Ahead of their 1961-62 tour to South Africa, New Zealand captain JR Reid predicted that this was the finest side to leave our shores. That they were able to live up to that bold prediction was largely down to the performances of the skipper himself. Following the dramatic tour of 1953-54, this would be the New Zealand men’s side’s last visit to South Africa until they returned post-apartheid in 1992. It is still the only series which they have not lost in the Rainbow Nation and one of just five five-Test series in our history.
With the BLACKCAPS once again touring South Africa, we look back at the third Test of the 1961-62 series where a true team performance resulted in an historic victory.
After losing the opening Test at Durban, the New Zealanders made one change and a slight shuffle in their order in an attempt to shore up their batting at the top. While it resulted in mixed success – the opening pair made just 18 but new cap Graham Dowling hit 74 – rain had the biggest say in the drawn second Test at Johannesburg.
Down 1-0 with three Tests to play, New Zealand again toyed with their line-up as, in the words of JR Reid, “if we were to strike, then this test must be it”. South Africa too made changes for the Newlands Test as both sides attempted to find the right team for the conditions, with the venue’s pitch notoriously placid. For the visitors the changes came through reintroducing John Sparling and Murray Chapple, shoring up the batting and providing some variety in their attack.
Reid has described the coin toss as a “frightening” aspect of cricket and, for this Test, he was particularly eager to see it land right-side-up. For him, that meant trusting his usual call of tails and hoping for the best. When it came up trumps, he had no hesitation in batting first. Although Dowling couldn’t repeat his debut effort, Noel McGregor built a foundation at the top of the order which saw him add 57 with Reid who then combined with Zin Harris for a partnership of 93. While Harris’ innings began with him playing and missing four of his first five balls, Reid was more assured and played with his usual confidence before misjudging a cut to be out for 92. Harris found a willing partner in the returning Chapple as the pair put on 148 in 158 minutes, taking the total through to 357 for 5. Harris would make his maiden Test century but the tail failed to wag and New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 28 runs. As it turned out, New Zealand’s 385 was more imposing than they thought at the end of the innings.
South Africa’s top order all made starts but the New Zealanders claimed regular wickets as no home partnership surpassed 40 runs. With their total at 164 for 5, Frank Cameron and Jack Alabaster combined to take the last five wickets for 26 runs, repeating New Zealand’s collapse. With nine wickets between them, Cameron and Alabaster had put the visitors in the unusual position of having to decide whether or not to enforce the follow-on. After consultation with Chapple and Alabaster, Reid decided New Zealand would bat, much to the surprise of South Africa’s Jackie McGlew. The decision to bat was built on sound logic: Reid didn’t want his side batting last on a wicket known to take turn late in matches and he was wary of his side’s ability to chase quick runs to win a Test.
New Zealand’s batsmen went out with the instruction to score quickly, with Reid hoping to set a target with enough time left to entice South Africa to chase it. However, much like in the home side’s first innings, many batsmen made starts without playing a defining innings. The middle order were to the fore with Harris and Chapple hitting 30s, albeit a little too slowly for their skipper’s liking, before Artie Dick and Gary Bartlett upped the run-rate. Dick finished on 50* (his highest Test score), before the declaration set South Africa 408 runs to win in 475 minutes.
Reid’s attempt to entice the South African batsmen to chase victory appeared to have failed as Eddie Barlow and Buster Farrier both played dour innings before Alabaster dismissed them both. At the end of the Test’s third day (of four), South Africa were 54 for 2. When play resumed on the final day, the home team’s approach had obviously changed and Reid started to feel increasing pressure. Jackie McGlew (63 after retiring hurt the day before), Roy McLean (113), and Colin Bland (42) led the charge as South Africa’s total built towards an unlikely victory.
Gary Bartlett was the quickest bowler on either side and Reid had picked him for this Test expecting that, if anyone could extract some venom from the lifeless deck, it would be him. With South Africa at 201 for 3, Bartlett got one to sit up and take the edge of McGlew’s bat. Then, coming back in to the attack after McLean and Bland had settled together, South Africa’s centurion mistimed a hook and Bartlett had another key wicket. Reid brought himself on to target Bland and, after that tactic was successful, the rest of the home side folded quickly. New Zealand won by 72 runs to record their first Test victory overseas. While the margin of victory was comfortable enough, the time margin had made the visitor’s sweat: just 27 minutes of play remained when the final wicket fell.
While Bartlett claimed key wickets, much of the reason for New Zealand’s success came from the arm of Jack Alabaster who sent down 50 overs in the second innings, claiming four wickets. His Test haul of 8 for 180 was a New Zealand record in South Africa until Matt Hart’s 8 for 134 in 1994. Reid too, deserved praise for his role in the win. Australian journalist, Dick Whittington, who wrote the book John Reid’s Kiwis about the tour, noted that “in this vital match [Reid] assumed the stature of Walter Hammond as an all-rounder”.
South Africa would bounce back in emphatic fashion, winning the fourth Test by an innings and 51 runs to reclaim the series lead. With everything to play for in the final match of the series, JR Reid led his team to a narrow 40-run victory and a rare drawn series. It is still the only series there that New Zealand haven’t lost.
For more on New Zealand’s 1961-62 tour to South Africa read Sword of Willow by JR Reid and John Reid’s Kiwis by RS Whittington.