The Battery of Googly Bowlers of South Africa: Part 2

Bert Vogler

Bert Vogler

During the first decade of the 1900s, Bert Vogler, Aubrey Faulkner, Reggie Schwarz and, to a lesser extent, Gordon White, stunned the world by forming a lethal battery of googly bowlers. Their deeds were instrumental in making the world sit up and take notice of South Africa as a third dimension of world cricket. In this four-part series, Pradip Dhole tells us about the googly quartet who came to the fore even as the wrong ’un was still in the formative stages as a bowling weapon.

Click here for Part 1

Domestic feats

The Currie Cup match between Eastern Province and Griqualand West played at the Old Wanderers Pirates Lower Back Ground, Johannesburg, from the Boxing Day of 1906 was notable for many interesting events, not the least of which was the fact that the 3rd day’s play had to be shifted to the nearby Top Back East Ground of Johannesburg.

Harold Hibbert won the toss for Eastern Province and batted first, and the home team went in at 105/1 on a truncated 1st day of cricket. The innings ended at 403 all out on the morrow, opener David Lumsden scoring a solid century (103). Vogler, batting at # 5, contributed 79 to the total. The second day ended with Griqualand West scoring 8 for no loss. The 3rd day’s play at the Top Back East Ground proved to be full of excitement as the hosts were bowled out for a mere 51 in 20 overs. There were 7 individual ducks in the innings and Extras top-scored with 21.

It was reported at the time that Vogler had spearheaded the attack in his fast-medium mode, picking up 2 quick wickets. Subsequently switching to his leg-breaks and googlies, Vogler captured 4 more wickets to register figures of 6/12 in his 10 overs, as he bowled through the innings. Griqualand West were invited to follow on, but their 2nd innings effort was no better. They were again bowled out for 51, but this time the innings lasted 23 overs. Going with his leg-break and googly mode in the 2nd innings, Vogler took all 10 wickets in the 2nd innings at a personal cost of 26 runs from his 12 overs, again bowling through the innings.

Bert Vogler’s 10/26 remain the best ever first-class bowling figures by any South African bowler, and remained the only 10-wicket haul by a South African bowler until Stephen Jeffries took 10/59 for Western Province against Orange Free State in a Currie Cup match at Newlands in Dec/1987. Vogler’s match figures of 16/38 still remain the best by any South African bowler in a first-class match, the record enduring for the last 113 years.

The foreign challenge

The next challenge for South Africa was to beard the English lion in his own den. Although the South Africans had toured England three times previously, in 1894, 1901, and 1904, they had never been allocated any Test matches on those tours.

England had toured South Africa 5 times before, in 1888/89, 1891/92, 1895/96, 1989/99, and in 1905/06. It was with the financial support of shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie, that the first visiting English team led by Charles Aubrey Smith, later to make a name for himself as an actor of repute in Hollywood, had toured the African country between 14 Dec/1888 and 27 Mar/1889.

The Transvaal side of 1903. Reggie Schwarz seated second from left in the middle row. Gordon White first from right in the second row. Aubrey Faulkner in the front row on the left.

The Transvaal side of 1903. Reggie Schwarz seated second from left in the middle row. Gordon White first from right in the second row. Aubrey Faulkner in the front row on the left.

Although the tourists did play 2 “Test” matches at Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, most of the so-called “Tests”’ played in South Africa during the successive tours by England had been attributed Test status on a retrospective basis.

In 1907, however, the South Africans were about to undertake their first ever Test tour to any country, and this 4th visit to England was to be their first Test tour to the Home Country, and an event of historical importance for both nations. The South African tour party was announced as early as 9 Jan/1907 although there were two replacements from the original squad in early March when Transvaal opening batsman Claude Floquet and Transvaal wicketkeeper Ernest “Baberton” Halliwell, by then 43 years of age, and the man thought to have been the first ‘keeper to stuff a steak into his ‘keeping gloves, withdrew for personal reasons. The Rev Cyril Robinson replaced Halliwell in the squad as the reserve ‘keeper but did not play in any of the Tests, while Stanley Snooke, brother of Tip Snooke, replaced Floquet.

