On the Front Foot: If pitches stay as dull as 70 years ago, Tests may miss the boat

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The Independent Online

No visit to Kingsmead for a Test match is possible without remembering the longest Test of all. This year marked its 70th anniversary. It spanned 12 days, and play took place on nine of them with one day rained off. Although it is recalled as a timeless Test, it finished in a draw because the England players had to leave on the 10th afternoon when a thunderstorm at 4pm ended proceedings and the tourists had to make the 1,000-mile train journey to Cape Town to catch their ship, the Athlone Castle, home. What a thoroughly tedious match it must have been until the final innings when England, on a massive 654 for 5, were only 45 runs short of victory. South Africa made 530 in their first innings from 202.6 eight-ball overs, England responded with 316 from 117.6 overs. After South Africa then made 481, England began their pursuit on the sixth evening. They made a much better fist of proceedings. Paul Gibb and Bill Edrich shared a stand of 280, still England's highest for the second wicket against South Africa. Edrich's participation in the match remains fascinating. He had a nightmare beginning to his international career and his scores leading into this match had been 5, 0, 10, 12, 28, 12, 4, 10, 0, 6, 1, a total of 88 runs at an average of eight. He rectified this with an innings of 219 over more than seven hours. But still it was not enough. A match that started on 3 March finally petered out on 14 March after 1,981 runs had been scored from 6,234 balls, or 1.9 runs per six-ball over. The pitch was too good, a mantra repeated seven decades on. The campaign to preserve Tests may not cite the match as a reason to continue in existence.

Bearded Wonder's pride

The BBC team no doubt will have paid due tribute during this Durban Test match to their erstwhile scorer, Bill Frindall, who died earlier this year. Frindall, as he often said with understandable pride for one who followed such a profession, was born on the first day of the longest first-class match. He was three and a half hours old when it began, Ken Farnes bowling to Alan Melville, and about to retire when it ended.

Richards gives it away

South Africa cricket has come a long way. But it also has a long way to go. A desperate search for black cricketers is never-ending, though the suspicion is hard to quash that the country does not especially like being reminded of its past. A recently published book, which is creating some waves, deals with a section of that history. 'The Rebel Tours' by Peter May chronicles those controversial trips by teams from England, Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka in the Eighties. Nobody is especially proud of their involvement. Barry Richards, the great former South Africa opener, was not proud for different reasons. In a one-day match against a sub-standard Sri Lanka in 1982, Richards, always loathing inferior opposition, went down the pitch to his batting partner Jimmy Cook and said: "Enjoy the rest of your innings." With that he calmly offered a catch to mid-off.

Isolated instance

The 30th anniversary is approaching of South Africa's last Test series before they were isolated. The politics were disgraceful, the cricket sublime. The last match at Durban, the second of four against Australia, was the exemplar of a great team. Graeme Pollock scored 274, Richards 140 from 164 balls and Australia were beaten by an innings with Mike Procter, now South Africa's chairman of selectors, on his home ground taking six wickets. But it could not last and it did not.