October 22, 2001

Memories at the end of the Rainbow

The Indian team was the first to tour South Africa for a full-fledged series in 1991-92 after the Proteas came back into international cricket

The Indian team was the first to tour South Africa for a full-fledged series in 1991-92 after the Proteas came back into international cricket. This was after the South Africans came to India for a three match one-day series immediately on their return to the fold. During the preparatory camp at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai, all of us were curious to find out as much as possible about South Africa. I had some idea about the country, having played alongside a few South Africans in the English league. But none of us had any clue about the cricketing conditions in South Africa.


There were many parties during our first visit to South Africa and, at times, we felt it too taxing. Ali Bacher, the suave and persuasive man that he is, ensured that we not only had a lot of social outings but also the responsibility of kindling interest in cricket among the underprivileged.
The first tour was dubbed the "Friendship tour," and the South Africans tried in vain to match the reception they had earlier received in Kolkata when we landed at the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. Ali Bacher, the key figure in the UCBSA, was there to receive us, and it would be a fair comment if I described him as an extremely dynamic man. We stayed in the lovely Sandton Sun, which is where almost all the teams stay in Jo'burg.

As we had a fairly lengthy stay there, we were granted an audience with Nelson Mandela. We had, of course, heard of Mandela, but to meet him, in the flesh, was a great honour. After being in solitary confinement for almost three decades, he showed extraordinary spirit, which probably can't be matched even by the entire South African team out on the field. He is a very cheerful man with a ramrod posture, which belies his age and the tough times he has been through in his life.

There were many parties during our first visit to South Africa and, at times, we felt it too taxing. Ali Bacher, the suave and persuasive man that he is, ensured that we not only had a lot of social outings but also the responsibility of kindling interest in cricket among the underprivileged. We were taken to Soweto, which houses the under-privileged; let me assure you, they were the children of lesser God.

Bacher wanted to kindle and nudge those poverty-ridden youngsters in Soweto into sports to keep them from going astray. In actuality, he was doing a big favour for the politicians, who were struggling to keep the country on an even keel.

We got into serious business after a couple of weeks, and, straight away, we were given an indication of what to expect by Brett Schulz in a side game at Centurion Park. The tour of 1991-92 was an achievement in the sense that we managed to come back unscathed. It was a very poor tour as far as the one-dayers were concerned. We toured South Africa again in 1996-97 but didn't acquit ourselves too well, even though it has to said that whatever chances we had of winning at the Wanderers were squashed by the groundsmen, who seemed shy of working hard.

As one who had toured the country earlier. I could make out a huge difference as far as the economy was concerned. There were a lot of burglaries; the number of people struggling for food had increased; people had started resorting to uninhibited violent crimes as a result of lack of jobs and opportunities.

As a country though, South Africa is simply fantastic. The people are knowledgeable about cricket and are friendly enough. At the same time, they are fiercely proud.

Rugby is a special game for the South Africans and they play it very hard. We had the opportunity to meet some rugby stars at the Waterfront in Cape Town, and their knowledge about the game was remarkable. Despite some locals failing to realize the progressive times they are in, South Africa is still a delightful place to visit.