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).
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.