicketkeepers were David Gamsy, for the first two Tests, and Denis Lindsay for the next two. Both were 30 and would not have played on for long. Gamsy was a competent batsman but no more. As for Lindsay he had averaged well over 80 in 1966/67 and scored three centuries, in great style as well, but although it was to general astonishment, particularly amongst the Australians, that he was omitted in favour of Gamsy, he had never come close to repeating his feats of three years earlier.
As to the bowling at Bacher’s disposal Procter’s 26 wickets at just 13 runs each were the mainstay, but Barlow made a very real contribution as well. Pollock’s elder brother, Peter, was a 28 year old strike bowler in the 1969/70 side and Procter’s foil. It is true that by the end of the 1970 series he had, by virtue of knee trouble, lost some of his pace, but he had lost nothing in aggression, and a total haul of 116 Test wickets at 24 is ample evidence of a very fine bowler indeed and, had the politicians allowed him to do so one suspects he would have continued to lead the attack with Procter for a little while into the 1970s.
There was one man from a previous generation, Trevor Goddard, who was 38 and certainly would not have figured any longer. Goddard’s batting fell away alarmingly in 1969/70, and it is a good job it was not required, but his miserly left arm medium pace remained effective. The other seamer who was tried, Pat Trimborn, had a reasonable record, but was nearly 30. Spin bowling has rarely been a South African strength and 1969/70 was not the exception that proved the rule. Kelly Seymour and John Traicos, both off spinners, were tried as was orthodox slow left armer Graham Chevallier but none made his mark on the series.
But it was the men waiting in the wings who really give a clue as to the awesome power that The Lost Generation might have had. Ken McEwan turned 18 in 1970. When I look in the record books they tell me that over a twelve year career for Essex he scored just over 18,000 runs, with 52 centuries, at an average of just over 43. I have to say that doesn’t quite paint the picture of the batsman I recall. That is by no means a poor record but it seemed at the time as if McEwan scored much more heavily, so perhaps like Richards he just saved his best for the one day games the television cameras attended, and he always maintained that the lack of Test ambition adversely affected his batting. He was a powerful man, but he also had the ability to make batting look very very easy, and it is the way he appeared to pick off bowlers at will that sticks in the memory.
Turning 21 in 1970 was Clive Rice. Selection as captain for his country’s first three ODI’s in 1991, against India, meant that Rice did play at least some international cricket. Unfortunately for Rice his best years were by then well behind him. In his pomp, for 13 seasons from 1975 to 1987, Rice played for Nottinghamshire in the County Championship and twice led them to the title. His captaincy back home in South Africa was equally impressive. As a player he was a genuine all rounder. With the bat he averaged almost 41 and scored 48 centuries over a career that lasted for a quarter of a century. When in form he was an aggressive stroke maker with a square cut of such power that fielding at point to him was an uncomfortable experience. With the ball he was only just short of being genuinely fast, and more than 900 wickets at 22 runs each are ample testimony to his skills in that department.
Vintcent van der Bijl, who turned 22 in 1970 is one of the, if not the finest cricketer never to have played Test cricket. At almost 6 feet 8 inches tall, and with a size 14 shoe, van der Bijl was a big man in every sense of the word. His record as a fast medium bowler, 767 wickets from 156 matches at just 16.55, is eye watering for a man who plied his trade in the 1970s and who was, as a schoolmaster until moving into business in 1979, an amateur cricketer. Van der Bijl was accurate, varied his pace, moved the ball both ways and his height made the ball bounce awkwardly. The inevitable comparison that falls to be made between him and Glen McGrath is as much a compliment to McGrath as it is to Van der Bijl.
Who would have been South Africa’s wicketkeeper in the 1970s? It may of course have been the case that Lindsay would have rediscovered his mojo, but if not there was Tich Smith, 19 in 1970 or, three years younger, Ray Jennings, the man who kept for the representative sides that played against the various rebel sides in the early 1980s. Both men were excellent keepers and, if not in Lindsay’s class, no mugs with the bat.
