NATAL v RHODESIA (Currie Cup match)
AReports taken from the Rhodesia Herald unless otherwise stated. - 31 December 1968, 1, 2 January 1969
RHODESIANS FACE TEAM PROBLEMS (Durban, Sunday)
From Fred Cleary (Monday 30 December 1968)
The Rhodesian cricket team flew into a muggy, overcast Durban today from Port Elizabeth, having recovered remarkably well from its spate of physical injuries but still assessing mental bruises sustained in the nine-wicket Currie Cup defeat at the hands of Eastern Province over Christmas.
Noel Peck, the bespectacled Bulawayo seam bowler, pulled out of the national under-23 team on Saturday night to replace Roy McLoughlin, joined the team today, and having been brought this far must now play in the return match against Natal, starting at Kingsmead on Tuesday.
The Rhodesian team will not be chosen until the tour selectors have assessed the wicket tomorrow. But it is almost certain to be a greentop and treated especially for the home Test seamers Mike Procter and Pat Trimborn.
Thus, having already seen their batsmen collapse against the seam attack of Eastern Province on a wicket which had grass, but was not fast, the selectors - Alwyn Pichanick, Colin Bland and Ray Gripper - are bound to desire the extra batsman.
That means that John McPhun, who 'sat out' the Port Elizabeth game, will almost certainly earn his keep in this match, possibly at No 3.
But a fast wicket here will mean that all three seamers - Peck, Eddie Parker and Brian Davison - must play, which in turn means that one of the two spinners looks like standing down.
And herein lies another problem. Leg-spinner Jack du Preez is rated our best bowler, and although he failed with the bat in the last game he has a good batting record - remember his 89 against Transvaal in Salisbury the other week - he must play again.
So it looks as though John Traicos, the young off-spinner, could miss this game, even though he bowled exceptionally well at Port Elizabeth, did not disgrace himself with the bat and was an invaluable member of what has now been regarded as one of the best fielding teams ever put out by Rhodesia. It would be hard on Traicos, but each game must obviously be judged on its merits and rational argument dictates that Traicos is the one man whose services are less likely to be needed this coming week.
Although Rhodesia go into this second match of the tour without a point from three games, the despondency which descended on the side on Saturday is already evaporating. And much of this can be attributed to Bland, who has proved to be a most impressive leader, commanding respect with his quiet but forceful personality and by his own superb example on the field.
David Lewis was one of the finest captains Rhodesian cricket has known in many years and already Bland is beginning to earn a similar rating. There is nothing this young team will not do for him and it is only a happy and ambitious team that will throw itself about and chase even the hardest boundary shots like Rhodesia did on Saturday afternoon, even though defeat was inevitable.
At breakfast today the Rhodesian players read a newspaper column piece by Springbok batsman Eddie Barlow in which he said Rhodesia did not have the talent for the A Section. After only two completed matches this is an unfair assessment and I can report that every man who goes out to do battle with Natal this week will try his damndest to prove Barlow wrong. They simply will not hear of defeat or defeatist talk.
CONTROVERSY RAGES OVER SELECTION OF VERSFELD FOR NATAL (Durban, Monday)
From Fred Cleary (Tuesday 31 December 1968)
Berry Versfeld, the Natal captain, will definitely play in the three-day Currie Cup cricket match against Rhodesia which starts at Kingsmead tomorrow. It is just under a month since he was badly hurt when struck on the temple by Springbok fast bowler Peter Pollock in Port Elizabeth, and the decision by the Natal selectors even to consider Versfeld again this season has stirred up a major controversy here.
Versfeld is still talking slowly and the Rhodesian players who were speaking to him this morning were shocked when they learned they would be playing against him. The general feeling is that he should not play cricket again for the rest of the season, let alone come back and face seam bowling tomorrow on a wicket that has plenty of grass and is bound to assist the pacemen, especially in the morning.
The Rhodesian selection committee omitted off-spinner John Traicos as expected from the 12, thus bringing in John McPhun for his first game of the tour. He will open the batting with Ray Gripper and Jono Clarke drops to number three. Peter Carlstein will bat at four, Colin Bland at five and Tony de Caila will drop from three to 10 - a position for which he should not have been elevated for the Eastern Province match.
The inclusion of Versfeld can only be interpreted as a near-panic measure on the part of Natal. Having taken a severe 186-run defeat at the hands of Transvaal at the Wanderers over Christmas, they badly need to bolster a batting combination that could only muster 350 runs on a batting wicket. That's even worse than Rhodesia, who totalled 403 runs at Port Elizabeth.
