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England v South Africa in Print – Part 1

A few years ago three members of the Book Review team at CW put together a series of four articles about books on the Ashes. We have, sadly, absolutely no idea how many hits those got, but they can’t have been too terrible as two ‘proper’ cricket writers took the trouble to get in touch with us to say that they enjoyed the pieces. It was a while ago now, and for those new or newish to CW the four links appear in last week’s introductory post.

So despite the traditional tour account being very much a thing of the past we thought it would be worth doing the same with England’s past series against the other Test nations. The Ashes is, certainly in bibliographical terms, a very special contest and there is nothing like the same amount of literature around for other tours, but there is enough for a couple of posts on South Africa, and at least one each on West Indies, New Zealand, India and Pakistan.

England’s inaugural Test against South Africa was played in 1888/89, although no one knew it at the time. The Englishmen were nothing like truly representative of the strength of English cricket, but were not aa bad side. They were led by the useful cricketer and later Hollywood actor Charles Aubrey ‘Round the Corner’ Smith, and three of their number, Bobby Abel, George Ulyett and Johnny Briggs all enjoyed success against the Australians. On the other hand there were some on the tour who were there strictly to make up the numbers. The Tests played by Basil Grieve, Charles Coventry and Emile McMaster were the only First class matches any of them played. Nonetheless the Englishmen recorded two crushing victories.

There is an account of the 1888/89 tour however, and a 219 page one at that. The Cricketing Record of Major Warton’s Tour 1888/89 was published in Port Elizabeth. It will doubtless come as no surprise to know that the book is a rare item, the occasional copies that appear at auction fetching substantial four figure sums. The book is not unprocurable however, John McKenzie have produced a very nice facsimile back in the 1980s complete with an introduction from the pen of the late David Rayvern Allen. Irrespective of the cricket content the book is almost worth buying for the 45 pages of contemporary advertising, all of which are also faithfully reproduced in the reprint.

Another English side was in the Cape three years later, in 1891/92. This time the captain was the Surrey amateur Walter Read, scorer of a century against Australia. In a tour whose Test status is, realistically, even more absurd Read’s side were assisted by two leading Australians, Billy Murdoch and JJ Ferris, as well as three Hearnes. One of these was the great Middlesex medium pacer Jack, and Alec and George were brothers who played for Kent. A third brother, Frank, had played for England in the two 1888/89 Tests, and he turned out again, this time for South Africa, for who he top scored in each innings of what was another crushing defeat for the home side.

Port Elizabeth was once again the place where a book on the subject of the tour appeared titled, in the manner of the times, Visit of WW Read’s 1891-92 English Cricket Team to South Africa. A rather slimmer volume at 108 pages. This time Mr McKenzie has not produced a facsimile, but in 2007 he did publish an original book on the tour, written by Brian Bassano and Rick Smith.

The next two sides to play in South Africa were both led by the Yorkshire captain Lord Hawke. In 1895/96 a side that contained CB Fry, the Australian Sammy Woods and George Lohmann won 3-0, mainly due to Lohmann’s 35 wickets at 5.80 in the three Tests. There is no tour account for that series, nor indeed for that which followed in 1898/99. In the latter series a good England side overpowered their hosts in the second Test, but South African cricket was improving and the hosts could and should have won the first Test. Again there is no book of the tour although it is one of the five trips that feature in ‘Plum’ Warner’s 1900 published Cricket in Many Climes.

Warner led England on the next tour, in 1905/06, and it was then that South African cricket arrived, their battery of googly bowlers, Aubrey Faulkner, Ernie Vogler and Reggie Schwarz securing a 4-1 win in the five match series. Warner’s team was a strong one, but nothing like as powerful as that which had retained the Ashes in the home series played a few months prior to the trip. On his return Warner wrote an account of the tour. It was and remains the only book on the trip, but at least is relatively easy to obtain.

Normal cricketing relations were resumed in England in 1907 when a much stronger England side won the first series to be played between the two countries in England. There was a 140 page account of the tour written by F Neville Pigott, though I have never seen a copy and had not, prior to writing this post, realised it existed. The best source of information on the series comes from the pages of Cricket – A Weekly Record of the game. Original copies are tricky to find, tend to be fragile and are by no means cheap. That said in digitised form this splendid contemporary resource is available free of charge to all, via the ACS website.

South Africa won again in 1909/10, this time 3-2. Sadly there is no book of the series, contemporary or otherwise, to record some interesting cricket and in particular the considerable success of the Englishman George Simpson-Hayward. Most certainly a throwback to the days before Test cricket Simpson-Hayward took 23 wickets with his lobs.

1912 saw the first and so far only Triangular Tournament. The South Africans under Frank Mitchell disappointed and did not win a game nor look like winning one. There is a contemporary account by EHD Sewell, Triangular Cricket, and a painstakingly researched and well written recent addition, Before The Lights Went Out, Patrick Ferriday’s first book.

Two years later, in Test cricket’s last series before the Great War, Sydney Barnes took 49 wickets in just four Tests as a strong England team reasserted their authority. It is disappointing and indeed slightly surprising that Barnes’ famous contest with the South African batsman Herby Taylor has never inspired a writer to produce a full account of the tour.

Once the lights came back on again it was 1922/23 before the two countries met again. Frank Mann of Middlesex led an England side that would not have been sent out to Australia but was nonetheless a good one, and his team clinched a 2-1 victory as they won the final Test. Again there was no book of the tour at the time although writer Bassano and publisher McKenzie made sure that Mann’s Men appeared in 2004.

The next three series between the two sides were ignored by publishers. In 1924 a weak South African side were soundly beaten by Arthur Gilligan’s England and in all probability only the weather saved them from a 5-0 humbling. Next, in 1927/28, Rony Stanyforth led England to a 3-0 win in South Africa before Jack ‘Farmer’ White and Arthur Carr were at the helm as the home side won 2-0 in England in 1929.

The 1930s saw the South Africans rising again. They won a home series 1-0 against a team led by Percy Chapman in 1930-31 and then humbled a Bob Wyatt led England in 1935. The South Africans adapted much better to a wicket at Lord’s that was damaged by a plague of leatherjackets and were shrewdly led after that by Herby Wade. There was a contemporary account of the 30/31 series, The Two Maurices Again, a breezy account co-authored by Maurice Turnbull and Maurice Allom. Of the 1935 series there was no substantive account at all until 2012, when Rick Smith finished off a project started by Brian Bassano and John McKenzie published Maiden Victory

As they did before the first global conflict of the twentieth century so again did England and South Africa contest the final southern hemisphere Test series before the Second World War. England won a tight series in 1938/39 1-0, the fifth ‘timeless’ Test notoriously being left drawn after ten days to enable England to board their ship home. There was no contemporary account of the series, but Bassano and McKenzie ensured one appeared in 1997 before, two decades later in 2017, John Lazenby published Edging Towards Darkness, a book that much impressed myself and the Mac.

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