One of the most intriguing matches in South Africa’s first-class cricket history was played across two calendar years in the 1925-26 Currie Cup. Orange Free State hosted Western Province in the sixth match of the season from December 31, 1925 to January 2, 1926 at the Ramblers Cricket Club Ground in Bloemfontein.
This was the second match of the season for both the teams. In their respective opening matches, which ended just two days earlier, Orange Free State had gone down narrowly by 27 runs at home to Griqualand West while Western Province were handed an innings-and-74-runs defeat by defending champions Transvaal at Johannesburg.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Thomas Holmes, captain of Orange Free State, elected to bat after winning the toss. Very soon, openers Mick Commaille – who played 12 Tests for South Africa – and Augustus Hewitt-Fox were dismissed by fast bowler Victor Veal with just nine runs on the board.
Colin Marran and Leopold Cusworth combined for a third-wicket stand worth 54 to attempt a revival, but timely inroads by the Western Province bowlers meant that the score was soon reduced to 139/7. The Reid brothers William (37) and Alfred put on 46 for the eighth wicket but both were out to Veal (4/68) within three runs of each other.
The score now read 189/9 as last man Lancelot Fuller, who was hardly known for his batting skills, joined Lindsay Richard ‘Len’ Tuckett in the middle. Tuckett, who formerly played for Natal, had featured in one Test – which happened to be his only one – back in 1913-14 against England at Johannesburg, scoring 0 and 0* and bowling 20 overs without a wicket.
Fuller surprisingly launched into the bowling attack and Tuckett provided solid support at the other end. It all began to come apart for the Western Province bowlers after a hitherto polished effort. Taken aback by Fuller, the last wicket proved to be elusive.
23-year-old Fuller looked set for a memorable hundred until debutant Theodore de Klerk trapped him leg-before for 84, much to his teammates’ relief. This was his first and only half-century in first-class cricket.
Tuckett struck an assured unbeaten 30 and the partnership fetched a bountiful 115 runs. The final total swelled to 303 at a healthy rate of 3.75 runs per over. 32 extras – 24 of them through byes and leg-byes – helped the home team’s cause.
The Western Province innings too began poorly, with openers Pieter van der Bijl (father of Vintcent, who is widely regarded as the finest bowler never to have played a Test) and Francis Godfrey dismissed early to make the score 10/2.
All-rounder Denjis Morkel, who was to play 16 Tests in the near future, was the only batsman from the top order to show resistance. But Alfred Reid scalped him for 43 and just before stumps, Tuckett trapped Nicholas Blanckenburg in front with his fast-medium pace to leave the visitors struggling at 89/5 at the end of the first day.
As day two comenced, Tuckett continued from where he left and sent back Stephen Steyn and Veal in the same over to dent the innings further. Western Province were now tottering at 91/7 and staring at a huge deficit. However de Klerk, who had come out to bat late on the first day at number seven, went on to enjoy a fine debut innings which rescued his team.
De Klerk found a willing ally in Ian Goulden (60) and the duo put together a vital 135 for the eighth wicket. De Klerk was out hit wicket for 79 – which remained his highest first-class score – and his effort enabled Western Province to reach 259. Tuckett was the pick of the bowlers with 4/99.
The lead for Orange Free State was 44, which could have been less or more depending upon which of two rearguard efforts are taken into consideration. In the second innings, Commaille and Hewitt-Fox provided a sound start, putting on 38 before the former was dismissed.
Hewitt-Fox (60) was in good touch and along with Marran he guided his side to 81/1 and a clear position of strength. However the match took another turn as the visiting bowlers scythed through the middle order with a powerful collective display.
Morkel, Veal and Goulden (3/58) all captured two wickets each to rattle the middle order as Orange Free State crashed to 108/7, which further became 121/9. Eight wickets had fallen for the addition of just 40 runs, and the lead was now only 165 with the final wicket standing.
First-innings hero Fuller was promoted to number ten but he perished for a duck, bowled by Goulden. Tuckett was still there in the middle, but surely it was only a matter of time before the last wicket fell?
Frustratingly for Western Province, it was not to be. Tuckett had a different partner this time in the form of debutant Frank Caulfield. The most crucial rescue act of the game ensued, as the two milked the bowlers on their way to an astonishing partnership worth 129 runs. Orange Free State ended the second day at 212/9, ahead by 256.
Captain William Stephen broke the stand in the first session of the final day by having Tuckett LBW for 70 while Caulfield remained unbeaten on a heroic 56. The tenth-wicket stand fetched more than half of the eventual team total of 250.
This was the first and remains the only instance of a team recording century stands for the last wicket in both the innings of a first-class match. Across both innings, the tenth-wicket realised as much as 44.12 % of the total runs scored. The deflated visitors now ended up facing a target of 295.
A pepped-up Caulfield struck early to remove Godfrey and van der Bijl and reduce the score to 34/2. Morkel (39) tried to defy the bowling but Caulfield (3/63) got the better of him as well. A lack of substantial partnerships hurt the chase and besides Archibald Palm, who scored a gritty 75, none of the batsmen stayed long enough to provide hopes for a win.
Western Province were eventually bowled out for 248 and were left to rue at what might have been. Orange Free State’s last-wicket stand had twice managed to stem a crisis situation and ultimately overturned it into a 46-run victory.
However, this was to be their only win of the season as they lost three of the next four games to finish sixth out of seven teams with six points. Western Province finished fifth with two wins and ten points.
Tuckett (1885-1963) played for Orange Free State till 1929-30 before calling a day on his two-decade-long first-class career at the age of 44. His son, also named Lindsay, played nine Tests for South Africa and is currently the oldest living Test cricketer at 96 years and 164 days. Joseph Cox, brother-in-law to the senior Tuckett, played three Tests in 1913-14.
Fuller too played first-class cricket till 1929-30 before dying at the young age of 44 in 1946. Caulfield, in spite of his match-winning debut, played only two more first-class matches and his career did not extend into the next season. He too died at a young age of 42 in 1936.