September 24, 2001

A pathbreaking tour

India made her Test debut in 1932 and over the next sixty years played international matches against every Test playing nation except South Africa, for obvious reasons

India made her Test debut in 1932 and over the next sixty years played international matches against every Test playing nation except South Africa, for obvious reasons. South Africa had made her Test debut in 1889 but had played only against England, Australia and New Zealand. There was no way there could be contests between South Africa on one hand and West Indies, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka on the other following the country's apartheid policy. Through the sixties, public opinion hardened against South Africa and in March 1970, the country played what turned out to her last Test match for a long time. The scheduled tour to England that summer was cancelled as a result of anti-apartheid protests and the final nail was the cancellation, for much the same reason, of the scheduled tour of Australia in 1971-72.

South Africa's excommunication from international cricket lasted 20 years. By 1990, following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years, the situation had changed. The game's administrators in the country too worked tirelessly in the changing scenario and when the doors to international cricket opened for South Africa again in 1991, it seemed but fitting that the first tour in their new era was to India, "the land of Mahatma Gandhi," as Ali Bacher, the former South African captain and the then boss of South African cricket, quaintly put it. And when on landing in India, Bacher, who had been the architect of change in South African cricket said "this is a historic moment, the greatest day in my life," it was no hyperbole but an accurate summing up of the epochal event.

It was Jagmohan Dalmiya's suggestion that South Africa tour India just before the home side left for their trip to Australia. Naturally enough, the first encounter had to be at Calcutta and what better venue than the Eden Gardens to welcome the South Africans back into the international fold. The visitors were to play just three One-Day Internationals but as a path breaking tour, it had few parallels. Not unexpectedly, there was a sell out crowd at the 100,000 capacity stadium for the epoch making encounter.

For many reasons, it was a nervous South African side that played at the Eden Gardens. For one thing, they were coming back to international cricket after two decades. Secondly, there was no mistaking the fact that this was a special occasion. Third, the warmth of the Indian hospitality and the spontaneous reception given to the visitors must have made them nervous. They were then restricted to 177 for eight in 47 overs. Only Kepler Wessels (50) and Adrien Kuiper (43) who added 60 runs for the fourth wicket provided some substance to the innings. But the Indians were hard pressed even when challenged by this modest total and the man responsible was Allan Donald. Then 25, the fiery speedster took little time to show that he was an uncommonly gifted bowler and had the Indians gasping for breath at 20 for three. It took Sachin Tendulkar's genius to swing the match around. He scored 62, added 56 runs for the fifth wicket with Pravin Amre (55) and by the time Donald came back to dismiss both of them, India had almost reached their target, which they finally overhauled for the loss of seven wickets in 40.4 overs. But the chief honours were clearly with Donald who finished with five for 29 off 8.4 overs.

The second ODI was played at Gwalior, the home town of the then BCCI president Madhavrao Scindia, and India again emerged victorious by 38 runs. Batting first, India scored 223 for six in 45 overs. They were given a fine start with openers Navjot Sidhu (61) and Krish Srikkanth (68) putting on 130 runs. Sanjay Manjrekar then guided the middle innings with an anchoring knock of 52 not out. The Indians were in a position to post a bigger total but that man Donald again wrecked their plans. With a late burst that brought him the wickets of Azharuddin, Kapil Dev and Amre, he again finished as the most successful bowler with three for 36. The South African reply, except for a second wicket partnership of 94 runs between opener Mandy Yachad (31) and Wessels (71) was largely undistinguished and with Venkatpathy Raju (3 for 43) putting a spanner in the works in the middle order, they were restricted to 185 for eight in 45 overs.

Even though they had lost both the matches, it was obvious that the South Africans were slowly finding their bearings and clear proof of this was seen in the final ODI at New Delhi. The Indians led off with an imposing total of 287 for four in 50 overs, thanks to centuries by Ravi Shastri (109) and Manjrekar (105) and a belligerent 53 by Srikkanth. Shastri and Srikkanth put on 86 runs for the first wicket and then Shastri and Manjrekar added 175 runs for the second wicket. Given what had happened on the tour so far, it was taken for granted that a target of 288 would be beyond South Africa. On the contrary, they made light of it. Openers Jimmy Cook (35) and Wessels (90) put on 72 runs and then Wessels and Peter Kirsten (86 not out) put South Africa firmly on the road to victory with a second wicket stand of 111 runs. Kirsten and Kuiper (63 not out) then applied the finishing touches with an unbroken third wicket partnership of 105 runs and South Africa were home by eight wickets with 3.2 overs to spare. It was an astonishing turnaround. The spirit of solidarity, which was the essential reason behind the contests, was exemplified by Manjrekar and Wessels sharing the man of the series award.