Located on the east coast of South Africa, Durban has played host to some of the most memorable cricket matches in its rich history. Remember India’s Yuvraj Singh smashing six sixes in an over against England’s Stuart Broad? Yes, that happened at Durban’s Kingmead Stadium - the homeground for Durban’s Super Giants in the inaugural SA20 League. The India vs Kenya semi-final in the 2003 ODI World Cup was also played at the same venue.
Shorter formats aside, the Kingsmead Stadium also has a rich history of hosting Test cricket. It hosted its first such match just less than a century ago between England and South Africa in January 1923. South Africa's innings and 129-run demolition of Australia, in February 1970, also happened in Durban.
One of the biggest highlights of the Kingsmead Stadium, however, is that it has its name in the record books for having hosted the longest match in the history of the game in March 1939 between South Africa and England.
Not surprisingly, it also happened to be the last Test ever to be played without timebounds as for all the time it took, it still could not produce a winner.
South Africa and England had an agreement before the series that the final match would be a timeless one if the series was level or if either team was leading 1-0. Having won the third Test of the series, England went into the final Test 1-0 up only to realise that the idea may not have been the best one.
The timeless Test started on Friday, March 3 and ended on March 14. Cricket was played on nine days out of the 12 days which had two rest days on March 5 and March 12 and no play possible on March 11 due to rain. The match could have gone on but was abruptly ended because the ship taking the England team home was due to leave.
A record 5,400+ deliveries were bowled in the match that saw as many as 16 half centuries by both teams. A record 1,981 runs were scored in the match, which was played for over 43 hours.
South Africa set a target of 696 for England to chase. Having reached 654/5 on the final day, England had a good chance of chasing down the total. The tourists however, were forced to abandon the game in between, in order to catch their train back to Cape Town to play Western Province, before boarding a ship home. Therefore, ending the match in a draw.
The England captain Wally Hammond expressed unhappiness about timeless Tests during his farewell speech and stated that the format wasn’t doing the game any favours. Interestingly, Hammond got his wish and it was the last timeless Test ever played.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) was contemplating reintroduction of timeless matches as part of the World Test Championship. The idea was later dropped due to the cramped cricket calendar and the COVID-19 pandemic.