• St George’s Park: Back to where it all began

    The third Test of the series between South Africa and England returns to the scene of the very first Test between the two countries.

    In 1889, St George’s Park played host to South Africa’s first Test match. The venue is also the first Test ground outside of England and Australia.

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    The first official Test match between England and South Africa lasted just two days, and those involved were unaware they were making history. The game was only recognised as a Test match in 1906, by which time England’s wicketkeeper Monty Bowden had died.

    The game would be England captain Aubrey Smith’s only Test match. Smith was erroneously eulogised later in 1889. In October of that year, the Graff-Reinet Advertiser ran a death notice claiming Smith had ‘succumbed to that fell disease, inflammation of the lungs’. Smith would go on to become the only England cricketer to star in a film with Elizabeth Taylor. Smith, under the stage name James Laurence, starred in the movie Little Women, although he died of Pneumonia before its release.

    The first Test between the two countries took place before the formation of South Africa as we know it today and 17 years before the creation of the Imperial Cricket Conference, which would become the International Cricket Council. 

    The match itself was played on a matted pitch and was a low-scoring affair. The South African XI won the toss and elected to bat first but fell for 84. The original South African AB, Augustus Bernard Tancred, top-scored for the hosts in both innings with dual knocks of 29. In the second Test on that first tour, Tancred became the first South African to carry his bat in an international.

    England won the first Test by eight wickets, although the opening exchanges of the match were a closer contest than the margin of victory suggests.

    The English tourists lost four of their first six matches, but by the time they rolled into Port Elizabeth they had come to grips with the matting pitches widely used in early South African cricket.

    St George’s Park also holds the distinction of hosting the very first rugby Test in South Africa against a touring British team in 1891.

    The first 30 Test matches on record were played between England and Australia, but in March 1889 South Africa joined the fray, although it would take some time for the team that would become the Proteas to be competitive.

    South Africa did not win a Test at St George’s Park until 1954, when they beat a touring New Zealand team.

    In the 1969-70 season, St George’s hosted the final Test before South Africa’s 21-year isolation. It would be nearly 22 years before the ground hosted a Test again during the famous Friendship tour series against India.

    Mark Cockroft

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