Tribute to Peter van der Merwe
by Peter Martin

Player:PL van der Merwe

DateLine: 26th March 2013


Former South African cricket captain Peter Laurence van der Merwe, who died in Port Elizabeth on January 23, 2013 aged 75, made history when he became the first South African captain to beat England in an away series, followed by a home series win against Australia.


In 1965 he led a team of young and talented players including Eddie Barlow, Denis Lindsay, Colin Bland and the Pollock brothers, Peter and Graeme, that beat England 1-0 and in 1966/67, he was at the helm when South Africa defeated Australia. The margin was 3-1, and it could easily have been 4-1 with the tourists hanging on grimly for a draw in a rain-ruined fourth Test at the Wanderers.


A studious, bespectacled player, Van der Merwe was not a fluent or attacking batsman but had an excellent defence and never gave his wicket away. In two instances, his batting, in partnership with other stroke-makers, enabled South Africa to come out victorious.


In 1965 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, South Africa were in deep trouble on the opening morning at 80 for five wickets with seamer Tom Cartwright making the ball 'talk'. At one end Graeme Pollock was batting majestically and Van der Merwe, keeping his end up, scored 38 in a valuable sixth-wicket partnership of 98. Pollock went on to make 125, an innings described as brilliant by most critics and one of the best ever seen in England and South Africa won by 94 runs after Peter Pollock captured 10 wickets in the match.


At the Wanderers in the opening Test of the 1966/67 series, Van der Merwe with 76, his highest Test score, partnered big-hitting Lindsay, 182, in a 221-run stand for the eighth wicket a record which still stands to this day. South Africa scored 620 in their second innings - their record highest total at the time - after a first innings deficit of 126, eventually winning by 233 runs in an exciting match.


He represented Western Province and Eastern Province, captaining both.


He started his career as a left-arm spinner who could bat a bit but later his batting improved and he was selected as vice-captain of the South African team that toured Australia and New Zealand in 1963/64 as deputy to Trevor Goddard. He played three Tests against Australia and two against New Zealand on the tour with little success.


In 1964/65 when England toured he was not selected for the first three Tests, Derek Varnals of Natal being preferred.


But his fine 121 for Western Province just before the first Test must have reminded the selectors of his capabilities and he and his brother-in-law, John Waite, were recalled for the fourth Test at the Wanderers in place of Varnals and Lindsay.


Just before the fifth and final Test in Port Elizabeth, he captained a powerful SA Invitation XI at Newlands against the tourists. The team included seven players who had or would play for South Africa in Test matches, and the high-scoring game was drawn. Van der Merwe scored 50 in the Invitation team's first innings and retained his place for the Test match, scoring 66 in SA's fist innings of 502. Waite played his 50th Test, the first South African to that milestone.


England were set 246 to win at just over a run a minute but rain delayed matters for three hours and the match was drawn, with England winning the series 1-0 after their victory in the first Test in Durban.


Goddard was unavailable to skipper SA on the short three-Test series in England and Van der Merwe took over. South Africa's 1-0 victory on the tour was their first series win in England since 1935 when Herby Wade led SA to a 1-0 win in a five-Test series, the win coming at Lord's.


After the 1966/67 tour, Van der Merwe retired from Test cricket.


He was the convenor of the national selectors when South Africa returned to international cricket after 21 years of isolation, selecting the team that went to India for a series of limited-overs internationals in late 1991. He also acted as an ICC referee in Test matches overseas.


In 15 Tests, of which he captained eight, Van der Merwe scored 533 runs (average 26.38) with three half-centuries, and captured one wicket for 22 runs. He scored 4086 runs (ave 29.18) in 94 first-class matches with four centuries and took 82 wickets (25.70) with a best of 6/40.


He is survived by his second wife, Rhoda, and his three sons from his first marriage to Margaret who died in 2002.

(Article: Copyright © 2013 Peter Martin)


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