DateLine: 20th July 2011
One of South Africa’s greatest wicketkeepers, John Henry Bickford Waite died in Johannesburg on June 22, 2011 at the age of 81.
He was the first South African to reach the milestone of 50 Test matches and although being tall for a wicketkeeper, he kept immaculately throughout his lengthy career to South Africa's fast and spin bowlers, especially South Africa's match-winner, off-spinner Hugh Tayfield, off whom he effected many stumpings. He was also a dependable, graceful batsman, opening the batting in the early part of his Test career which extended from 1951 to 1965.
He scored four centuries during his Test career, one against England at Old Trafford in 1955, two against Australia in 1957/58 and one against New Zealand in 1961/62.
A student at Rhodes University, Waite sprang to immediate prominence on the occasion of his first-class debut against George Mann's MCC touring team in 1948/49, scoring 80 in an Eastern Province innings of 397, but MCC, with centuries to Charles Palmer, Denis Compton and Jack Crapp, had the better of a drawn game. His promise was evident and he represented a South Africa XI against Lindsay Hassett's touring Australian team the following season when he scored 11 and 23.
Against Griqualand West in his fourth match, he stroked his way to 108, his maiden first-class century and in his next match his good form continued with scores of 84 and 125 not out against Border.
During the Currie Cup season 1950/51 he scored 219 against Griqualand West in Kimberley, totalling 578 runs (at 82,57) during the season. He appeared in the final tour trial for the 1951 tour of England but the South African selectors in their wisdom made it a 12-a-side game (non-first-class), with Transvaal's Russell Endean his opposite number. Western Province allrounder Clive van Ryneveld's efforts of 15 wickets for 209 (9-135 and 6-74) got him into the touring team but not in the first-class records. Waite and Endean were selected, with the younger Waite as second string 'keeper, but his excellent batting and keeping on the tour made him the first choice for the Test team.
On his Test debut at Trent Bridge, a match won by South Africa, Waite stroked his way to an elegant 76, adding 82 with Dudley Nourse (208) for the third wicket in just on three hours but he was dismissed run out when he slipped and was unable to regain his crease in time.
On the last day spinners Athol Rowan and Norman Mann wrapped up the England innings for 114, giving the tourists victory by 71 runs, their first win in a Test in England since 1935. Waite was unfit for the fifth Test at The Oval and Endean took over. He reached his thousand runs on the tour (33.70) with centuries against Essex, Lancashire and Combined Services. When scoring his century against Lancashire, he and his cousin, Eric Rowan protested against the slow-clapping of the Lancashire crowd by sitting on the pitch. On returning to the pavilion Rowan got into a fracas with a spectator and as a result never represented South Africa again after the tour.
Both Waite and Endean toured Australia and New Zealand in 1952/53 with Endean being the understudy. Waite struggled at times against the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, but his 64 in the fifth Test at Melbourne when Lindwall and Miller were both unavailable, helped South Africa materially in their first innings after Australia had scored 520 on their first innings. But South Africa fought back, scoring 435 and 297-4 to win by six wickets and share the series 2-2.
In 1953/54 Waite set up a new world record of 23 Test wickets in a series against New Zealand, but broke that record in 1961/62 with 26 victims against the same team, a record he holds with Mark Boucher.
After a steady 1954/55 season he toured England again in 1955, with Chris Duckworth as his deputy, and the same combination toured in 1960, his third tour of England.
In the third Test Waite scored 113 at Old Trafford in the third Test and with McGlew and Paul Winslow also scoring centuries, South Africa ran out winners with about three minutes left on the clock, with Waite scoring the winning runs. He was a great player of spin bowling and his 60 in the second innings on a turning Oval wicket (out of 151) with Jim Laker and Tony Lock was considered as one of the best innings against the Surrey Twins.
In 1956/57 he played in all five Tests against England, but he only scored 169 runs in the series and 16 dismissals. But the following year he was in fine form with both gloves and bat against Ian Craig's Australians, scoring two hundreds and finishing top of the averages with 362 runs (40.22) and 14 dismissals.
In 1959/60 he was among the top batsmen with 575 runs (63.88) and was an automatic choice for the 1960 tour of England when he scored 267 runs (38.14) in the five Tests in a disappointing series lost 3-0 and highlighted by the calling of Geoff Griffin for throwing. At the end of the tour Waite wrote a book entitled "Perchance to Bowl" which had the theme of throwing. He was positive that the calling of Griffin led to the non-selection of some Australian chuckers in England the next year.
He scored his fourth and last Test century against John Reid's 1961/62 New Zealand touring team, and then toured Australia and New Zealand in 1963/64 with a young Denis Lindsay as his understudy. In the third Test against New Zealand at Auckland which was expected to be Waite's swansong in Tests, he played as a batsman only with Lindsay 'keeping.
Lindsay was selected for the first three Tests of the England series of 1964/65 with little success and Waite made a comeback to Test match play in the fourth and fifth Tests, his last two, as South Africa tried desperately to force a win after England has won the first Test and held onto their lead to take the rather dour series 1-0.
Waite played one more Currie Cup season in 1965/66, finishing his career very quietly. During his Test career he scored 2 405 runs with a highest score of 134, with four centuries and 16 50s, and his run total by a wicketkeeper and total of 141 dismissals (124 catches, 17 stumpings) in Tests was the South African record for many decades.
Waite was a cricket administrator for Gauteng Cricket for many years and was an honorary life vice-president of the Gauteng Board. - Peter Mart
(Article: Copyright © 2011 Peter Martin)