Eddie Barlow: A South African great of the lost generation

Even in South Africa, that ubiquitous birthplace of all-rounders, Eddie Barlow remains one of the all-time greats © Getty Images

Even in South Africa, that ubiquitous birthplace of all-rounders, Eddie Barlow remains one of the all-time greats © Getty Images

South Africa is famous for producing one world-class all-rounder after another, but Eddie Barlow, born August 12, 1940, was great even by South African standards — which is saying something. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the bespectacled champion whose Test career came to a standstill at the peak of his form because of South Africa’s then apartheid policies.

Had Eddie Barlow’s career not coincided with Garry Sobers’ he would probably have been ranked as the best all-rounder in the world of cricket among his contemporaries. He was an outstanding batsman who saved his best for the top levels; a top-quality medium-pacer with the aggression of a fast bowler (and the remarkably placid non-celebration following a wicket); and a slip fielder who possessed all the agility and reflex South African cricketers have miraculously been blessed with over ages.

Fielding was perhaps the most mysterious dimension of Barlow’s cricket. If one saw Barlow outside the field he would probably have mistaken him as an overweight college professor, complete with his spectacles. However, once he was planted in the slips, he showed uncanny suppleness and anticipation skills to ensure that he became a regular slip fielder for his country.

Brilliant all-rounder

He stooped to a low crouch while batting with a significant gap between the handle, which meant that his bottom hand came more into play than the other. This was probably a result of him playing most of his cricket in South Africa, where driving on the full was often a luxury, and most batsmen had to resort to cuts and pulls on the rock-hard bouncy pitches for runs. He also had a rather unconventional trademark stroke of his own. As Mike Selvey wrote in The Guardian, “Pace bowlers were frustrated by the cavalier fashion in which he would defy convention and carve them over point or the slips in a manner that was alien then but common today.” It may sound familiar to IPL followers.

The bowling was another matter altogether. He never looked like he was running up to bowl. On watching him approach the wicket Charles Fortune had commented that he ran in “looking like an unmade bed.” Selvey wrote that he was “capable of match-turning spells, his round face turning red with the effort.”

He had a decent out-swinger, but his main claim to fame was his deceptive slower ball: without any change of action he used to bowl slow off-breaks that dipped very late into the batsman, often yorking him; it was probably a predecessor of the kind seamers of later generation have used to great effect in ODIs. As Alan Oakman had rightly observed, “He could do things with the ball on a difficult wicket that nobody else could.” It had probably seemed innocuous at that era.

However, Barlow’s impact should not be measured only in terms of numbers. It was the impact he had on South African cricket that made Barlow stand out among his predecessors. As Louis Duffus had pointed out, Barlow “did more than anyone else to break down the timid defensive tactics which for so many years kept South Africa a second-rate cricket country.” Mike Procter wrote of him that he “changed the face of South African cricket” and “was just so super-confident that it rubbed off on them.”

The congenial presence of the ever-popular Barlow — often resorting to antics that had everyone in splits — in a match always lifted up the spirit of a side; it even brought a smile to the face of the opposition. And yet, when he took the field, he was as competitive as anyone else on the ground, often emerging as the one who turned a match on its fulcrum. As Rodney Hartman wrote, he “rolled up his sleeves high above his elbows, flexed his muscles, and bounced on to the field like a prize fighter.”

Perhaps no one has summarised Barlow’s attitude as aptly as Derek Hodgson had in The Independent: “If you have been driven into the last ditch, with 4,000 spearmen charging, then the cricketer Eddie Barlow is the kind of man you need alongside. He had all the strengths for which South Africans are famous: application, tenacity, resilience, resource, courage, and an invincible optimism. Barlow also possessed a virtue not granted to all of his countrymen: a sense of humour.”

He acquired the nickname ‘Bunter’ from Billy Bunter — a fictional schoolboy character created by Charles Hamilton that appeared on 1,670 issues ofThe Magnet; on his first appearance Billy Bunter was described as “a somewhat stout junior with a broad face and a large pair of spectacles,” which was very Barlow in appearance — completely with his round face, non-athletic physique, and oversized glasses.

