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The Test Series That Never Was

The Two captains, Garry Sobers and Ray Illingworth

The cancellation of the 1970 South African tour was, for English cricket, a financial disaster. The GBP100,000 that was the anticipated surplus, had the tour gone ahead, may not sound like a great sum now, but at the time its loss threatened the very existence of some of the counties. The finding of a replacement source of income was essential but, the tour not having been cancelled until towards the end of May, at such short notice none of the other Test playing countries were able to step in. The outcome was a hastily arranged series of five matches between England and a Rest of the World XI. Guinness were persuaded to part with GBP20,000 and to provide the winners with the Guinness Trophy. They, the players and the public were sold the matches as Tests, and a superb array of cricketing talent was assembled. There were to be five matches, all under Test playing conditions, and played at the traditional Test match theatres of Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Edgbaston, Headingly and the Oval.

The first act began at Lord’s on 17th June. The Rest’s side was a formidable one. There were four South Africans in Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock and Mike Procter. History may not have accorded Barlow the legendary status that the other three enjoy but in reality he lost little in comparison. The West Indies provided two superb batsmen in the form of the feline grace of Clive Lloyd, then probably the finest fielder in world cricket as well, and the elegant and stylish Rohan Kanhai. The specialists bowlers came from Pakistan, Australia and West Indies in the shape of leg spinner Intikhab Alam, fast bowler Garth McKenzie and off spinner Lance Gibbs. India provided the exuberant Farokh Engineer to keep wicket and the eleven was completed and captained by Garry Sobers who, in those days, bestrode the game like a Colossus.

The England side seemed to be sacrificial lambs. They had recently lost two of their most experienced and successful batsmen, Kenny Barrington and Tom Graveney. England’s best three batsmen were also missing, John Edrich with a hand injury, and Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott who had both, due to lack of form, asked not to be considered for selection. Adding in the fact that the ebullient and hugely promising career of Colin Milburn had ended the previous spring and the England batting line up looked distinctly lightweight consisting as it did of Alan Jones, Brian Luckhurst, Mike Denness, Phil Sharpe and Basil D’Oliveira. The steel in the middle came from Alan Knott and skipper Ray Illingworth. The bowling was stronger being entrusted to the established pair of John Snow and Derek Underwood, backed up by a pair of young pace bowlers of whom much was expected, Alan Ward and Ken Shuttleworth. Neither were destined to deliver at Test level. The passage of time established that Shuttleworth was not quite good enough, while Ward’s career was ruined by injury.

Returning to the match itself that was, to the disappointment of all concerned, all over bar the shouting by lunch on the first day. Conditions were perfect for seam bowling and Sobers exploited them wonderfully well taking five of the seven wickets that fell in the session with just 44 runs being scored by England in reply. Batting conditions eased after lunch, and Illingworth scored 63 to enable his side to avoid complete humiliation, but England’s 127 all out (Sobers 6-21) was never going to be enough. Denness was the only one of England’s specialist batsmen to creep into double figures, unlucky 13, before he was caught low down at slip by Barlow off McKenzie. As was convention in those days Denness accepted the nod from Barlow that the catch was fair, although the square leg umpire told him as he walked dejectedly back to the pavilion that, had he been asked, Denness would not have been given out.

Sobers tormented England with the bat in the Rest’s innings as his 183 lit up headquarters. Barlow also scored a century, albeit not the swashbuckling assault of the flashing blade of Sobers. When Barlow began his innings Ted Heath was Britain’s Prime Minister. By the time he was out for 119 Harold Wilson had taken over. England were never going to score the 419 they needed to make the Rest bat again but at least they were competitive second time around as they fell short of that target by only 80. There were half centuries for Luckhurst and D’Oliveira and another captain’s innings from Illingworth who was out just six short of what would have been a well deserved century. Sobers, by now bowling his wrist spin, finally beat his opposite number with a googly. Intikhab took six wickets to underline the vulnerability of English batsmen to a style of bowling they saw only occasionally.

From Lord’s the show moved on to Trent Bridge a fortnight later. For England there were five changes the ineffective Jones, Denness, Sharpe and Shuttleworth giving way to John Edrich, Colin Cowdrey (who had scored a century for Kent as Sobers was waving his magic wand at Lords), Keith Fletcher and Tony Greig. Greig was one of five men who believed at the time that they had made their Test debuts in 1970. Like Luckhurst, Chris Old and Peter Lever Greig did go on to enjoy a Test career, unlike poor old Jones who was, famously, later asked to return his England cap when the status of the games was downgraded. Ward, the pick of England’s bowlers at Lord’s was, as was the case all too often in his brief career, injured and replaced by David Brown. The Rest were unchanged.

