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When England host South Africa at the Kia Oval on September 8, it will be the 16th time the two sides have joined battle at the ground. Richard Spiller takes a look at the highlights

THE EARLY DAYS: 1907 & 1912

There had already been 12 Tests at the ground – all against Australia – by the time South Africa made their first visit in 1907. That match ended in a draw but five years later came an extraordinary performance from Sydney Barnes.

A triangular tournament involving both countries plus Australia saw England crush South Africa by 10 wickets at The Oval, largely thanks to the remarkable Barnes.

A singular man who bowled at fast-medium pace but possessed such strong fingers that he made the ball spin dramatically each way, Barnes (5-28) teamed up with Frank Woolley (5-41) to dismiss South Africa for 95 on the opening day.

Surrey’s Jack Hobbs made 68 in a reply which reached 176 all out by the close of the opening day – Aubrey Faulkner claiming 7-84 – but the next morning Barnes was in even more devastating form, his 8-29 from 16.4 overs hustling out the tourists second time round for 93. Openers Hobbs and Jack Hearne knocked off the runs required inside five overs.


Len Hutton had made his world record – at the time – 364 at The Oval, against Australia in 1938 and that innings ensured his name will always be connected with the ground.

But he also claimed another – less fortunate – niche in the game’s history by becoming the first Test cricketer to be given out “obstructed the field”, which had only occurred four times in the first-class game beforehand and remains rarer than snow in the desert.

Three drawn matches between the wars and another in 1947 – opener Bruce Mitchell’s two marathon centuries ensuring a stalemate – were followed by another visit from South Africa four years later. England were 2-1 up going into the fifth and final Test, dismissing South Africa for 202 with Jim Laker claiming 4-64 in 37 overs.

Despite Denis Compton’s 73, England finished eight runs shy, Michael Melle’s 4-9 the main reason,  but Laker revelled in his home conditions for 6-55 and was joined by Surrey colleague Alec Bedser (3-32) in bowling out South Africa for 154.

Hutton’s moment came early in the second innings, his 100th in Tests, when a delivery from Athol Rowan hit him on the glove before running up his arm. Believing it would fall on the stumps, he flicked at the ball with his bat and in doing so prevented wicketkeeper Russell Endean from making a catch. The appeal was upheld by umpire Dai Davies, described by Wisden as a “sensation and calamity”.

Hutton’s Yorkshire team-mate Frank Lowson made 37 and England captain Freddie Brown cracked 40 to give the hosts victory by four wickets on day three.


No one knew it at the time but this Test – condemned to a draw by rain with England needing another 91 in 70 minutes, earning South Africa a 1-0 series victory – would be the last time the teams met for nearly 30 years.

England recalled veteran fast bowler Brian Statham after two years, for what would be his Test farewell, and it paid off as he took 5-40 when South Africa were dismissed for 208. Fellow Lancastrian Ken Higgs weighed in with 4-47 on his debut, Tiger Lance making 69.

England’s ponderous reply of 202 was built around Colin Cowdrey’s 58 in almost four hours, wicketkeeper Jim Parks hitting a more aggressive 42 to narrow the gap before paceman Peter Pollock finished off the innings with 5-42.

Colin Bland (127), Ali Bacher (70) and Lance (53) ensured England would have a tough task to level the series, despite Higgs completing a fine match with 4-96, taking South Africa to 392 and leaving the home side needing 399 in just over a day.

They made a strong push for it, opener Eric Russell hitting 70 with Middlesex colleague Peter Parfitt’s 46 followed by 73 from Ken Barrington. Cowdrey was far more fluent in reaching 78no as England, on 308-4 at tea, contemplated a push for victory.

Rain gave South Africa a first series win in England since 1935 but they would not meet again in a Test until 1994. Increasing worldwide condemnation of apartheid was already isolating their sporting contacts and the D’Oliveira Affair three years later would reduce them even further.


29 years on from their last game at The Oval, the tourists arrived 1-0 ahead but were about to play their support role in a historic match as havoc was wreaked by a man for whom Nelson Mandela would later profess admiration.

Devon Malcolm, recalled to the side on a fast pitch – Harry Brind’s last before retiring as groundsman – was criticised for his bowling in the first innings, finishing with 1-81 from 25 overs.

His hostility was beyond doubt, hitting Jonty Rhodes on the head with the batsman staying in hospital overnight for observation. Brian McMillan was similarly struck but made 93 and with David Richardson (58) hauled up South Africa from 136-5 to 332 all out. It was Surrey’s Joey Benjamin, making his Test debut aged 33, and Phil DeFreitas who took the honours by taking four wickets apiece.

Graham Thorpe (79) and Alec Stewart (62) both relished batting on their home pitch but England looked likely to fall well behind until DeFreitas (37) and Darren Gough (42) added a scintillating 70 for the eighth wicket in the final half-hour of the second day and the deficit was just 24. The final moments of that innings on the third morning were central to what would unfold later, tailender Malcolm being hit on the head by an avenging Fanie de Villiers and furiously telling his opponents that “you guys are history”.

Within three balls of his first over of South Africa’s second innings, that threat was coming to fruition. Gary Kirsten able only to stab a viciously rising delivery vertically for Malcolm to take the return catch and then Peter Kirsten (1) – the first set of brothers to open in an Oval Test since the Graces in 1880 – was held at long leg off an uncontrolled hook. Hansie Cronje’s ill-ease against pace was underlined by Malcolm castling him for a duck and South Africa were 1-3.