Eddie Barlow (left) acquired the nickname Bunter from the comical fictional character Billy Bunter (right)

Eddie Barlow (left) acquired the nickname Bunter from the comical fictional character Billy Bunter (right)

He was also the quintessential “captain’s cricketer”: after Barlow passed away, Dr Ali Bacher said on news24.com: “We [Barlow’s four Test captains — Jackie McGlew, Goddard, Peter van der Merwe, and Bacher himself] would get together from time to time, at various cricket functions, and we all agreed that Eddie was a person who gave his captain 100%, every time.”

In 30 Tests, Barlow had scored 2,516 runs at 45.74 with 6 hundreds, which should have been enough to mark him out as a decent batsman in the 1960s. However, he also picked up 40 wickets at 34.05 and took 35 catches. This excludes the 5 Tests for Rest of the World XI against England in 1970: these matches, though originally classified as Tests, were later stripped of their status. Barlow went on the tour as the vice-captain to Sobers.

In these 5 Tests, Barlow had scored 353 runs at 39.22 with 2 hundreds and had picked up 21 wickets including a hat-trick and 4 wickets in 5 balls at 18.76 with 2 five-fors and a ten-for. If we combine these Barlow’s Test numbers at the time of his retirement would have read 2,869 runs at 44.83 and 61 wickets at 28.79. Few cricketers have done better.

At First-Class level, Barlow had scored 18,212 runs at 39.16 (way inferior to his Test numbers) with 43 hundreds and had picked up 571 wickets at 24.14 with 16 five-fors and 2 ten-fors. Additionally, he had pouched 335 catches from 283 matches, which is an excellent number by any standard. Even in a country like South Africa that has produced world-class all-rounders like Aubrey Faulkner, Trevor Goddard, Mike Procter, Clive Rice, Jacques Kallis, and Shaun Pollock, Barlow still ranks among the greatest.

Early days

A student of Pretoria Boys High School, Barlow quickly made it to the South African Schools XI and then to South African Universities while studying geography at University of the Witwatersand. At 19 he made his First-Class debut for Transvaal B against Griqualand West at Kimberley and scored 72. He went from level to level despite eyesight so bad that it is generally said that he could hardly see the tires of his own bicycle while cycling if he did not have his glasses on.

The coaches, however, were not very encouraging. Peter Walker, his university coach, once walked up when Barlow was batting in the nets and asked whether the youngster played any other sport. Barlow responded that he played a lot of rugby. “I suggest you concentrate on rugby, then,” was Walker’s response.

He may have taken up rugby as well. As Dr Ali Bacher said, “He was a superb athlete. He played rugby for Transvaal, and if he had continued playing rugby, he may well have gone on to play for South Africa.” Cricket will perhaps be grateful for the fact that Barlow didn’t pay heed to Walker’s advice.

He was an occasional bowler in the early stages of his career, but his batting impressed the selectors enough to pick him for a South African Invitation XI against the International Cavaliers at New Wanderers. He ended up scoring 85 and 53 against an attack that boasted of Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Ray Illingworth, and Alan Moss; it turned out to be Barlow’s first mark on the international arena.

It was in the next season that Barlow took to his medium-paced bowling and almost immediately picked up 4 for 61 against a formidable Natal at Kingsmead. In the next match against North-Eastern Transvaal Barlow not only returned match-figures of 5 for 69 but he also scored 110 not out — his maiden First-Class century. Barlow the all-rounder had arrived.

As a result he was picked for South African Fezelas as a replacement for David Pithey, who withdrew at the last moment. He played in only 2 of the 21 matches , but that included a 110 against Gloucestershire at Bristol.

With his talent and form it was evident that Barlow would be playing for South Africa pretty soon. That happened at the turn of the year against New Zealand at Kingsmead. Starting from the Test Barlow never missed a single Test till South Africa’s ban at the turn of the decade.