The Rest batted first and their innings was rather like a less extreme version of England’s at Lord’s. Lloyd score an unbeaten 114 but him aside only Richards with 64 and Procter, who must have been a depressing sight for England’s bowlers as he came in at number nine, with 43, were able to resist Greig and D’Oliveira for long in conditions that favoured their medium paced seam bowling.

For much of the England innings it seemed as though the Rest’s eventual total of 276 would be enough to secure a decent lead as Barlow, a similar sort of bowler to Greig and D’Oliveira, took five wickets as England slipped to 195-9. At that point last man Snow joined his captain, but Snow was never a genuine number eleven, and the pair added 84 precious runs before, inevitably, Sobers removed the England captain. Illingworth was even closer to the elusive century this time, 97 when dismissed, and had top scored in all three England innings in the series.

The fact that the Rest got to what appeared to be a winning total in their second innings was down to Barlow who dominated their second innings total of 286 with 142. No one else score more than 30 and again England’s medium pacers were their most effective bowlers. The conditions remained helpful to the bowlers and few fancied the home side’s chances of getting 284 in the fourth innings. That they did so comfortably was thanks firstly to the sun coming out, and secondly to Luckhurst posting an unbeaten century in company with England’s two first innings failures, Fletcher and Cowdrey, who both recorded half centuries.

Edgbaston was the next stop on the tour and it was England’s turn to be unchanged. The Rest brought in Peter Pollock and Deryck Murray for McKenzie and Engineer. England won the toss and batted and for a while, as Luckhurst and Edrich moved to 56-0 without alarm, looked set for a big score. Inside 15 minutes however it was 66-3, that man Sobers having come on and dismissed Luckhurst, Cowdrey and Fletcher in a spell of three for six. There was a recovery of sorts, thanks to 110 from D’Oliveira and exactly half that from Greig, but 294 was at least a hundred short.

In response Sobers, again, contributed a century and although Barlow failed all the Rest’s other batsmen contributed at least 40 and Sobers closed the innings at 563-9. England were never going to win but they made an admirable fight of the rest of the match. First D’Oliveira top scored again with 81 and, contributions coming from everyone else except Edrich and Underwood, England’s 409 set a target of 141. Barlow failed again but then Richards and Kanhai got the Rest half way towards their target without incident before Underwood got rid of both in quick succession. Lloyd and Sobers then seemed intent on a rapid finish and when, just after tea, Illingworth removed them both with the Rest still 34 short of victory an improbable victory appeared, for the first time, to be a possibility. sadly for England supporters Intikhab and Procter weren’t playing ball with that and the Rest crossed the finish line with 15 of the last 20 overs still in hand.

At Headingley both sides made changes. The Rest left out Peter Pollock and further strengthened their already formidable batting order by adding Pakistan’s Mushtaq Mohammad. For England out went Underwood and Brown and in came a couple of local lads, pace bowler Old and left arm spinner Don Wilson, who had last played for England in India almost seven years previously.

England batted first and on a typical Headingley wicket made slow progress. Barlow and Procter kept chipping away and Sobers, whilst he took no wickets, bowled 20 overs for just 24 runs. For the others there were two wickets apiece although, recovering from 91-4, England at one stage reached the comparative comfort of 209-4. During the innings the Rest had lost Richards and Kanhai, the former having damaged his back in catching D’Oliveira at slip and Kanhai sustaining a finger injury. It was at this point that Barlow embarked on a quite remarkable spell of bowling that brought him five more wickets, including four in five deliveries, and England were all out for 222. By this time England twelfth man Mike Denness was fielding as substitute for Richards. The hat-trick victim was Wilson as a bat pad offering went to Denness at forward short leg. There is a photograph of the moment in Wisden, the fielding side, as always in this situation, in joyous celebration. All of them that is except the catcher himself, who has the expected look of a man who has just let his own side down.

The Rest had an early wobble, as Greig took three quick wickets after Barlow and emergency opener Murray had opened up with a partnership of 67. After that Sobers and Murray consolidated, and while no one else made a big score the captain’s 114, and Murray’s 95, were enough to see the Rest to a first innings lead of more than 150. In England’s second innings Barlow took his match haul to 12 with another five wickets although it was not as easy second time round. Boycott and Luckhurst shared a century partnership for the first wicket with the Kent man eventually falling just eight runs short of a second century in the series. By the time Fletcher and Illingworth had each added a half century, and Old had contributed a typically aggressive 37 from number 10, England were still in the game and the Rest had a victory target of 223 which, on a wicket that wasn’t getting any easier and with injuries to two of their main batsmen, was no foregone conclusion.

