South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 4th day December 30, 2010

India exorcise demons of 1996

Fourteen years ago, in Durban, India suffered one of their worst defeats in Tests. What has changed since then? We spoke to three players who featured in that Test
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The year 1996 was a completely different world. It was a time when grass courts were fast, photographers shot on reel, computers were yet to beat chess grandmasters, a time when the Indian cricket team developed cold feet the moment they left the subcontinent. Fourteen years and a day before one of their most special wins away from home, at the same venue, in similar conditions, India put in perhaps their worst performance with the bat: bowled out for 100 and 66, lasting 73.2 overs in two innings put. Durban 1996 to Durban 2010 shows how far this team has come.

Allan Donald, who took nine wickets in that match and left India rattled, says the single biggest difference he sees in the team is the mental strength. And Donald could spot a weak opponent from a mile. "One thing that stands out for me vis-à-vis that team is that they haven't taken a backward step," he says. "They have shown a lot more character than they ever have away from home. I always looked forward to playing India away from home because I just didn't think they had enough fight, but they have shown it here. Character, mental toughness."

Talking to some of the Indian players from that team shows how unimaginably different things were back then. WV Raman, who just about managed to avoid a pair against Donald and Shaun Pollock in 1996, played in a world when the meek were supposed to inherit the earth. "Going into the series the batsmen were told to leave as much as possible outside the off stump," Raman remembers. "The team management had strictly told us not to hook or pull. I don't see how you can avoid that against the short-pitched bowling. That probably was one reason we fared badly. Now, that is not the case. Players are free to play their natural game.

"Take this second Test, when South Africa were 62 for no loss in no time chasing the target, our bowlers were relentless. Sreesanth went after Graeme Smith, and Smith fell for the bait and was egotistic enough to be influenced. Back in 1996, [Javagal] Srinath never exchanged any words. [Venkatesh] Prasad, you can forget it. That is the change in attitude and approach of the players then and now. That sums up the difference between the teams."

It is not as if sledging or hooking has won India away Tests, but it shows they have the confidence to stand up to aggressive teams. Donald has seen earlier Indian teams taking backward steps. On the 1992 tour, in the Port Elizabeth Test, "you could see that they just didn't fancy it. We had [Brett] Schultz and me bowling on a wicket that was nice and bouncy, and it seemed like they didn't like it at all. They capitulated in the second innings [except for Kapil Dev]. Not here. In the years gone by, green wicket, put into bat, it would have been a totally different story. Here they kept fighting, kept hanging in there. And then they bowled like champions."

Back in 1996, the bowlers started off well, bowling the hosts out for 235, but that wasn't a result of any plan. "I had no planning as a bowler in 1996," Prasad, who took a 10-for in Durban 1996, says. "We didn't have any videos, so whatever we watched of the opponents playing, we absorbed that. I would always, whichever game it was, sit in my room, draw an image of the field in my notebook and set down the field placements according to my strengths. So I was on my own. I would not like to blame the coaches then because even they were not exposed to these new innovations."

Nowadays our top six have a phenomenal experience, and they have been together as a unit for a long time. So there is somebody to stand up if everybody else fails. Back in 1996 the dressing room was not such a positive place
WV Raman on the change

Nor did the likes of Prasad or Srinath have any support on or off the field. "The opposition were trained to perform their role to the best of their ability and they had physical trainers," Prasad says. "We didn't have one. Normally, what we used to do was run a lap, and stretch. We didn't have the professional physio that the other teams had. Our support staff was not well equipped and all that mattered. There's always going to be some niggle or the other and you cannot give your 100%. It's because that niggle tends to develop even into an injury sometimes, and therefore you were always hesitant to give your 100%. It affects your mindset. And add to that the backing from the board in terms of contracts, all that also mattered."

On the field they lacked the third bowler. "Back then, Srinath and I missed the support bowler," Prasad says. "Anil [Kumble] only later got the knack, but in 1996 he was playing more of a supporting role to create pressure. It was Srinath and I who used to get the wickets. I had got a lot of wickets because Srinath used to make things difficult for the batsmen. In this team, everyone is capable of getting wickets, capable of changing the course of the match."

To Donald, Zaheer Khan is the big difference in the bowling line-up. "Having this guy lifts everybody else. He brings another dimension to the attack. He is skilful, and every one bowls around him."

Another important point Donald makes is the catching. "They have caught well, fantastically well," he says. "The catching just stood out. Those three magnificent catches in the first innings swung the game."

Raman talks of the batting line-up. "I still remember the delivery that Allan Donald bowled Sachin Tendulkar with in the first Innings," Raman says. "Tendulkar was not offering any shot, covering his off stump but the ball came back a long way and clipped the off bail. Of course, the batsmen were still working out the lengths, which were so different to back home. Nowadays our top six have a phenomenal experience, and they have been together as a unit for a long time. So there is somebody to stand up if everybody else fails. Back in 1996 the dressing room was not such a positive place."

It was the batting that convinced Donald that India wouldn't roll over and die this time around. "The response in Centurion in the second innings, following on, scoring 450-plus, just showed to me that India were not going to take a backward step. They were going to keep fighting."

Raman added: "The other paradigm shift is that they only look at the positive aspects of the day's game. Back then they would sit and brood about why something went wrong. They did not work on what better could be done tomorrow, which probably needed more attention."

