Pitch and Toss

Published: 1957
Pages: 170
Author: McLean, Roy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Rating: 2.5 stars

Pitch and Toss

A tour book of the MCC visit to South Africa, in the season 1956-57, the side was led by Peter May, one of the finest batsman in the world at this time.

This England team was fresh from defeating Australia in England, and featured players such as: Jim Laker, Dennis Compton Colin Cowdrey, Frank Tyson, Trevor Bailey and Tony Lock.

They were considered particularly strong in bowling, being able to leave at home a player of the calibre of Freddie Trueman. Although short of a quality opening batsman this side would rate as one of the best English teams, and was rated No. 1 in the world before this tour.

Their opponents were not rated as highly, but again looked strong in the bowling department featuring two of the fiercest fast bowlers going around at the time in Peter Heine and Neil Adcock, the best off-spinner ever produced by South Africa in Hugh Tayfield and also the great all-rounder Trevor Goddard.

I was unaware of the result of the series before reading Roy McLean’s account, this added to the excitement as South Africa came from two-nil down after three Tests to square the rubber.

Roy McLean the author was a hard-hitting middle order batsman who liked to see the scoreboard ticking over. His frustration at the English tactics of defensive cricket during the series and the general malaise that Test cricket had fallen into at the time was a common theme throughout the book.

The scoring rates of the teams during the opening day of each Test make for somnolent reading;

First Test England 157-3
Second Test England 214-4
Third Test England 184-4
Fourth Test Sth Afr 234-4
Fifth Test Sth Afr 138-5

Mclean had some interesting ideas on how to combat this negative outlook, his main idea was limiting Tests to four days duration and letting each team bat for six hours per innings. Another radical idea was to stop all international cricket for five years, and in that time it would be hoped that cricket would return to ‘normal’.

While acknowledging that South Africa were also very negative in their tactics, McLean believed that Peter May was the main culprit, setting defensive fields even when his bowlers were well on top, and the English batsman slow to attack the South African bowling.

This was the last series for Dennis Compton, he played the series after having his kneecap removed, and it seems he was a shadow of his former self and really struggled to score runs, although his immaculate defence was still on display.

The author compared the merits of Hugh Tayfield and Jim Laker, his conclusion: “In all conditions I believe Tayfield to be the better of the two”. Tayfield claimed 37 wickets during the Test series, and was the main reason the Springboks drew the rubber.

The lack of talent coming through the South African domestic competition was also discussed, two of the young players identified by the MCC tourists were; Colin Bland and Peter Carlstein.

Many cricket books written around this time were ghosted, and on most occasions no acknowledgement was given to the collaborator. The writing in this book is of such an average standard that at least on this occasion I think all of the words and opinions are those of Roy McLean and he should be given credit for that.

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