 The 15-member tour party led by wicketkeeper Percy Sherwell left Cape Town on the Durham Castle on 8 April/1907, landing at Southampton on the evening of 1 May. It was a relatively young group of cricketers that arrived at England for the tour, the average age being 28 years and 6 months. The South African visitors followed a leisurely itinerary in England, spending 61 days getting acclimatised to the climate and the wickets before the beginning of the first Test match.

 By the time the tour began, the original progenitor of the googly, Englishman Bernard Bosanquet, was no longer playing Test cricket, nor was he then the force he had been when he had first used the weapon in first-class cricket during the first few years of the 20th century. His legacy, carried forward by the South African spin quartet, was to sweep England during the 1907 season, with Schwarz and Vogler in the vanguard. The portent for the things to come was manifest in the very first game of the tour, against Leicestershire, at Leicester from 20 May/1907.

Despite posting modest totals of 145 all out and 156 all out themselves, the visitors won the match by 98 runs, dismissing the home team for 149 and 54. Schwarz returned figures of 6/55 and 2/13, and Vogler had figures of 3/25 and 5/37, there being 3 run outs in the 2nd innings. Against a strong MCC side at Lord’s later in May, Vogler took 8/67 to bowl out the MCC for 177, South Africa winning the game by 3 wickets. Leading up to the 1st Test, Vogler had figures of 4/79 and 6/17 against Derbyshire, the other high points of the game being the centuries by Dave Nourse (148) and Tip Snooke (114*) as the visitors secured an innings victory.

 The 3-Test series began at Lord’s on the Monday of the week, 1 July/1907. It was to be a 3-day affair, with 6-ball overs, a follow-on margin of 150 runs, and a new ball would be available after 200 runs (this being a first for Test matches in England). There would be between 6 and 6 1/2 hours’ play per day. RE “Tip” Foster, in his first Test as captain, won the toss and England batted first.

 The first day ended with England being all out for 428, the total being dominated by a masterful century by the Surrey and Somerset batsman Len Braund (104, with 12 fours), and his 145-run 6th wicket stand with Gilbert Jessop (93). Bert Vogler captured 7/128, in his first innings of Test bowling in England, and Schwarz took 2/90. South Africa were bowled out for 140 in the 1st innings, the 4th wicket stand of 98 runs in 95 minutes between Dave Nourse (62) and Aubrey Faulkner (44) being the saving grace of the innings.

 Asked to follow-on, the South Africans ended the second day of the Test on 185/3 off 58 overs, skipper Sherwell opening the batting and scoring his only Test century (115, with 19 fours). Unfortunately, that was it for the Test match as the last day was rained off and the Test ended in a draw.

 The 2nd Test began at Headingley, Leeds, from the Monday, 29 July/1907, and turned out to be a low-scoring match, completely dominated by the English slow left-arm orthodox bowler Colin Blythe. Batting first, England were dismissed for 76 in the 37th over, with only 3 men in double figures: opening batsman Tom Hayward of Surrey (24, the top scorer of the innings), Johnny Tyldesley of Lancashire (12), and the Yorkshire stalwart George Hirst (17). The wickets went to Aubrey Faulkner (a scintillating performance of 6/17 in 11 overs), and Jimmy Sinclair (3/23).

 South Africa, in turn, were bowled out for 110 in their 1st innings, the devastation being caused by Blythe, who opened the bowling from one end, bowled through the innings, and captured 8/59. The eventful first day ended with England at the crease for the second time, and the English 2nd innings total reading 25 for no loss in 9 overs. Twenty wickets had fallen on the opening day of the Test, the majority of them to the spinners of both sides.

 Only 23 overs were bowled on the second day of the Test, and England added 85 runs for the loss of 4 wickets in the day. The last day saw England being dismissed for 162 in the 50th over, the only individual fifty of the innings coming from the bat of the Sussex man CB Fry (54), opening the batting. Faulkner had 3/58 and Gordon White took 4/47. The winning target was a mere 129 runs for the South Africans on the last day. It was not to be, however, as they ran into the wiles of Blythe for the second time in the Test. With figures of 7/40, and bowling through the innings, Blythe bowled out South Africa for 75 almost single-handedly, leaving England victorious by 53 runs.

