Neil Harvey, who holds the best Test average for matches in South Africa, says Australia’s dashing batsmen should enjoy the spicy pitches on tour.
If Australia’s Test batsmen want advice on how best to master treacherous pitch conditions in South Africa, they would do well to have Neil Harvey on speed dial this month.
Harvey, arguably Australia’s greatest batsman since Don Bradman, was effervescent in the field and uninhibited with the bat – alongside Keith Miller a pioneer in pleasing crowds long before Kerry Packer’s coloured-clothes revolution.
Harvey made Test runs around the world with remarkable ease from 1948 until 1963, earning countless accolades since, the latest a bronze statue outside the MCG.
In a 79-Test career, it was in South Africa where he shone brightest as a 21-year-old on his second tour with the national side.
After mustering 34 in the opening Test of the 1949-50 series, Harvey peeled off a century in each of the four Tests that followed.
Including tour games, he hit an astonishing eight centuries during the trip.
Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Gary Kirsten have all made more runs in South Africa, but no player has yet bettered Harvey’s Test average of 71.90 in the country.
“I don’t know. I was only a young guy when I made all those runs over there,” Harvey says of his feats.
“I was having a good run then and we had a pretty good side. That was the season after the Invincibles tour of England so, apart from Bradman who had gone, the majority of guys were there.
“When you’re in form, you’re in form.”
In the context of current Australian concerns about the state of the pitch in Centurion, which was hammered with rain last week, it’s worth recalling Harvey’s match-winning 151 not out in the second innings at Durban.
“We got a couple of crookies over there in 49/50 when the wickets were uncovered,” Harvey explains.
“We got a real bad one in Durban. Durban’s climate is very similar to Brisbane and you get these heavy thunderstorms. We got caught on a sticky wicket.”
Australia were skittled for 75 but the hosts opted against enforcing the follow on.
Momentum swung Australia’s way and a free-wheeling Harvey helped them chase down a target of 336.
It’s exactly the sort of approach Darren Lehmann wants his side to take on spicy decks, saying: “Get them (runs) before they get you.”
Harvey agrees Lehmann’s ploy is the right one in the Republic.
“If you’re a stroke player, you’ll do well,” Harvey said, adding that his main advice to the country’s batsmen is to focus on technique and be willing to play off the back foot.