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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Alan Melville is born - South Africa's forgotten batting genius

Arundel, Sussex
©Cricket World / John Mallett
 
Melville scored centuries in both the innings at Trent Bridge,Nottingham against England
©Cricket World / John Mallett
 

May 19, 1910 - Alan Melville, who played for South Africa between 1938 and 1949, holds a unique record - he scored four Test centuries in consecutive innings over eight years. 

 

Melville was one of the most complete batsmen that South Africa have ever produced. He drove with panache, cut with nonchalance and his hooking was of the highest order.

 

One of his most cherished knocks came in 1933 while batting for Sussex against West Indies. When Melville, the Sussex captain, came out to bat at one drop after Ted Bowley had been hit, Herman Griffith and Manny Martindale had the hangover from the bodyline series and unleashed a barrage of short balls on Melville, aiming at his body.

 

Standing at 6 feet two with a frail physique, Melville did not mind the short pitched bowling at all. He hooked without fail and dispatched almost everything that came his way to the boundary.

 

Years later when he was asked whether he had to ever duck into a short ball, the batsman smiled and answered in the negative. "I think either I hit them or they hit me," was his response.

 

Ever since his school days, Melville made a great impact on anyone that saw him in action. He scored an impressive 123 while also taking up 5 for 71 with his handy leg spin in a match representing Natal against Transvaal.

 

An offer was made by the South African selectors for a national spot but Melville's father decided it best to postpone it as the young man made his way to the Oxford university.

 

He began playing for the university from the summer of 1930 and scored a fluent 78 in his first match against Kent. In the next game against Yorkshire, Melville notched up his first century, which saw him don the Sussex kit.

 

In 1935, Melville returned to his native country and led Transvaal to Currie Cup victory in the next season. A couple of years later, when England visited South Africa, Melville not only made his Test debut but was also appointed the captain.

 

After a couple of forgettable matches, Melville promoted himself to the top of the order and scored a breezy 67. It was in the Timeless Test that he struck 78 as an opener while scoring his first Test century in the second innings, batting at number 6.

 

An injury, followed by the Second World War meant that Melville did not turn up for South Africa for the following eight years. When he did return as the captain of the touring South African team, he scored centuries in both the innings at Nottingham against England and backed it up with another century at Lord's, becoming the first batsman to score four consecutive centuries against England in Tests.

 

An unbeaten 104 followed and despite South Africa failing to win even a single match in the five-match Test series, Melville rendered himself immortal in cricket history as he scored his fourth consecutive Test century, albeit over a period of eight years.

 

His career tapered off and the batsman called it a day in early 1949. However, his Test numbers still read spectacular for the period in which he played. From 11 Test matches, Melville scored 894 runs at an average of 52.58, including 4 centuries and 3 half-centuries. He never bowled in Tests but had been a handy option in First-Class cricket, picking up 139 wickets at just under 30.

 

After his playing days, Melville also served as the selector of the South African cricket team for quite a long time. He passed away at the age of 72 in 1983.

 

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