When Snow and Illingworth shared the first five wickets for just 62 England were well on top but sadly for them Sobers was still there and he was now joined by Intikhab. It would be stretching a point to describe Intikhab as a true all-rounder but he was no mug with the bat and he reached double figures every time he got to the wicket in this series and, for the second time passed fifty here. Both batsmen knew they were in a battle and both put to one side their normal attacking instincts and 115 were added to bring the target below 50. Just as England supporters were writing the game off however both men and Kanhai went within the space of six runs leaving the Rest still seeking 40 to win with Procter and an injured Richards at the crease and only Lance Gibbs, the one man in the team with no pretensions to batting ability at all, to come. The two South Africans saw to it that the tall off spinner did not need to bat and England were left to rue the life that Intikhab was given early on the last morning when just seven more runs had been added to the Rest’s overnight 75-5. Greig dropping chances at slip was unusual, but he spilled one here from the bowling of county colleague Snow. England’s players have also always complained about what appeared to be a poor decision by Arthur Fagg when he decided to give Richards the benefit of the doubt shortly after he arrived and appeared to be caught at short leg by Wilson, again from the bowling of the unfortunate Snow.

So the series was lost by the time the teams arrived at the Oval for the final match of the summer. For England’s selectors there were still places in the winter’s touring party to Australia to be decided so D’Oliveira, his place on the trip assured, gave way to give the selectors a look at Dennis Amiss. Also dropped was Greig, who admittedly had not achieved a great deal since his debut at Trent Bridge, but he still ended the series at the top of England’s bowling averages. His subsequent omission from the Ashes squad was the biggest disappointment of his career, and it was to be two more years before he was capped again. For the Rest Richards and Kanhai were fit so the only change was the return of McKenzie for the wretchedly out of form Gibbs.

The fact that nothing turned on the game mattered little as in turn Lever, Pollock, Sobers, Boycott and Kanhai put in superb performances. England batted first and made 294 thanks in the main to two Kent players, Cowdrey and Knott, and their captain. All three scored fifties, in Illingworth’s case his sixth of the series and he ended up England’s leading runscorer by a distance..

The Rest’s first innings was wonderful entertainment. For England supporters Lever’s debut promised much as he took 7-83, clean bowling Pollock and Sobers along the way. The abiding memory of the innings was however Pollock’s sublime 114. He and Sobers, who ended up with 79, added 165 for the fifth wicket. Many of those who were present for the last session of the second day, when 135 of those runs were scored, felt that they had never seen better batting.

A brisk 51 from Procter aside there were no other significant contributions and Lever’s efforts meant that the Rest’s lead was restricted to 61. In England’s second innings Luckhurst was bowled by Procter for a duck for the second time in the match before Boycott, supported in turn by Cowdrey Fletcher and Amiss, comfortably achieved the home side’s highest individual score of the series with 157. At 289-3 England looked to be heading for a matchwinning lead before wickets started falling regularly and the Rest’s final target was 284.

England sensed a real opportunity on a wicket that was beginning to take spin and the Rest did not look very secure as Barlow went early followed by Richards and Pollock before 100 was raised. They could easily have been four down as Kanhai seemed, initially, to lack confidence in his ability to build an innings. Unfortunately for England they could not dislodge the diminutive Guyanese during his period of uncertainty and he went on to exactly 100, and with Lloyd took his side close to victory. Both West Indians, and Mushtaq were dismissed, all by Snow, but Sobers, fittingly, saw his side home as they won by four wickets. It might have been very different had Wilson not had an injury to his bowling hand that required him to have two fingers strapped together.

So the Rest had recorded a convincing 4-1 victory, although the fifth match might so easily have been a decider. They were a truly wonderful team and genuinely contained the world’s best players, a number of whom are entitled to be recalled as all time greats. In the circumstances an England side that was certainly in transition did very well to be as competitive as they were, and the bulk of the credit for that must surely go to their captain, who went on to greater glories that winter as his strong leadership was the decisive factor in England wresting the Ashes back with something to spare.

In view of the amount of good cricket that was played It is rather sad therefore that the 1970 “Test” matches have been consigned to obscurity. As has often been said it is patently absurd that poor Jones, who had to face Procter, Sobers and McKenzie, has had his status as an international cricketer taken away from him when many others who have turned out against opposition of nothing like the same calibre have their names enshrined in Wisden as Test players in perpetuity. I am reminded particularly of Charles Coventry and Basil Grieve, two English cricketers whose entire First Class careers consisted of the two matches played against South Africa on a private tour in 1889 which, some years later, were accorded Test status.