It has taken them 14 years to erase the horrible memory, but when India come to Durban for another Boxing Day Test, people will have something else to talk about. About a team that was going to keep fighting.

Sidharth Monga and Nagraj Gollapudi are assistant editors at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on January 1, 2011, 18:18 GMT

    The difference between the 1990s team & the 2000s team? The COACHES we have had. The coaches are the ones that have made the biggest difference to the Indian team performance. The Ganguly era rose to its peak with John Wright, & now Gary Kirsten is continuing the work. These are no-nonsense guys who are doing a professional job. The players know that they need to perform consistently to keep their place in the team. Guys like Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dravid have found themselves dropped from the team for lack of performance. Raina too is out of the team now after just a few bad performance. How often did this happen in the past? Perform or perish... there's no 'coach favorite player' anymore. And players need to be physically fit too.

  • dummy4fb on January 1, 2011, 2:39 GMT

    If you look at the revival and progresss of Indian cricket two names stand out. Kapil Dev and Saurav Ganguly. The former brought a rare combination of skill and joyous abandon to Indian cricket. India started winning under him. Ganguly brougth an "in your face" attitude to all foreign teams, instead of meek respect. He had real pride in being Indian and would give as good as he got, witness his removing and waving his shirt after the ODI win in England. His greatest gift was his ability to unearth talent, irrespective of which part of India he came from Sehwag, Harbhajan, Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh. He rose above regional biases and was a true leader. More than the runs he scored or the matches he won, he was the first captain we had who truly believed that we are as good as any other cricketeering nation. Dhoni combines that confidence with a buddha like calm. He never gets flustered or goes overboard. He is a worthy successor to Gangul's mantle. Mohan Ram

  • cricbuff11 on December 31, 2010, 17:28 GMT

    I agree. We need not go over the top with just one win. Though it is definitely a better sign to win more consistently abroad, it would be very disappoiting to lose the third test after all the heard work.

    I think the Indian writers on cricinfo go over the top bcos they have grown with Indian teams getting humiliated abroad. That is understandable.

    But lets not get ahead of ourselves.

  • cricPassion2009 on December 31, 2010, 16:56 GMT

    WV Raman was an elegant player, but he says something strange. Why will any national coach say no hooking no pulling and even if they did why listen to them and perish ? Mohinder Amarnath used to pull and hook with panache. Kapil Dev. Shrikkanth. Players with natural abilities did play pace extremely well, hook or no hook.

  • venbas on December 31, 2010, 15:13 GMT

    Whatever be the result in the 3rd test, one thing is certain, this team will not give up without a fight and the article sums it up very well. I still remember watching the 1996 Durban test live when I was on a school vacation. The joy at bundling out SA in 230 odd runs and then then watching in shock as the Indian team capitulated for 100 in the first and even worser in the 2nd when I was hoping for some resistance atleast. That was the single most humiliating experience ever in my 30 years of cricket watching experience and this win erased the enduring image from that forgettable series. THANK YOU TEAM INDIA

  • BULTY on December 31, 2010, 11:32 GMT

    It was a fantastic win for the Indian team at Durban. Hats off to the Indian team players who achieved this win. Well, there could be comments, counter comments and analysis, counter analysis and so on by the experts and those played cricket for the respect teams before. But in my opinion, comparison is a waste of time. Things were different then & now. India has definitely moved on and rightfully occupies the summit in the form of cricket (Test matches) that matters most to all cricket players all over the world. One thing I just couldn't digest is why was there not even a mention of the mid field exchange between Smith & Sreesanth; where were the Umpires, the Match Referee, didn't they notice? Isn't this some sort of discrimination.

    Finally, the comment in the South African press Umpire Steve Davis was drunk is rubbish. It shows South Africa cannot take defeat in this fashion at home.

    Good luck to Team India for the decider to win that one too.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR TO TEAM INDIA.

  • dummy4fb on December 31, 2010, 8:50 GMT

    Happy to see Indian team winning but lets not go over board. The series is still well and truly alive and SA will come hard at us. I mean comeon, its their backyard. If India do win the 3rd test (a draw is unlikely), it would go a long long way in cementing our No 1 ranking.

  • Night-Watchman on December 31, 2010, 8:31 GMT

    The difference is not only in mental toughness, the difference is the collective experience and class of the players here. In 1996, India had an experienced Azharuddin, and newbies Ganguly and Dravid and an inexperienced captain Sachin. Other batsmen were all forgettables including WV Raman. The batting side was not good enough. Bowlers, on the other hand, produced a very good performance to keep South Africa to under 500 runs both innings put together, Prasad taking 10 wickets. You can argue that mental toughness comes with experience, however, in some Indian batting sides of the old, that could not be said. Mental toughness comes with a winning habit, recent wins in India an abroad have given this quality.

  • abhyudayj on December 31, 2010, 7:03 GMT

    India winning test matches overseas and now Indian should concrete winning the series overseas consistently. All the best

  • dummy4fb on December 31, 2010, 6:06 GMT

    i notice that my earlier comments on cricket were not published for reasons best known to you; it did not contain any offensive material; please let me know why. I had commented on Australia after their Ashes defeat and India after their win in Durban.

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