The 1970s side might also have had a decent spinner as the decade wore on. Denys Hobson and Alan Kourie were the two men who would have vied for that slot. Both were 19 in 1970. Hobson was the more interesting. He was rated very highly by Procter, yet as the whole of his career was played out in South Africa, during their isolation, he is all but unheard of today. He was a leg spinner with a decent top spinner and googly and by all accounts was much like Anil Kumble in terms of his pace and accuracy. In a time when the wrist spinner was all but extinct in world cricket Hobson had several offers to play overseas in England and Australia, but only ever accepted one. His was the unfamiliar name in the list of those who signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, although his one chance to make a name outside the Cape was scuppered by political issues and he never actually played.
Kourie was an orthodox slow left armer who was good enough to take more than 400 wickets in his career at a cost of just 23 runs each. A batting average of 34 underlined his all-round abilities. Kourie never played outside South Africa, so I have never seen him play, but he clearly impressed Ali Bacher, whose opinion of him was I am convinced that Alan is the best slow bowler that South Africa has produced since Hugh Tayfield. Command of line and length, variation and intense competitiveness have kept him at the top …… he can also be described as a true all-rounder because he is a consistent and determined batsman, especially when the going gets tough …… he is the finest slip fielder I have seen, and no one has better big match temperament.
And there were other fine players as well. As the 1970s wore on batsmen like Jimmy Cook, Peter Kirsten and Henry Fotheringham made their mark. The former two played county cricket with great success and, at the end of their careers, did get Test caps but the name Fotheringham, a durable opening batsman with an average of more than 40 over an 18 year career, is barely known outside South Africa. Another fine bowler was Garth Le Roux. Fast and aggressive he played in World Series Cricket and in England for Sussex as well. His First Class record of 838 wickets at 21 speaks for itself. Le Roux was also an exciting batsman. It might be stretching a point to describe him as an all-rounder, but 26 half centuries, most of them scored very rapidly, and an average of 25 are the figures of a decent player.
If the “Lost Generation” had been able to play together it would, of course, have had to have been in the context of a wholly different society in South Africa, so would any coloured cricketers have been good enough to add anything to their talents? It is a difficult question to answer because apartheid still prevented multi-racial sport, but there are some men of whom an objective assessment can be made.
Omar Henry, 18 in 1970, played for long enough to be able to claim three Test caps in 1992/93 when Test status was restored. Henry was well past his best by then, but like Kourie he was a slow left arm bowler and his overall First Class record is very similar to Kourie’s. Most tantalising of the non-whites are Howie Bergins and Winston Carelse. Both were right arm bowlers, and neither much above medium pace. Both came into First Class cricket from nowhere in 1975, largely for the purpose of allowing them to be part of an agreed quota of non-whites to play in a series of matches against a strong International Wanderers XI, Test players all, who included the Chappell brothers amongst their ranks. Bergins was 21 and Carelse 30. That season Bergins took 37 wickets altogether at just 14 runs each. It was to be more than five years before he played another First Class match, and his entire career contained only 22 appearances but he still paid less than 20 runs each for his wickets. Carelse played all of his eight First Class matches in that 1975/76 season. His figures were even more spectacular than Bergins, 22 wickets at 12 being his legacy – what might they have become? The most successful non-white bowler against the International XI was a slow left armer, Baboo Ebrahim whose 6-66 enabled his team to comfortably win the final game to square the three match series.
After their triumphs in England in 1976 Clive Lloyd’s West Indies began to embark on their period of domination. But perhaps that is not quite what it seems – what would they have made of the following team?
Barry Richards (aged 30)
*Eddie Barlow (35)
Lee Irvine (32)
Ken McEwan (24)
Graeme Pollock (32)
Mike Procter (29)
Clive Rice (27)
Tich Smith (26)
Denys Hobson (25)
Howard Bergins (22)
Vintcent Van der Bijl (28)
No one knows of course, but my suspicion is that were these men to have lined up against Lloyd’s best eleven in 1976, that they would have won, and done so with something to spare, and added the title of finest Test side in the world, to the first World Cup which, had they been able to compete for it in 1975, they would surely have carried off comfortably.