Colin Blythe’s match figures of 15/99 turned out to be his career best in Test cricket.

 The 3rd Test match began at the historic Kennington Oval from the Monday, 19 Aug/1907, and South Africa made one change from the line-up of the 2nd Test, with Tancred, who had been suffering from Enteric Fever for much of the tour, being replaced by Stanley Snook, bother of Tip Snooke. Charles Davis makes the interesting observation that the man carrying out the 12th man duties for England in this Test was Wilfred Rhodes.

 Winning the toss, England batted first, and ended the day at 226/7 with opening batsman Fry batting on 108 and wicketkeeper Dick Lilley keeping him company on 16. The innings ended the next day at 295 all out in 112 overs, with CB Fry holding the innings together with a score of 129 in 285 minutes, with 9 fours. Fry was the 8th man dismissed, at the total of 271. For the tourists, Vogler (2/86), Faulkner (2/78), and Schwarz (3/45) took most of the wickets. At stumps on the second day, South Africa were 149/5, and the back of the innings had already been broken. The innings ended on the last day at 178 all out, with only Tip Snooke (63) scoring a fifty. It was Colin Blythe (5/61) and George Hirst (3/39) again at the forefront of the English attack.

However, things did not go too well for the home team either when they began their 2nd innings, and they were dismissed for 138 in the 55th over. Only skipper Foster, in his 8th and last Test, made any significant contribution, scoring 35, and sharing a 4th wicket partnership of 69 runs with Len Braund (34) in 80 minutes. Vogler (4/49) and Schwarz (3/21) provided the fire-power for the visitors. In the time remaining in the Test match, South Africa scored 159/5, with Hirst (3/42) and Blythe (2/36) troubling them again. The Test match ended in a draw giving England the 3-Test series 1-0.

 The tour in retrospect

The tremendous success of the 4 South African spinners on the tour took the cricketing world by surprise, and the English skipper RE Foster, a batting wizard in his own right, took it upon himself to attempt an analysis of their various individual skills. Some of the views of the English skipper are expressed by Parry and Slater in their article “The Googly, Gold and the Empire: The Role of South African Cricket in the Imperial Project, 1904–1912” , stating that: “R. E. Foster played against them on their 1907 English tour and analysed their differing styles in some detail.”

 Foster’s opinion was that Schwarz bowled googlies almost exclusively because “he can get out as many batsmen as he wishes with that method”. The truth of the matter was, however, that even as late as the England tour of South Africa under Plum Warner in 1905/06, Schwarz used to have a very good leg-break. By the time he was in England for the 1907 tour, he seems to have lost his leg-break. It is conjectured that two previous Rugby injuries to his right shoulder may have had something to do with this. Even so, Foster was struck by the prodigious turn and bounce that Schwarz could extract from the wicket, sometimes sacrificing the element of accuracy in the process.

 This was the impression about two of the other South African spinners: “Faulkner and White were similar in method, but Faulkner came through the air and off the pitch faster and was much more capable of bowling unplayable deliveries. He bowled a quicker yorker which often caught batsmen on the crease waiting to try and read the turn, and on his day he could be irresistible. He also had a greater break from the off than White, who tended to bowl more deliveries that went straight on. In both cases it was possible to see the off-break coming ‘occasionally’”.

The Eastern Province team. Bert Vogler seated on extreme right.

The Eastern Province team. Bert Vogler seated on extreme right.

 The English skipper was at his most effusive about Bert Vogler, and in the words of Parry and Slater: “Vogler, however, was the real magician. With the new ball he bowled fast-medium off-breaks with a pronounced swerve and then would switch to slow-medium with a six-three on-side field. In common with Schwarz he was able to rip the ball which appeared to gather pace off the pitch. He bowled primarily leg-breaks with occasional wrong’uns. It was almost impossible to detect any difference in his action, and Percy Sherwell, who kept wicket to him for province and country through much of his career, found him the most difficult of the googly bowlers to read. His leg-break would turn between three and eighteen inches but the off-break did not turn much and he tended to bowl what we would now call top-spinners, which would skid through, often trapping the batsman in front. Vogler’s box of tricks also included deceptive flight and a slow yorker which seemed to quiver rather than swing in the air.”

