x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Beginning of isolation for talented Proteas

Remember when... March 10 1970 - What was undeniably a golden age for South African cricket was summarily ended with victory over Australia by 323 runs at Port Elizabeth to complete an unprecedented 4-0 whitewash in the four-match series.

What was undeniably a golden age for South African cricket was summarily ended with victory over Australia by 323 runs at Port Elizabeth to complete an unprecedented 4-0 whitewash in the four-match series. Alan Connolly was Australia's last man in. He miscued a ball from the fast bowler Pat Trimborn to Ali Bacher at mid-off. The South Africa captain took the catch. It was all over, in more ways than one.

The South Africa cricketers might have sensed it, but they could not have known for sure that they were playing their last Test match for their country. They were scheduled to tour England later that year and Australia the next. But the stench of apartheid was fast taxing the nostrils of the world and the tentacles of international isolation were beginning to take a hold. In the British winter of 1969-70, the rugby union national side had run the gauntlet of violent anti-apartheid demonstrations during their ill-starred, 25-match tour of the British Isles.

In late January, on the third day of the first cricket Test against Australia in Cape Town, when Peter Pollock took 4-12 in his opening 10 overs as South Africa secured a first innings lead of 218 runs, the Springboks played Wales at Cardiff. It was the last of their four winless Tests against the British Unions and, on the eve of the match, demonstrators besieged their hotel in Cardiff. The woes of the 1969-70 rugby Springboks in the face of mounting anti-apartheid fervour impacted perversely at home through white South Africa's support for the concurrent conquests of its high-riding cricket team.

The Test matches were played to capacity crowds that were racially segregated in line with the Separate Amenities Act that was one of the laws that underpinned apartheid. South Africa's cricketers had been denied Test matches for three seasons - their last series at home in 1966-67 had ended in a 3-1 triumph over Bobby Simpson's Australians. Since then, the 1968 England tour of South Africa had been cancelled because the apartheid regime refused to accept the black South African, Basil D'Oliveira, in the visiting team. "The D'Oliveira Affair", as it was known, signalled the start of all the trouble, and Bill Lawry's Australian team of 1970 was always destined to feel the brunt of the South African cricketers' frustrations and aspirations.

This was the team of Graeme Pollock and Eddie Barlow, of Mike Procter, Peter Pollock and Denis Lindsay, and it introduced an elegant newcomer named Barry Richards who instantly took the cricket world by storm. In those four Tests - the only ones he ever played - he scored 508 runs at an average of 72.57. He had the potential to become one of Test cricket's all-time greats, and Bacher, the shrewdest of captains, proclaimed him the most complete batsman he had ever encountered.

In the second Test at Kingsmead in Durban in 1970, Richards reached his maiden Test century in the first over after lunch on the first day. He and Graeme Pollock put on 103 runs in 60 minutes, and Pollock, the left-hander in his 21st Test, batted on for another six hours to reach 274, then the highest by a South African in a Test. Donald Bradman called him the best left-hander he had seen. All the Australian bowlers suffered at their hands. And the Australian top order had no answer to South Africa's fast bowlers on hard, bouncy pitches. Of the 80 Australian wickets in the series, 52 were captured by Peter Pollock, Procter and Barlow, and Procter accounted for half of those.

There was none so belligerent and single-minded than the rotund and bespectacled all-rounder Barlow, known to all as Bunter. In Durban, after Bacher, a medical doctor, had enforced the follow on with a 465-run advantage, the Aussies were mounting a fightback when a telegram was delivered to the captain. It read: "Please Doc, give me a bowl, Bunter!" Bacher tossed him the ball. He rolled in, medium fast, and took three wickets in 11 deliveries.

At Port Elizabeth, Richards and Barlow put on 157 for the first wicket. Richards, 80 in the first dig, scored 126 in the second. Lee Irvine, a silky left-hander, hit 102 and Lindsay's broadsword smashed 60 runs in 54 balls. Set 570 to win, Australia had no hope in the face of the bowling of Procter. He took six for 73 in 24 overs and, shortly before he got out, Connolly fended the ball away to deny him a hat-trick.

Then, at the peak of their powers, these exceptional cricketers were forced to walk away from Test cricket for good. South Africa did not play another Test match until April 1992, by which stage they were a dim and distant memory.