But having said that while those of a certain age might wax lyrical about the series four decades on the question needs to be put as to where they were at the time. It is true that the country was in the throes of one of the more important post-war General Election campaign’s that summer, that England’s football team were in Mexico, unsuccessfully defending the World Cup so famously won in 1966, and that there was much interest in the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games that began during the third match, but the public still seemed to lack a real appetite for the series. The best attendance, at Headingley, still only saw 43,500 attending over the five days.

For the England players the matches were of crucial importance to their futures and, as a consequence, all seem to have approached them in the same manner they would an official Test match. For the Rest however the cricket was rather more in the nature of exhibition matches than a truly competitive series, a perception seemingly confirmed by Richards in his 1978 autobiography, Actually the contests never had the authentic atmosphere of a country versus country conflict; the heady emotions of our win against Australia remained firmly imprinted in my heart. On our part there was a very free and easy approach; no one minded if you arrived at a ground a quarter of an hour late.

Those who believe that the matches should have their status upgraded are not assisted by the existence of a similar series played in Australia in 1971/72. The Rest on that occasion were captained by Sobers once again, and as in England they triumphed, albeit by the narrower margin of 2-1 with two matches left drawn. There was never any suggestion that those matches would be treated as Tests, and the Rest side that Australia faced was not as strong as the one that had played in England, although it was a high quality team nonetheless.

Since those two series in the early 1970s the only similar venture was the one off match played in Australia in 2005 which, of course, has always had Test status. The major difference is that that match was, unlike the others, organised by and played under the auspices of the ICC. A further distinction is that, their narrow defeat in the 2005 Ashes notwithstanding, the Australian side of 2005 was an immensely strong combination that was always likely to emerge from the contest victorious. That said one suspects, were they to be honest about it, that those who represented the ICC eleven would identify rather more strongly with Barry Richards’ comments than those in the baggy green.


Good read. Thank You

Comment by JBMAC | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011


Do anyone know how the South Africans looked upon four of their players turning out for a mixed-race team? Seems weird…

Comment by Samuel_Vimes | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

Another excellent piece, fred.

It’s a topic that has a bit of a fasciantion for me; I think there’s a decent documentary film to be made about it.

To read that the RotW players didn’t see it as having quite a test intensity is quite sobering given the result. The England team, transitional as it may have been, was clearly a pretty good one as the winter tour showed.

I CBA to do the leg work, but it would be interesting to see whose test figures would improve or worsen with the addition of these games. Illingworth in particular seemed to excel.

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

Contrary to popular myth they didn’t come around and raid Alan Jones wardrobe to take back the cap he was presented with. In fact he still has it and it could be worth quite a bit of money as a unique piece of cricket memorabilia.

Comment by Lillian Thomson | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

There is very little written about these matches although, having just finished this piece, I then learned that there is a book being published in the New Year so that may contain some answers to that question and, the one that for me is more interesting, being what did the West Indian, Pakistani and Indian Boards and Governments thought of their players standing shoulder to shoulder with South Africans in what, at the time anyway, purported to be Test Matches – they can’t have been impressed as this situation was covered in the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement, but I don’t recall any sort of outcry at the time – ’twas a more innocent age of course, even if eyes were at last being opened!

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

I did that once, for both this series and the 71/72 one in Australia (and WSC as well). Don’t know where it is now though…I must still have it somewhere.

Comment by The Sean | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

Sobers averaged 73 with the bat and 21 with the ball over that series – I was only 10 at the time but could still appreciate the way he made the ball talk that first morning at Lord’s and above all else that convinces me he was a genuine all-rounder – cometh the hour cometh the man and all that – the bloke was absolutely immense that summer

Comment by fredfertang | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

I have always been fascinated by this contest and have for years been looking for footage on video/dvd. can anyone help?

Comment by Gulu | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

This is a fascinating series and a good read. As mentioned it’s truly ironic that the D’Olivera controvery and the cancellation of the South Africa tour lead to the creation of a mixed race team with South Africans, West Indians and others, which was one of the greatest teams every to set foot on a cricket field.

Is this the first cricket series televised in colour? I remember watching the highlights a long time back and I don’t think I have seen earlier cricket footage in colour.

Comment by Dissector | 12:00am GMT 21 December 2011

Samuel_Vimes: south africans were playing in county teams with non white players before this series so it would not have been an altogether new experience for them.

Comment by Gulu | 12:00am GMT 22 December 2011

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