Autographed book on online auction captures bygone age

During the 1950s, when this scribe was a young lad, it was always an exciting occasion to take a brisk 2km walk from our house in Rondebosch, Cape Town, to the prestigious Newlands Cricket Ground.

In October 1956, renowned batsman Peter May and his Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) team were scheduled to play Western Province.

LOOKING BACK: Home of many battles, old and recent, Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town
Picture: SOWETAN TIMES

The previous year May had taken over as England skipper from the great Len Hutton and became a very successful captain, particularly at home.

In those years, English touring teams were referred to as the MCC but took on the name of England during Test matches.

Although Springbok rugby star Brian Pfaff made 46, WP were dismissed early on for a low score and thereafter I had the pleasure – or more precisely the privilege – of watching May in action at the crease.

The imperious May possessed all the strokes on both sides of the wicket and proceeded to hand the WP players a lesson on how to dominate an innings.

In my mind I can still picture his straight and cover drives, even though the action occurred more than 63 years ago.

He went on to score a dashing century – the first of four in a row on tour – and in the local newspaper on Monday, I had my picture on the front page, along with 100 or more other spectators.

Perhaps this was the stimulus for me becoming a sports writer?

The reason for this recollection is that last month I had noticed an advert on an online auction offering a book complete with the signatures of all the members of that MCC team.

As I had watched them in action in another three matches on the tour, including the second Test, I made an offer for it, which was accepted, and the book arrived safely a week or two ago.

The 1956/57 team was powerful in bowling: Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Peter Loader and Trevor Bailey headed the pace department, while off-spinner Jim Laker had just completed a series against Australia when he captured a record 46 wickets in five Tests, including 19/90 at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Other spinners in the squad included the back-of-hand bowler Johnny Wardle of Yorkshire and left-arm orthodox spinner, Surrey’s Tony Lock.

The batting was in the safe hands of May, Peter Richardson, Doug Insole, Colin Cowdrey and Bailey, while Godfrey Evans was considered as one of the best wicketkeepers in the world.

After winning the first two Tests, England reigned supreme.

Then SA fought back, drawing the third Test and through some magnificent bowling by off-spinner Hugh Tayfield, the home team won the fourth Test by 17 runs, with Tayfield grabbing 9/113 and 13 wickets in the match.

The fifth and final Test in Port Elizabeth was also won and the series shared 2-2. Tayfield finished with 37 wickets in the series, a record for SA which still stands to this day.

Laker, although he arrived in the country with a huge reputation as the best off-spinner in the world, was completely outshone by Tayfield.

The book and autograph sheet have evoked some wonderful memories of a bygone age of cricket when tours to SA were scarce and keeping up with play was via ball-by-ball commentaries on the radio and occasional short reports on film at cinemas.

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