International cricket


Barlow’s had a rather innocuous opening series, scoring 330 runs at 36.67 with 2 fifties at St George’s Park and New Wanderer’s. He did not pick up a single wicket. He fared a lot better in the season, and was named a South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year in 1962.

However, South Africa’s international policy meant that they would play Tests only against Australia, New Zealand, and England, which meant that there was a full two years’ gap before Barlow’s next series — a tour of Australia in 1963-64.

The Australian tour

This was the tour that would catapult Barlow among the finest of contemporary cricketers: whatever doubts were there regarding his inclusion for the Tests were eliminated by his 209 against a Western Australia Combined XI at WACA.

The Barlow juggernaut began at Gabba. Up against Australia’s 435, he scored an obdurate 114 to make sure his side reached the safety of 346. Once that was done, he ruled MCG, scoring his second consecutive hundred — a 252-ball 109 out of a team total of 274 and was run out before he scored 54 in the second innings. He also picked up 3 for 100 — but unfortunately his teammates let him down and South Africa lost the Test by 8 wickets.

There was, however, no question of giving up. After a draw at SCG (which ended with South Africa on 326 for 5 chasing 409) the teams met at Adelaide. Here Barlow decided to take up matters in his own hands.

After Australia posted 345 Barlow launched himself into an attack consisting of Neil McKenzie and Richie Benaud: he added 341 in 283 minutes with Graeme Pollock. Wisden wrote that they “were never in any trouble as with pleasant aggressiveness they went merrily on their way”. At that stage it was the highest South African partnership for any wicket.

Barlow’s role in the Test was, however, far from over: he wrecked the Australian lower middle-order with a spell of 3 for 6. A spectator later commented “I’d like half his lottery ticket.” With only 82 required for a victory, raced there in 17 overs, himself scoring 41 not out. South Africa drew the series with a draw in the final Test at SCG.

Barlow ended the series with 603 runs at 75.37. He had scored 3 hundreds. Additionally, he had also picked up 7 wickets at 32.85. After Faulkner in 1910-11, Barlow became only the second South African cricketer to score 600 runs and pick up 5 wickets in a single series (Kallis has done it subsequently).

On the tour he scored 1,523 runs at 66.21 with 6 hundreds, and had come within quite close to Don Bradman’s record of 1,690 in a single Australian season. Whitington wrote of him that he protected his stumps “like a female bulldog defending her brood”. He also picked up 26 wickets at 33.26.

He continued his fine form in the second leg of the tour at New Zealand, scoring 295 runs at 49.16 with 3 fifties and a 49, and finished the tour with 377 runs at 53.85 and 5 wickets at 25.40. Of the runs scored on the long tour RS Whitington wrote “those 1,900 runs were worth twice their face value in inspiration”.

The man who didn’t walk

South Africa were beaten 0-1 by England in the home series next season; Barlow, however, continued with his fine form, scoring 558 runs at 55.80 with 138 and 78 at Newlands, along with one 96, 3 more fifties, and 2 more forties; he also picked up 5 wickets. It was at Newlands, though, that Barlow made the headlines for a complete different reason.

On Day One of the Test, Barlow tried to block a ball from Fred Titmus that flew to gully, only to be caught by Peter Parfitt. John Warner ruled him not out. This was followed by a heated banter between Barlow and Titmus. This was followed by a tone of sarcasm that the English fielders maintained throughout the day: they did not acknowledge when Barlow reached his brilliant hundred, but broke into a resounding applause that went well over the board when Tony Pithey reached his fifty.

Things got murkier the next day after the press had a go at England. The crowd got behind South Africa, barracking the English batsmen and asking them to walk after every bat-pad appeal.

Ken Barrington rose to the occasion, once walking in mock, followed by an incident when he edged one from Peter Pollock to Denis Lindsay, tried a mock walk, then decided that he should come back; the entire incident completely confused the umpire. To confuse everyone even further, Barrington eventually decided to walk amidst a loud applause, but later apologised to Warner.

The bowler evolves

When Australia toured South Africa in 1966-67 much was expected from Barlow despite an ordinary England tour of 1965. This series was Barlow’s only real failure with the bat: he scored 186 with a highest score of 50. However, he more than made up for it with his bowling.

