Time with a Springbok legend

2012-09-29 00:00

LAST weekend I had the pleasure of spending some time, which was not nearly enough, in the company of Neil Adcock, the great Springbok fast bowler who now lives with his wife, Maureen, in a retirement home outside Howick.

For those who do not know that cricket was once played at Ellis Park, Adcock was for several years the fastest bowler in the world.

For all batsmen of a different age, facing Adcock represented a trial of courage and technique that would be quite unknown to the heavily protected warriors of the modern era.

For players of that generation, it would be unthinkable to exclude Adcock from any all time South African eleven.

The bald statistics of Adcock’s Test career are impressive enough. In just 26 matches, spread over eight years, he took 104 wickets at a cost of 21,10 runs each. Together with Peter Heine he formed the most formidable opening partnership that this country has ever had. Both were tall, fast and mean. Heine was supposed to have been the nastier of the two, but it was Adcock with a new ball in his hand that most batsmen genuinely feared. Adcock’s 400 first class wickets cost 17,17runs a piece.

Strangely, neither of them had any background in cricket until they sprang fully armed at a generation of unsuspecting batsmen. Adcock was educated at three famous schools, St Charles, Grey High in Port Elizabeth and finally at Jeppe High in Johannesburg. At none did he make a mark in cricket.

When he left school, Adcock joined the Pirates cricket club where he was not remotely interested in fast bowling. The following season he threw his lot in with Jeppe Old Boys where he was soon languishing in the third eleven. It was there that he was spotted in the nets by Eric Rowan who realised that Adcock had the perfect physique for a fast bowler.

Rowan took Adcock in hand and by dint of many long hours in the nets the two of them brought to light the great talent that had long lain dormant. Within a year he was chosen for Transvaal and in his first season he played five matches in which he took 23 wickets at an average of 13.

On the fast Ellis Park pitch, Adcock was fearsomely quick and it was there the following year that he burst on the Test scene to the extreme discomfort of the New Zealanders on one of the most dramatic days in Test cricket.

The second morning of the game opened with the tragic news that the fiancé of the Kiwi fast bowler, Bob Blair, had been killed in a dreadful train accident in New Zealand.

He was expected to take no further part in the match. When the Kiwi innings began, they ran into trouble against a fiery Adcock, who put both Laurie Miller, struck over the heart, and Bert Sutcliffe, felled by a blow to his head, into hospital. Rabone, the Kiwi captain, feared that Adcock would kill someone.

At the fall of the sixth wicket on a score of 82, Sutcliffe returned to the crease with his head swathed in bandages. He played an electrifying innings in the circumstances scoring 80 not out with seven sixes.

When the ninth wicket fell, the grieving Bob Blair went out to help the cause amid emotional scenes and with Sutcliffe added a further 33 runs. They returned to a prolonged standing ovation.

Adcock had taken three wickets for 44 runs, but the damage he did to the psyche of his opponents was reflected in the second inning when he took five for 43.

For the next four years he led a Springbok attack with Heine, Trevor Goddard and Hugh Tayfield. They were the finest quartet of bowlers fielded by South Africa.

Trevor Bailey, that most knowledgeable England all rounder, told me that, of all the teams he played, scoring runs against that Springbok attack was the most difficult.

When the Springboks toured England in 1960, Heine was unavailable and Adcock carried the attack in the absence of a good fast bowler at the other end.

This was the tour that contained the Geoff Griffin throwing fiasco and various selection blunders that left the team short of fast bowlers.

Arguably these were Adcock’s finest hours in Springbok colours. On the tour he took 108 wickets, of which 26 were in the Test matches, at 14 runs each. No South African has come close to those figures in England. By then Adcock had matured into an accurate bowler who was still dangerously quick. I played with and against many batsmen who faced Adcock on that tour and most of them were adamant that he was the fastest and best quickie during that age of great fast bowlers.

Of course, in contrast to modern players, Adcock played more club cricket than anything else. It was in this class of cricket where his opponents were often neither adept nor brave that his legend was strongest. I remember travelling to play Jeppe Old Boys in a car full of Wits students.

We had been assured that Adcock would not be playing and had consequently travelled to the match in high spirits. When we arrived at the ground we were dismayed to see Adcock warming up in his cricket gear. A pall of gloom descended upon us.

In his later years, when he was playing for Collegians in Maritzburg, Adcock fancied himself as a batsman despite a first-class average of five.

This caused problems for many club batsmen whose fellow fast bowlers felt that if Adcock was batting up the order he deserved to be bombarded with bouncers. Retaliation from Adcock was generally swift, brutal and indiscriminate.

Adcock has recently undergone a series of operations to remove cancer from his colon. Although not quite up to a short spell with the new ball he was in good and combative form. The spirit of a great fast bowler is undiminished.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.