The year was 1950 and the venue was Kingsmead, Durban. It was the third test match during Australia’s tour of South Africa. Neil Harvey produced a batting Master-Class on this day!
Cricket as a game has a long history of patient batting masterclass, unexpected conditions and coming from behind victories. One such example occurred on this day. The Australian team was a strong side led by the great team man Lindsay Hassett and had players like Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, and Neil Harvey. South Africa captained by Dudley Nourse also had players like opener Eric Rowan and off-spinner Hugh Tayfield.
Coming to the Durban test match, Australia already won the first two test matches to have a 2-0 lead. The Durban pitch looked good and after winning the toss Nourse had no second thought and decided to bat. Day one ended with South Africa on 240/2, Rowan making a hundred and remained unbeaten along with Nourse unbeaten on 64.
However, everything changed once there was a typical Durban thunderstorm after the end of day one. In those days of uncovered pitches, the condition changed drastically and batting became much much difficult on day two in a drying pitch. Both Rowan and Nourse could not carry on for much time and South Africa lost their last eight wickets for just 69 runs as Johnston and Lindwall were the chief destroyers.
Australian openers started well and Morris was the highest scorer for them with 25. But once the other opener Moroney was gone for 10 with the score on 31 there started a procession. Only one of the last nine batsmen reached double figure. Six different players scored two runs while batting, including Harvey and Bill Johnston who was unbeaten on two. Australia were bowled out for 75, conceding a lead of 236 runs to South Africa.
Nourse might have some doubt regarding batting in the fourth innings in this deteriorating pitch and hence did not enforce the follow on. But when the play resumed on the third day after a rest day they were quickly blown away by off-spinner Johnson (5 for 34) and left-arm pacer Johnston (4 for 39) and could only score 99 in their second essay.
Still, the South Africans were the favorites as the target of 336 runs in that square turner looked very steep if not impossible. But whatever part Australia batted on day four, they lost wickets on regular intervals and were 80/3 with Morris and Harvey in the crease.
To chase 256 runs on day five was not an easy task but that’s when Harvey started displaying his masterful technique. Morris went early on day five and then with Sam Loxton, Harvey added 135 runs. Loxton played a good supporting role and scored 54 but played second fiddle to the Harvey master class. Even with Loxton gone, Harvey’s concentration did not break and he kept playing his shots. The next batsman McCool to his credit held one end up and finished with unbeaten 39. But Harvey on the other end reached 151 after batting close to five and half hours to take Australia over the target. It was a great result for Australia, a result which was completely unexpected at the end of day four. But a Harvey magic produced the result for Australia on 24th January 1950.
Harvey had an outstanding series and ended with four centuries in the five-test series; a record which was later matched by only Jacques Kallis.