South African Test Cricketers 1888-89 to 1969-70

Published: 2022
Pages: 360
Author: Bassano, Brian
Publisher: Apple Books
Rating: 4 stars

When Test cricket began books telling the stories of the combatants were few and far between. Only the most famous cricketers would write books themselves, or could expect to be the subject of biographies. That has changed over the years, but there remain a large number of forgotten worthies of whom little information is available beyond the bare bones of their statistical records.

In recent years there have been a number of books of what can be termed ‘collected biography’, bringing together a summary of the lives of cricketers from specific teams, but relatively few from South Africa. Recognising this the noted historian of that nation’s cricket, Brian Bassano, set out to chronicle the lives of all who had played for the old Springboks and this book, all but completed by the end of the twentieth century has finally appeared more than twenty years after Bassano’s tragically early death, at the age of 65 in 2001.

So South African Test Cricketers 1888-89 to 1969-70 has an entry for every single South African Test cricketer who appeared in a Test match between the 2-0 defeat administered by a modest England team in 1888/89, and the scarcely less straightforward 3-0 scoreline seven years later in 1895/96 through to the similarly emphatic 4-0 scoreline in 1969/70, the big difference being that that time the drubbing was handed out by the South Africans themselves to a full strength, albeit somewhat jaded Australian side.

The above said, as if to try and mock the point I am trying to make, as many as three of the 1895/96 South Africans have been featured in books. Robert Poore was the subject of Jeremy Lonsdale’s first book back in 1992, but Poore’s real claim to fame arose out of his achievements with Hampshire in the single summer of 1899. The others are ‘Buck’ Llewellyn who is the subject of a biography in the ACS Lives in Cricket series, and Frank Hearne, one of the many branches of that family who are all profiled in From Wheelwrights to Wickets, published by Boundary Books in 2001.

None of the South Africans who played in 1888/89 however made any more than the faintest of impressions on the history of the game, and just two more of the 1895/96 side did. Of those one is wicketkeeper Ernest Halliwell and the other the first superstar of the South African game, all-rounder Jimmy Sinclair, a man who certainly merits a full biography more than many who have been the subject of such books.

As international cricket developed in South Africa many more men made fleeting or largely undistinguished contributions, but at the same time there are a number of others whose names do resonate, but regarding whom details are sketchy to say the least. From the ‘Golden Age’ I am thinking of the likes Jimmy Zulch, JJ Kotze, ‘Dave’ Nourse, Aubrey Faulkner, Albert Vogler, Reggie Schwarz and Herbie Taylor. Between the wars they were followed by the likes ‘Buster’ Nupen, Bob Catterall and Bruce Mitchell, and whilst those looking for detailed information will succeed where most of the post war Springboks are concerned there is still a yawning chasm in the literature of the game that exists by virtue of there being no biography of the great off spinner, Hugh Tayfield.

The individual entries in Bassano’s book vary in length, although all include at least one photograph, and sourcing those must have been a considerable task in itself. The shortest entries consist of just a single page and half a dozen paragraphs, and whilst there are some general biographical details present the majority of each summary consists of an account of its subject’s playing career and his achievements on the field of play. There is nothing wrong with that, and nothing less can be expected from a book about cricketers, but whilst I may have started out with unrealistic expectations I must confess to feeling a little disappointed that the mysteries surrounding Tayfield’s post playing days are no closer to being unravelled.

The fact that the book has appeared at all is as a result of the hard work of Rick Smith, a great friend of Bassano’s who collaborated with him on a few books in the later years of the last century and, since Bassano’s passing, assisted in three of his other unpublished projects seeing the light of day. This one is certainly something for Smith to be proud of and he deserves enormous credit for his persistence and dedication to seeing his old friend’s project to fruition. The book is well designed, profusely illustrated and, most important of all of course, an excellent read.

The one potential problem with the book might, I suspect, that it will very rapidly become difficult to source a copy of it. A limited edition of just 150 copies with a not inconsiderable level of interest throughout the cricket world and I expect sole distributor Roger Page and UK stockist Boundary Books will quickly sell out.

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