The Longest Tour

The last time South Africa embarked on a tour as long as this one was way back in 1994, also to England and Wales – and Scotland, as it happened – but there were some profound differences.

Back then, bizarrely, the touring South Africans played just two Texaco Trophy ODIs and only three Test matches. The rest of the time was spent playing an extraordinary 11 first-class matches against counties, a President’s Xi and even a combined minor counties team as well as a variety of other fixtures – a one-day game against the Early of Carnarvon’s XI was a throwback to a bygone era.

Pat Symcox finished the tour as one of the leading wicket-takers in the country after playing in every first-class fixture apart from the three Tests. The one-day game against Scotland, unsurprisingly, was rained out. South Africa won just two first-class games on that tour – one was the first Test at Lord’s and the other was against Nottinghamshire. But they lost only two, as well, the third Test at the Oval (Devon Malcolm’s 9-fer) and a peculiar match against Kent in Canterbury during which disinterest prevailed. The other 10 matches were all drawn, often spectacularly boringly.

But nobody cared. It was a full tour of England, in the fullest sense, and it meant the world to the players. Every smattering of die-hard fans was a pleasure to experience – and there were many other experiences besides.

Durham had only recently become the country’s 18th first-class county and they provided one of the more memorable and meaningful fixtures. A young Gary Kirsten was ‘waved in’ by coach Mike Procter after reaching 200 in order to give the rest of the batsmen some time in the middle. Only Kirsten didn’t realise the innings counted as an ‘out’ unless officially declared “retired hurt” or “retired ill”. A frantic, and late appearance in the scorer’s box was overheard: “No, no, I’m sick. I’ve got a fever, a cough…” The innings was officially declared a “not out” at the end of the match.

A convivial, medieval themed evening was enjoyed by players and media at Durham Castle at which a suitable attired local explained how best to eat soup with only a lump of stale bread and no spoon, as castle staff had to do in the 1400s. He introduced himself as Duncan Suckett.

Now, 23 years later, there are four different events. The ODI series, the Champions Trophy, a T20 series and, finally, the Test series. No more than a handful of players will be present for all of them. In 1994 different squads did not exist.

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