It began with 3 for 39 and 1 for 47 at New Wanderers. It was followed by 5 for 85 — his only five-for — in the next Test at Newlands. The third Test at Durban saw figures of 3 for 18. In all Barlow finished the series with 15 wickets at 21.60, and played a crucial role in South Africa’s 3-1 drubbing of Australia. He had finally reached a position where he could make it to the Test side with either the bat or the ball.

‘Their’ last

Barlow moved to Eastern Province and then to Western Province from Transvaal to gain experience in leading a side. He eyed the 1969-70 series against Australia at home. However, Bacher got the nod, but Barlow, always genial and willing to take things in his stride, remained loyal to Bacher throughout the series.

Then came the 1969-70 series — arguably the peak in the illustrious history of South African cricket that ended on an unprecedented high, only to sink into a seemingly bottomless chasm that sent an entire generation of rich South African talent into oblivion. They might have become the greatest team ever: they were never given a chance to reach there.

To cut things short, South Africa, as everyone is aware of, imposed a humiliating 4-0 whitewash on Australia. There were several extraordinary South African performances that series: Graeme Pollock scored 517 at 73.85; a debutant Barry Richards scored 508 at 72.57; Mike Procter picked up 26 wickets at 13.57 and Peter Pollock, 15 at 17.20.

However, the Barlow was the foundation around which these performances were built: his series numbers read 360 runs at 51.42 and 11 wickets at 23.36.

It began at Newlands. Barlow had slipped down to 5 to accommodate Richards at the top; Australia had their only real chance at 111 for 3, but Barlow shut them out with an innings of 127 that lasted for 6 hours, and resulted in a 170-run victory.

Come Kingsmead, and Richards (140 in 164 balls) and Graeme Pollock (274 in 401 balls) treated the crowd and humiliated the Australians to such an extent that Barlow got bored and got out: there was “no price batting after Richards and Pollock.”

He more than made up with the ball, reducing Australia to 44 for 3 and finishing with 4 for 24. Then he loitered around the ground in the second innings, having conceded 50 runs without a wicket as Ian Redpath and Eric Freeman made an effort to gnaw back into the match.

A bored Barlow then sent a telegram to Bacher. It read: PLEASE DOC GIVE ME A BOWL — BUNTER. Bacher obliged, Barlow picked up 3 wickets in 4 balls, and Australia lost by an innings.

The brutal domination continued at New Wanderers: opening with Richards in lieu of an injured Goddard Barlow scored 110, his second hundred of the series. Bowling first-change he picked up 2 for 18 and Australia lost by the proverbial mile.

The rout was completed at St George’s Park: it was another emphatic victory where Barlow scored 73 and 27, and picked up 3 for 93. Not only were the Australians beaten and bruised, the margins of victory also stood out: 170 runs, an innings and 129 runs, 307 runs, and 323 runs. The ultimate humiliation of a quality side was completed.

Garry’s deputy

As mentioned above, Barlow was an integral part of the Rest of the World XI that toured England in 1970 after their South Africa tour was cancelled, thanks to the Basil D’Oliveira issue. He got the nod as the vice-captain to Sobers over several contemporary international greats.

Sobers himself came into action on Day One of the first ‘Test’ at Lord’s, skittling out England for 127. Barlow himself scored 119, Sobers 183, and the tourists acquired a 419-run lead. Barlow, who had picked up a single wicket in the first innings, went wicketless in the second.

The second ‘Test’ at Trent Bridge saw Barlow at his best yet again: after picking up 5 for 66 (the first 5 wickets of the innings) he followed it up with 142 out of a team score of 286. Even that, however, turned out to be too less a contribution as Brian Luckhurst’s hundred enabled England to square the series.

After a quiet third ‘Test’ at Edgbaston Barlow came to his elements once again at Headingley: he bowled the way he had never done before. Moving the ball both ways and aided by with his deceptive slow in-dipper, Barlow ran through England with what would have been a career-best 7 for 64, had the ‘Tests’ not been stripped of their status.