Skipper Kepler Wessels (28) was joined by Daryl Cullinan in a stand worth 70 before Malcolm returned to have him caught behind while McMillan’s 25 contributed to a partnership of 64. But when Malcolm came back again, he had McMillan caught at slip, bowling Richardson (3) and Craig Matthews (0) prodding at a rapid delivery to wicketkeeper Steve Rhodes. Cullinan had been battling hard but six runs short of his century edged Gough to Thorpe at slip.

The final three wickets went in a flash, Rhodes having gone in late and edging behind for 10 before Allan Donald was bowled second ball, Malcolm walking off to rapturous applause with the magnificent figures of 9-57 from his 16.3 overs.

South Africa’s 175 all out still left England needing 204 but the match continued on fast forward, Graham Gooch (33) showing vintage form in his final Test innings on home soil in dominating a rapid opening partnership with Mike Atherton. England were 107-1 overnight, Atherton (63no) and Graeme Hick (81no) dominating so utterly that the runs were knocked off 19 minutes before lunch to level the series and leave The Oval as a giant picnic site.


Needing a win to level the series was becoming a habit for England but in winning by nine wickets, England not only made it 2-2 but contributed to one of the finest Tests ever played at The Oval.

There were plenty of sub-plots to stir in, Alec Stewart having announced that his 133rd appearance for his country would be his last while county colleague Graham Thorpe made his first appearance for more than a year. Martin Bicknell had only returned from a decade of being ignored by England selectors in the previous Test at Headingley, Mark Butcher making it four Surrey players in the side and Ashley Giles having come up through the county’s youth network too.

Late on day one, all their efforts seemed to be in vain as South Africa cruised along at 290-1 and they were scarcely in panic mode at the end of play, reached at 362-4, Herschelle Gibbs having utterly dominated in his 183. But prompted by skipper Michael Vaughan, the home attack kept plugging away, despite Gary Kirsten’s 90, to wrap up the innings for a still formidable 484.

That score was put into perspective by England’s reply, Marcus Trescothick playing with massive assurance as he made a career-best 219. Vaughan (23) and Butcher (32) departed to leave England 78-2, allowing Thorpe to take centre stage again. He had missed the previous winter’s tour to Australia and only recovered his place for this final Test through an injury to Nasser Hussain.

He was quickly at his punchy best, the pair unbeaten overnight and taking their vintage partnership to 268 in front of another capacity crowd on the third day before Thorpe was bowled by Jacques Kallis for 124. Stewart was greeted by a standing ovation and guard of honour from his opponents, making a cameo 38, but when Trescothick finally departed for 219, at 489, England were only just in profit. At 502-9 their chances had drifted further but Andrew Flintoff unleashed a savage assault on the tiring bowlers, smashing 12 fours and four sixes in his 95, and Steve Harmison (6no) staunchly supporting at the other end in a ninth wicket stand of 99 which allowed Vaughan to declare at 604-9.

Now South Africa were under major pressure, Jimmy Anderson having Gibbs (9) caught behind and Bicknell trapping Smith – who had been immovable at the start of the series but now looked vulnerable to the swinging ball – leg before for 19. The Surrey stalwart enjoyed a vintage moment later, Jacques Rudolph (8) conned into believing a delivery would pass by harmlessly but curling back in to castle him. It was 185-6 overnight and England took less than an hour on the final day to polish off the rest, despite Shaun Pollock fighting hard for 43, Bicknell finishing with 4-84 in what would be his final Test and Harmison’s 4-33 underlining his potential.

England were left needing just 110 and Trescothick once again reigned supreme, finishing 69no to bring up a victory which even the most optimistic of supporters could not have imagined.


South Africa have been back three times since 2003, the first coming five years later in the first game of Kevin Pietersen’s spell as captain, when his century led England to victory by six wickets. Fortunes were reversed decisively in 2012, in the first match of the series, Hashim Amla stroking an unbeaten 311 out of 637-2dec to sculpt a win for his side by an innings and 12 runs.

It could not have been set up better for their last visit to the ground, in 2017, when the teams arrived poised at 1-1 for The Oval’s 100th Test.

Joe Root’s first summer as England captain was just about to get a lot better, his decision to bat first backed up by predecessor Alastair Cook making 88 and Ben Stokes cracking 112 out of 353 all out. Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada both took three wickets.

After a 340-run shellacking at Trent Bridge, England’s selectors had introduced three debutants and one of them – Toby Roland-Jones – instantly became a hero. The Middlesex seamer carved his way through the top-order in claiming 5-57 which, supported by Jimmy Anderson’s 3-25, polished off the tourists for 175.

Contributions from Keaton Jennings (48), Tom Westley (59), Root (50) and Jonny Bairstow (63) ensured England did not waste the advantage by reaching 313-8dec, leaving South Africa to make an unlikely 492.

Dean Elgar was already a familiar figure at The Oval and set about saving his side. But he gained little support until joined by Temba Bavuma (36) at 52-4, Stokes having struck twice in as many balls, the pair adding 108. Roland-Jones returned to trap Bavuma leg-before, trapping Vernon Philander with the next delivery but also missed out on a hat-trick.

The drama was still to come, though. Elgar had fought his way to 136 in more than five hours but his gutsy innings finally ended when he edged Moeen Ali to Stokes at slip. Rabada did likewise to his first ball, the last of Moeen’s 16th over, Keshav Maharaj playing out a maiden from Stokes to leave Morkel facing the off-spinner.

Hit on the shin as he pushed half-forward, Morkel faced a massive appeal which was turned down by umpire Joel Wilson but the inevitable review was taken and when the decision came, a huge roar greeted Moeen’s feat – the first Test hat-trick at The Oval – and with it England’s win by 239 runs.

Who will be the hero this time?

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