Even so, how can Versfeld be fit mentally to face the Rhodesian seamers of Noel Peck, Eddie Parker and Brian Davison? They may not be in the same speed division as Mike Procter or Peter Pollock, but on this Kingsmead wicket they could be fast enough, especially Parker, who can bounce them with the best of them.
And remember, Versfeld has a habit of ducking low into a ball. The ball from Pollock which felled him was low and his head was around waist level when he was struck. That's why I say that in his present mental state, even Brian Davison's off-cutters might cause him concern.
The Rhodesian captain Colin Bland is placed in a dreadful dilemma. With his team pointless from three matches he badly needs a victory. He wants his players to go all out and 'roll' a Natal team which looks as if it can be taken.
But what instructions can he give his seam bowlers, especially Parker? The big brewery representative must relish wanting to try the odd bumper against Natal. It is part of his legitimate equipment, so should he hang back against Versfeld?
Of course he should not, but if he does not and Versfeld is hurt again, Parker, or whoever else might do the damage, could run the risk of running into a barrage of criticism. And then captain Bland will, in turn, catch it all.
Bland is very disturbed by the whole business and purely for the sake of Versfeld's health he would rather see the Natal selectors emulate the Rhodesians who have written off Roy McLoughlin for the rest of the season. And I might point out that the Bulawayo man's injury was not half as bad as Versfeld's.
John Traicos took his omission from the Rhodesian side in the right spirit and realised that this 'horses for courses policy' is the correct one and it in no way reflects on his ability. Certainly the Rhodesian batting looks much stronger and can go right down the line to Parker at nine, ahead of de Caila and Peck.
Colin Bland was delighted with the Kingsmead wicket and said it should be worth plenty of runs. Now it's up to the Rhodesians to benefit from their mistakes at Port Elizabeth, apply themselves more fully, and maintain their superb fielding.
Some bowlers are going to suffer sooner or later at the hands of Gripper, McPhun has been itching to get to work, and Jono Clarke has now three A Section matches behind him and has the talent to utilise this experience. Colin Bland's splendid fighting 60 against Eastern Province indicates that he is in the very best form and he had that 'century for me' smile on his face today.
Thus with both teams smarting from heavy defeats, the respective captains lead players anxious to redeem themselves and they will share the same psychological pressures.
I believe Rhodesia will shake a lot of people and win this match because, if it comes off, the visiting batting appears to be stronger, while the fielding is possibly 30 to 50 runs better than any other team in this section.
RHODESIAN BOWLERS' GRAND EFFORT ON PERFECT BATTING PITCH (Durban, Tuesday)
From Fred Cleary (Wednesday 1 January 1969)
Rhodesia's Currie Cup cricketers saw out the old year in a most satisfactory manner at Kingsmead today. The bowlers worked hard and commendably on a perfect batting wicket and managed to hold a powerful Natal batting combination to 321 runs scored in 335 minutes, when a score of at least 400 or more would have been a fair expectation.
And then the new opening batting combination of Ray Gripper and John McPhun weathered 63 minutes of failing light, some Procter bumpers and a couple of confident appeals, to see out the day 13 minutes from time when the umpires decided that the light was indeed too poor.
After today's heartening performance Rhodesia must go into 1969 with every confidence of moving ahead of the first innings tomorrow and picking up at least four valuable points, after three matches which have brought them nothing.
The Natal run-scoring rate today was ahead of the clock most of the time yet, although it sounds contradictory, their batsmen at times looked somewhat sluggish and lacking in purpose.
They started well with Richards and Groves seeing 73 well-earned runs on the board for the first wicket, and then the Rhodesian seamers broke through and had them groping before lunch.
Then Lee Irvine and Denis Gamsy came together and swung the balance back in Natal's favour for a while with a fighting fifth-wicket stand of 96 in 79 minutes.
Then Grayson Heath, still looking drawn and weak after a bad stomach upset on the Rand over Christmas, came to the wicket and held the middle and tail batting together for 123 minutes and 41 most valuable runs.
Versfeld's gamble of playing despite his recent head injury came of in that the wicket was not as fast as anticipated, and the few bumpers that Eddie Parker and Noel Peck did throw at him came off the green, but hard, wicket at a pace which would trouble few qualified batsmen. But I still maintain it was a foolish gamble.
Even though the wicket was not as helpful as Colin Bland anticipated when he won the toss and sent Natal in to bat, Eddie Parker in particular had a fine day. His three for 92 was his best for Rhodesia this season and he made all the batsmen play him with care. He had some pace in several overs and was more purposeful and accurate than at any other time on this tour, and at home.
Peck yorked Groves and then bounced his first delivery to Versfeld over the captain's head. The crowd booed, but no one else seemed to mind.
The Rhodesian bowlers worked hard to maintain their momentum and it was only when Gamsy and Irvine came together that they had to relinquish the control of events.
Irvine is a neat lefthander who also wears his hair long and his batting skill with high pride. He looked good from the start and drove off the back foot with effortless timing. Being a left-hander he was able to score freely off du Preez and he richly deserved a century. But he was yorked by Parker after 139 enjoyable minutes during which time he scored 85 by way of 12 fours.
The Rhodesian fielding was again of the highest order with Peter Carlstein particularly good in the country. Gripper and McPhun looked happy enough in the circumstances of the last hour and if they can see at least 100 on the board before being separated tomorrow, then the Currie Cup champions could be in real trouble.
Note: There was no issue of the Herald or any other Zimbabwean newspaper on Thursday 2 January 1969. There was therefore no report on the play of 1 January 1969.
RHODESIA GIVE UP NATAL CHALLENGE FAR TOO QUICKLY (Durban, Thursday)
From Fred Cleary (Friday 3 January 1969)
Despite a tenacious and fighting 99 by Peter Carlstein and a courageous and literally painful innings of 47 by Colin Bland, Rhodesia were unable to meet a generous victory challenge by Natal at Kingsmead today, and had to be satisfied with a Currie Cup draw.
Berry Versfeld had closed the innings after only three Natal second innings wickets had fallen for 210 today, and set Rhodesia the winning target of 320 runs in 354 minutes. They came close at one time but in the end they capitulated and had to settle for 287 with six men gone - 33 short.
Although the Rhodesians worked hard for victory today, scored their highest total of the tour, and played with the purpose and determination which had been long in coming, it would have been unfair for Natal to have lost for they were very clearly the better side. They shook off their heavy Christmas defeat at the hands of Transvaal and playing at home here over the New Year they unwrapped championship qualities.
Spearheaded by Barry Richards and Lee Irvine, they produced some splendid batting and they were backed up by bowlers Trimborn, van der Bijl, Sullivan and Procter who, in the overall analysis, were more accurate and penetrating. All this was supported by fine fielding and astute leadership by Versfeld.
But having said this I should point out that Rhodesia gave up the challenge this evening far too quickly. Bland tried hard, bless him, but when he was run out hobbling on a battered and extremely painful left leg, Stuart Robertson and Jack du Preez gave little indication that they even cared.
Robertson was playing elegant defensive strokes in the last half hour, when what was needed was some good old-fashioned hoicking of the kind we had seen earlier today by Richards and Irvine.
With an hour left for play Rhodesia needed exactly 100 runs to win. With 30 minutes left, 63 were needed and even then it was just 'on'.
Bland went with 47 required and then the chase evaporated, and as the players saw out the required 20 overs that must now be bowled in Currie Cup in the last hour, the game degenerated into a near farce instead of at least a spirited finish.
Is it any wonder that Robertson got a sow handclap from a puzzled crowd which had been on Rhodesia's side all afternoon, and just thirsted for a stirring finish? I am sure if Bland had stayed he would have gone down fighting like the first-rate skipper he is.
No one worked harder or deserved to taste success like Bland and Carlstein today. Bland disdained a runner and played some screaming shots round the field even though the bowling was giving nothing away. Carlstein fought to get his timing right, at times was dangerously close to giving his wicket away with unnecessary flicks at balls going away. But he stayed and fought and would not give in until at the end he was the master.
As it was, Carlstein - looking for his eighth first-class century - stayed for 220 minutes, hit 14 fours and then played on to Procter at 99. He walked in with his head hanging and flung his bat in the dressing room, bitterly disappointed at not reaching the magical figure. But no man in Durban tonight earned higher plaudits.
The Natal batsmen, Richards and Irvine, tore the Rhodesian bowling asunder this morning with the obvious instructions of setting Rhodesia a worthwhile target in reasonable time, for Natal desperately needed full points to stay in the championship hunt. Natal had a lead of 198 with seven wickets in hand overnight, after bundling Rhodesia out for only 212 in their first innings.
Ray Gripper had hit a fighting New Year's Day 70, and Robertson a smooth and impressive 59, but Rhodesia should have done far better on this easy wicket.
Richards and Irvine scored 126 in 68 minutes for the fourth wicket. Richards scored an undefeated and superb 112 in 141 minutes, and Irvine 60 not out in 68 minutes. Richards hit 16 fours and a six, and Irvine seven fours and two sixes. This morning alone they scored 121 in 56 minutes, with 18 boundaries, such was the ferocity of their play.
So that's why I say that this powerful batting did not deserve to be on the losing side. Versfeld gave Rhodesia a chance, and all credit to him for doing so.
RELEGATION WILL NOT HELP RHODESIAN OR S. AFRICAN CRICKET
By Fred Cleary (Saturday 4 January 1969)
One clear and overriding fact emerges from the Currie Cup cricket scene as teams recover from a spate of holiday games - Rhodesia has not yet established itself as a staying power in the senior division. After four games, Colin Bland's men are still pointless, and all that remain are an away match against Transvaal starting on January 17, and a home game against Eastern Province in February in Bulawayo.
There is still a chance that points will be collected at the Wanderers and Queens grounds, but even if Rhodesia finishes the season with no points, I believe it is essential that we stay in the A Section. There is no automatic promotion and relegation this year and one hopes that the South African Cricket Control Board, in its wisdom, will bring up Western Province to make it five teams, with each playing one another once, plus one friendly game to make it the average six per season.
Certainly it will not do Rhodesian cricket (and South Africa's, at that) any good if we were relegated once more to the B Section, a zone where the game is played at little more than league level, and not always first-class league at that.
Rhodesia went down by nine wickets against Eastern Province at Port Elizabeth and lost first innings points against Natal at Durban, because our batting was not resolute enough and our bowling not penetrative. True, there were moments to savour, with Rhodesia's second innings against Natal the most satisfying, even though Bland capitulated and, surprisingly enough for him, gave orders not to fight once he had gone.
Even so, Rhodesia scored 287 runs for six in 362 minutes against a Springbok seam attack of Mike Procter and Pat Trimborn and backed by some naggingly accurate medium-fast deliveries from a bowler with a future, Vintcent van der Bijl.
It was Rhodesia's best display after three disappointing performances in which our batsmen were unable to wrest the initiative from a battery of accurate seamers - the Natal men already mentioned, and the Eastern Province players Peter Pollock and Sibley McAdam.
Of the individuals, captain Bland emerged with impressive leadership and tenacious innings of 60 against Province and 47 against Natal. His last knock was worth a hundred, for he could barely walk, let alone fight the clock and a Trimborn who could hardly bowl a ball wrong, whipping down over after over just short of a length and attacking with the comforting knowledge that his fielders would back him all along the line.
Peter Carlstein richly earned his eighth first-class century and it was a bitter disappointment to him and his colleagues that he should fall at the last hurdle at 99. Couple that with his quite delightful 55 in the first innings against Province, and his consistently high fielding throughout this tour, and you have a cricketer of the highest calibre.
Ray Gripper had a mixed tour, only getting going in the Natal first innings with a well-gathered and responsible 70. True, he allowed himself to be bogged down for a while, but it was still a satisfying effort.
Of the younger players, off-spin bowler John Traicos had one match and emerged as a slow bowler with a real future. He managed to pin down the great Graeme Pollock for long spells on a batsman's wicket and he fielded most expertly in the gully and country.
Stuart Robertson looked better every time he went to the crease and his t9 and undefeated 55 against Natal also indicate that he, too, is a cricketer who is going places.
Roy McLoughlin was injured in Port Elizabeth just when he was shaping well as a seam bowler, responsible outfielder and useful batsman. It is most unfortunate that he is now lost to his country until next season.
Jono Clarke battled his way through his initial A Section matches to finish at Durban with 54 and the knowledge that at last he has got the 'feel' of this very high grade of play, while John McPhun has regained his confidence and should be retained as an opener for the remaining matches.
Eddie Parker bowled with fire and accuracy in the Natal first innings, but could not maintain the momentum, and understandably Noel Peck was somewhat out of his depth in his first game when he came up against the class of Richards, Irvine and Gamsy.
Leg-spinner and all-rounder Jack du Preez did not have a good tour, but he has the class to come right yet, especially if Queens groundsman Bobby Styles follows the trend and prepares a wicket to suit the needs of the home province's best bowler.
I do not expect any changes in the team for the remaining away matches (Transvaal and a friendly against North-Eastern Transvaal in Pretoria) and in summing up I would say that if Rhodesia is not relegated, this present combination could emerge as a real striking force in the next year or two.