England were 209 for 4 at one stage: after Barlow removed Keith Fletcher the floodgates opened. He later bowled Alan Knott and Chris Old, and had Don Wilson caught by Mike Denness, the England player whom Ray Illingworth had graciously allowed to act as a substitute fielder for the tourists. Two balls later Barlow made it 4 wickets in 5 balls by removing Illingworth himself.

Still not content, Barlow scored 37 and then picked up 5 for 78, picking up the 4 of the first 5 wickets to fall and catching the fifth. England also lost the final Test, and conceded the series 1-4. Barlow returned home as a hero, only to have the Test status of one of the greatest series performances taken away from his career tally.

Later years

The ban of South Africa hurt Barlow as badly as it had hurt some of his contemporaries. International cricket was taken away from him just when he had reached his finest years as an all-rounder. He signed a contract with Derbyshire, earned a cap in 1976, and led them from midway during the season till 1978. He led Derbyshire to the Benson & Hedges final in 1978.

On April 24, 1977, there was a “news leak” that Barlow, Procter, Barry Richards, and Graeme Pollock had been contacted by Kerry Packer for World Series Cup. He played in both 1977-78 and 1978-79, and also led the World Series Cup Cavaliers side. He continued to play domestic cricket in South Africa till as late as 1982-83, making a shift to Boland in the twilight of his career.

Personal life and coaching

Barlow was married to Helen Wheelright with whom he had a son and a daughter. After their divorce he married Julianne Bailey. And in 1998 he married a third time — to Cally Carroll (later Barlow), who used to be a scorer for Gloucestershire.

His first stint as a coach — for Gloucestershire — did not go too well. Gerald Mortimer wrote that the young players “were fine while he was there but later appeared to wonder what they were doing in First-Class cricket. It is possible that Barlow was too powerful a character, with a faith in his own ability that made it hard for him to understand more fragile egos.”

He eventually came back home and coached Orange Free State, Griqualand West, and Transvaal. He also became the first coach of the Super Juice Academy, an organisation designed to churn out talent for Western Province and Boland before retiring from coaching for good.

Hansie Cronje, whom Barlow had coached at Orange Free State, wrote: “Like so many of the greatest players and coaches all over the world, Eddie based his success on two simple principles: discipline and fitness. As he always told me: Captain, respect the game, Mother Cricket, and keep your own disciplines, and you’ll be just fine.” It’s another thing that Cronje had not bothered to adhere to the instructions of his coach.

Final years

He then acquired a pig farm, followed by a wine farm in 1996. He then had another stint as a coach in Bangladesh in 1999 that was instrumental in their attaining a Test status. The next year he had a heart-attack in Bangladesh that confined him to a wheelchair. With the insurance company refusing to pay he had to resort to selling his wine farm.

Never one to give up, he moved to North Wales and coached Carmichael and Wrexham. He also played a crucial role in the development of cricket for the disabled in the country. He slowly started to walk, and then, thanks to Cally’s tremendous support, graduated to a walking-stick. He gradually got used to an electric scooter – presented by the Professional Cricketers Association – which he drove to commute to his workplace. After carrying on for a few years he suffered from another stroke and had to be re-admitted to a hospital in Jersey.

Edgar John Barlow passed away on December 30, 2005. His memorial service was attended by a substantial crowd, including luminary colleagues Hylton Ackerman, Garth le Roux, Vintcent van der Bijl, and Peter Kirsten.

Kirsten later said of his mentor: “He drew thousands of people to Newlands on Monday afternoons. It was a thoroughly enjoyable era for me. I was brought up by guys like him. Something was always going to happen when he was around, things were never dull.” He added: “We trained very hard under him, when practice time came there was no buggering around. But he also had a sense of humour, that was an important part of his game, and on top of that he had an astute cricket brain.”

There has been a proposal of renaming the Castle Corner Stand at Newlands after Eddie Barlow. It has been put on hold as of now. A bench in a cricket field in Cape Town, however, still bears the following words written by Cally herself: