Cricket special – the 1939 Durban timeless test

What is the problem with chasing down a tick over 600 runs against the Seth Efrikans? The poms nearly did it in 1939, chasing almost 700, they got within 42 runs with five wickets in hand. They decided to leave to catch the boat home, though I think the decision was strategic because they allowed a lot of time for the train trip to the port of departure. Heavy rain would have made the wicket into a “sticky” and the extra runs might have been hard to get, so the captains agreed to call it quits and put everyone out of their misery. They were probably running out of new balls as well (12 were taken).

Full scoreboard.

The tour schedule only allowed five days for the test which started on March 3. The England team were booked to leave Durban for Cape Town by night train on March 7, for the last tour match against Western Province, before sailing home in the mailship on March 17.

The keys to the duration of the game were the rain that twice refreshed the uncovered wicket and the decision of all the batsmen to dawdle, as though they had all the time in the world, and the game against Wesern Province didn’t matter.

An uncovered, iron-hard pitch, twice revived by heavy overnight or weekend rain, which rolled it out good as new, prolonged the timeless Test. By all precedents the match ought to have ended about the fifth day amid the ruins of a dusty and crumbling pitch.

If the pitch was a batsman’s paradise, it was a bowler’s nightmare. The perspiring bowlers sent down 5447 deliveries, the equivalent of nearly eight one-day matches by today’s standards. England’s Hedley Verity bowled 766 balls, nearly a seventh of those delivered in the match. The new ball was taken 12 times.

A few sidelines on the game.

Springbok Ken Viljoen was to remember it as the only time he needed two haircuts during a match.

Giant-sized Pieter van der Bijl (father of Springbok and Middlesex fast bowler Vintcent van der Bill) set the pedestrian pace, taking 45 minutes to get off the mark, and batting through the first day for 105 not out. But even he was faster than the usually aggressive Dudley Nourse, who spent more than six hours compiling his 103, then the slowest Test century on record.

With the score still on 191, van der Bijl was involved in high drama. The ungainly opener, who had been battered mercilessly by speedster Ken Farnes, was on 97, within a boundary of becoming the first South African to score a century in each innings of a Test, when he spooned a simple catch to Eddie Paynter from a Doug Wright long-hop. His look of dejection as he plodded back to the pavilion is still remembered.

The first England wicket fell at 78, just before lunch on Friday. Before that, Hammond took a bold decision. He promoted 22-year-old Bill Edrich, whose best score in his eight previous Tests was 28, from No. 6, to No. 3. Edrich told me on a visit to Johannesburg a few years before his death: “Wally Hammond came into the dressing-room and said jokingly: ‘You’re going No. 3 this because if you get a couple of hundred we might have a chance’.” By stumps Edrich had made a century and England were fighting back.

Eric Dalton, whose legbreaks and googlies reaped him six wickets, told me of the enormous mental and physical strain as the marathon game dragged on. Some nights his wife would hear him appealing at the top of his voice in his sleep. As Dalton did not get a single lbw or caught in the match, his frustration must have been great.

Veteran cricket writer Louis Duffus was fascinated by the Kingsmead regulars, for whom the match became part of life: “Men formed groups and discussed the topics of the day, such as the gathering war clouds, while little bands of women found themselves making remarkable progress with their knitting.

“‘See you tomorrow’” was the popular farewell parting,” recalled Duffus.

This entry was posted in Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Cricket special – the 1939 Durban timeless test

  1. Rabz

    A timeless test – one of the most absurd concepts in human history.

    Oh, and the Aussies haven’t got a hope of getting the runs, despite having two full day’s play.

    With all the stupid frigging one day and other bollocks ruining the game these days, players simply don’t have the patience.

    It’s a scenario made for plodding statues like bill bignose lawry and that idiot from yorkshire.

  2. Poor Old Rafe

    Don’t forget Trevor Bailey and Slasher Mackay!

    As a left-handed middle-order batsman, he possessed a highly distinctive style, this endearing him to crowds which otherwise might have found his rate of scoring unendurably slow. At the crease he stood impassively, cap at a rakish angle, knees slightly bent, chewing compulsively. He employed negligible backlift and was an uncanny judge of line, often leaving balls that seemed to make the bails quiver. When a stroke was required, his most prolific were a deflection wide of cover-point’s right hand and a type of shovel shot past mid-wicket. He was more often a match-saver than a match-winner. As a right-arm medium-paced bowler, he became in the early sixties a useful member of the Australian attack, possessing the ability to contain batsmen for long periods and often taking good wickets. He had a stealthy, almost apologetic approach to the wicket…

  3. A large target is where the comparison ends, unfortunately. I agree with Rabz, what are the chances Warner will last two days scoring at a run a ball? If he did, at least he would rid Lara of the world record, but dreaming ended a couple of hours ago. Reality’s a bitch!!

  4. Old Fridgie

    Interestingly (as far as I am concerned anyway) and in complete contrast, an absolute antithesis, I played my last game for my cricket club on Saturday in a one day match where we bowled the opposition out for 39 from 21 overs. In the end we won by ten wickets, having chased the total down in 4.3 overs. Not a great game to finish with after nearly 30 years at my beloved club, but a victory nonetheless!

  5. Poor Old Rafe

    A champion effort Old Fridgie! 30 years in the game is a fair effort:)

  6. St Hubbins

    Cool story, thanks Rafe.

    Loved this bit:

    … the enormous mental and physical strain as the marathon game dragged on. Some nights his wife would hear him appealing at the top of his voice in his sleep. As Dalton did not get a single lbw or caught in the match, his frustration must have been great.


  7. I played my last game for my cricket club on Saturday in a one day match where we bowled the opposition out for 39 from 21 overs. In the end we won by ten wickets, having chased the total down in 4.3 overs.

    Fridgie – I once played in a game where my new ball partner and I knocked over the other team for 7. We declared at 0-42 and then knocked them over for 17 to win by an innings and 18 runs. Was an extremely good game for the old bowling average! Good luck in cricketing retirement.

  8. Infidel Tiger

    I can’t believe Seffrika are $1.23 to win.

    They should be $1.01.

  9. James in Melbourne

    against the Seth Efrikans?

    You got Efrikans right, but they do not say ‘Seth.” They pronounce it as “Sight”.

  10. jupes

    I wrong in my prediction that Punter would get a double ton. Unfortunately he was 192 short.

    I’m still backing the Aussies to win. The SA bowlers will get tired any minute now.

  11. I’m hoping their fast bowlers will get sick of taking wickets. Still, it’s more likely than Julia developing morals and ethics.

  12. Maws

    Fridgie,
    That reminds me of our 4th XI in the early 90′s
    They only had 7 players turn up on the first day and were promptly bowled out for 11, the other side proceeded to bat for most of the day and declared with 5 overs remaining – 4th XI was 2/6.
    Unknown to the opposition our 4th XI Captain had decided to include myself and 3 1st XI players (who were all unavailable the first week, we had a wedding to attend – WHO GETS MARRIED DURING CRICKET SEASON???) on the teamsheet. Needless to say they weren’t overly happy chasing leather following Saturday.

  13. braddles

    Paul Gibb faced 429 balls and hit two fours in the final innings of that Test. Pretty much sums it up.

Comments are closed.