 It was reported at the time that the 1907 summer was one of the wettest and coldest in living memory, the conditions both overhead and on the wicket favouring the bowlers through the summer. Wisden selected five players who had all taken more than 100 wickets at less than 16 runs apiece. While commending the bowling of all four South African spinners on the 1907 tour, Foster went on to state that Vogler “was the finest bowler in the world.”

 An article entitled South Africa’s Role in the Development of the Googly by a South African author going by the intriguing nom de plume of Angel Fire states that Reggie Schwarz had taken 143 wickets at 11.51 in all on the tour, whilst Vogler’s corresponding figures had been 133 wickets at 15.25.

It was no surprise, therefore, that both Schwarz and Vogler were selected among the Five Players of the Year in the 1908 edition of Wisden, the first two South Africans to achieve this honour.


A new idea

Meanwhile, Sir Abe Bailey, who had sponsored the 1904 tour of England by South Africa to a large extent, had incurred substantial financial losses in the venture. He was close to Lord Harris, however, both as a collaborator in His Lordship’s South African business interests in the mining industry, and as well as in His Lordship’s vision of the reconstruction of South African cricket in the aftermath of the Boer War. Emboldened by the favourable public reaction to the South African team’s performance on the 1907 tour, Sir Bailey decided to make a pitch for another pet project of his.

Although they had lost their first Test playing tour of England 0-1, the visitors had not been disgraced, and had impressed one and all with their improved skills. As a result of this, there was to be an important historical fall-out of the performance of the South African team in England on the 1907 tour. Things got underway on 30 Nov/1907 when Sir Abe Bailey, then President of the South African Cricket Association, and on a visit to England at the time, wrote a letter to Sir Francis Eden Lacey, incidentally, the first man ever to be knighted for his services to cricket, the then Secretary of the MCC.

In the letter, Sir Abe Bailey made two significant suggestions to the MCC, as follows:

·       The formation of an ‘Imperial Cricket Board’ to formulate a template of rules and regulations to govern international cricket matches involving England, Australia, and South Africa.

·       The organisation of a Triangular Test series between England, Australia and South Africa during the 1909 English season. Australia, however, were not very keen on the Triangular Tournament in 1909 as they had been scheduled to undertake a tour of England in that season and were unwilling to share the season with South Africa.

Lord Harris is reported to have been whole-heartedly in favour of a Triangular Tournament, writing to Sir Bailey that he would do “everything he can to support the Triangular Tournament.” Another Englishman who lent his support to the proposal was CB Fry. The unwillingness of Australia, however, did not deter Sir Abe Bailey, who continued to correspond purposefully with both the MCC and the powers that be in Australian cricket in this regard. Perhaps as a result of his perseverance, a meeting was called on 15 June/1909 between the representatives of the cricket authorities of the three countries involved at Lord’s, under the Chairmanship of the Earl of Chesterfield, then President of the MCC. During the meeting, the delegates agreed in principle to the idea of a Triangular Series.

 It was about a month later in another meeting, this time under the Chairmanship of Lord Harris, that the Imperial Cricket Conference was formally launched and an official set of laws was laid down to govern international cricket matches between the three founder-members, England, Australia, and South Africa. Sir Bailey’s pet project, the Triangular Tournament, was finally held in 1912, but was not a great success in an unusually wet summer.

Meanwhile, the valiant 1907 South African were on their way back home in different groups, the majority of them returning by 15 Oct/1907. Apart from the acclaim that Faulkner had acquired with his cricketing skills on the tour, another great treasure awaited the ruggedly handsome Adonis on the return voyage. He became engaged to a Miss ME Brooks during the voyage, married her in 1911, and went to live in England with her in the same year. On another count, the tour proved to be financially quite rewarding for the tourists, with gate receipts of £ 6376, which worked out to a nett gain of £ 1400 after all conceivable expenses had been taken care of.