St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
St George's Park - St George’s Park Boasts 115 Years of Test Match History
St George’s Park Boasts 115 Years of Test Match History
IT’s only when you take the long walk out into the middle at Sahara Oval St George’s Park that you begin to get a real feel for the place. A sense of the history that is part and parcel of the oldest and some would say the most atmospheric of all South Africa’s Test cricket grounds.
As you stand on the pitch and take in the surroundings, it is easy to imagine how Test cricketers of past and present generations must have felt at crucial times during big matches at this stadium for more than 100 years.
Of all the Test grounds in South Africa, few can boast to have played host to as many significant moments in the history of South African cricket.
And, to crown it all, St George’s Park was the home ground of the great Graeme Pollock when he was at the height of his illustrious career during the 1960s and 70s.
With the majestic Duckpond Pavilion towering over the surrounding stands, St George’s Park has become a favourite venue for players and spectators from around the world.
It was 115 years ago that South Africa played their first Test match on home soil – at this ground. And the opponents way back in 1889 were Major R Gardener Warton’s English team.
In those days, when there were more luxuriant moustaches than sunglasses to be seen on the field of play, a crowd of 3 000 gathered to watch play on the opening day.
In much more modest surroundings than those enjoyed by today’s players, SA skipper Owen Dunell won the toss and decided to bat first.
The occasion proved too great for the South Africans and they were skittled for a paltry 84 with Dunell contributing a fighting, unbeaten 26.
England also found runs hard to come by and it was only a 10th wicket stand of 45 that enabled them to take what proved to be a valuable 64-run first innings lead.
South Africa fared little better in their second innings, making 129. This left England the simple task of scoring 66 to win the Test. England duly achieved the required score, losing only two wickets.
And one can only wonder what the players on both sides would have thought of the giant television screen which now shows instant replays to fans and players.
The second Test match at St George’s Park took place in 1895-96 when an England team under Lord Hawke visited South Africa.
After the 1896 tour, Port Elizabeth was overlooked as a Test venue for the next 18 years, during which time three English and one Australian team visited South Africa.
Since then 18 Tests have been played at St George’s Park.
That figure would have been much higher but for South Africa’s absence of more than two decades from the Test arena because of the political situation in the country.
And, ironically, it was during this period of isolation that South Africa probably boasted their most powerful side.
While it had the distinction of hosting the first Test played in South Africa, St George’s Park also played host to the last so-called "Springbok" cricket team in 1970.
Ali Bacher’s South Africans won the final Test of the Australian tour by a massive 323 runs to take the series 4-0.
It was also the last time that South Africa played in a Test for 22 years and many promising careers were brought to a shuddering halt in Port Elizabeth,
Though there have been countless feats of brilliant batsmanship at St George’s Park, the two innings that stood out for me were not scored in the Test arena.
The first came in 1972 when South Africa’s incomparable opening batsman Barry Richards hit a remarkable unbeaten 147 against Eastern Province in a Currie Cup match.
It was an innings as close to perfection as one could ever hope to watch and when Sir Donald Bradman named Richards as the best right-handed opener of all-time my mind immediately went back to that innings.
The day before the game I had seen Richards batting with a stump in the nets. He did not miss a single delivery!
Some years later I asked Richards about that innings against Eastern Province and he said it was one of those days when he had been "in the zone".
But for pure emotion and drama Graeme Pollock’s final innings at his old home ground will take some beating.
Pollock, known as the "Prince of St George’s Park", returned to Port Elizabeth in 1987 to play one more innings at his favourite stomping ground.
I had spoken to him earlier in the week and Pollock had said that he was planning to go out with a "big bang".
"The bigger the score the better," was the ominous warning Pollock issued to the Australian bowlers.
Just how big nobody could have guessed. Playing for South Africa in the rebel era against Kim Hughes’s Australian team, Pollock blasted an unforgettable 144 in front of a packed St George’s Park who had come to say farewell to the master batsman.
Pollock tore into the Australian bowlers, hammering 22 fours and a six in front of more than 10 000 adoring fans.
When a tired Pollock was eventually bowled by Rodney Hogg he received the longest and loudest ovation in the history of the stadium.
During his innings Pollock hardly ever took singles, but dealt for the main part in brutal boundaries. The only time Pollock bothered taking a single was to keep the strike.
Not surprisingly, Pollock and Richards are still regarded as South Africa’s greatest batsmen of all time.
At the start of the new millennium St George’s Park was beginning to show its age and the ground underwent a massive facelift ahead of the 2003 World Cup. With its rich history it came as no surprise that the stadium was awarded a showpiece semi-final game between Australia and Sri Lanka.
The Australians won that semi-final by 48 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis system after the match had to be abandoned because of rain after 38.1 overs of the Sri Lankan innings.
Afterwards Cricket World Cup executive director Ali Bacher said the World Cup matches in Port Elizabeth had been a huge success.
This weekend, with South Africa playing England in the 21st Test match to be hosted at the famous old ground, it is interesting to note that there is every likelihood that a result will be achieved over the five days.
Only four of the past 20 Tests have ended in draws.
December 18, 2004