Tales from the Boundary
An Auspicious Intro
My first visit to a Test Match was quite auspicious and not just for me; the Friday of the Oval Test saw Basil D'Olivera score 158 and set in chain a sequence of events that contributed to Mandela's release from imprisonment and the end of apartheid in South Africa. D'Olivera had scored 87 in the first Test against Australia and been dropped in favour of Ollie Milburn, which also allowed Barry Knight into the side and Snow, Brown and Knight to rout the Aussies for 78. ‘Dolly’ had had a poor season and was something of a surprise selection for the final Test.
Basil's initial non-selection for the forthcoming tour of South Africa stirred up a hornet's nest. Questions were asked in Parliament. Demonstrations were staged. Resignations were called for. When the irascible (but principled) Tom Cartwright withdrew from the tour with an injury matters got further heated.
South Africa at this time had one of the greatest sides of all time: Richards, Barlow, Bacher, Pollock, Irvine, Lindsay, Lance, Procter, Pollock, Traicos and Chevalier is how I remember it. We were lucky to see a lot of Richards and Procter as they played for many years for Hampshire and Gloucestershire respectively AND Lee Irvine had a couple of years with Essex BEFORE he played four Tests against Australia. County bowlers and batsmen might not have been so pleased.
Anyway, England had a good side in 1968 too: Boycott, Edrich, Cowdey, Graveney, Barrington, D'Olivera, Knott, Knight or Illingworth, Snow, Brown and Underwood. In those days, however, chop and change was the order of the day: two bad matches and out. No Central Contracts. Best thing was to be selected for a tour BEFORE making a Test debut, then the team was picked from just 16 players, rather than the 187 players for the then 17 counties.
The Aussies in 1968 had a number of promising batsmen. Paul Sheahan and John Inverarity never made the grade. Doug Walters looked like and was billed as "another Bradman"; he never aspired to or was a 'Don' but gave years of service and entertainment. Tucked down the list at six in the first Test was Ian Chappell. By the fifth match he was number three and showing the resolution we came to know for too many years. The bowlers were led by Graham McKenzie but the surprise package was Alan Connolly and there was also the unorthodox spin of Johnny Gleeson.
England won the Test to draw the series, after tea on the final day, with Derek Underwood exploiting a helpful wicket after rain caused such long delays that the match was nearly abandoned. Spectators helped to dry the playing area. The Aussies declined to assist when Colin Cowdrey asked for their help. And who could blame them!