The long summer dream
John Bishop rounds up a long, eventful season in South Africa
The long summer dream might have ended with a rude awakening in Barbados, but the 1991-92 season will be remembered as one of the most dramatic and exciting in South African cricket history.
Enthusiasm for the game touched fresh heights in South Africa as supporters, for the first time, could plop themselves down in front of the television set and follow their players' (unpredictable) progress in genuine international competition on the cricket fields of the world. (Television was introduced to South Africa during the years of isolation.)
No-one was more closely involved in an emotional, controversial and fluctuating summer than the much-travelled Kepler Wessels, who thought his international career was over when he left Australia and returned to the country of his birth five years ago.
His fortunes, internationally and domestically, as player and captain, see-sawed alarmingly during the 1991-92 season. The hectic action started in November with Clive Rice's public-relations visit to India -- Wessels's successes on the tour earned him the man-of-the-series award -- and ended six months later in frustration as the West Indians turned imminent defeat into a remarkable victory in one session on the final day of an historic Test, denying two excellent half-centuries by Wessels and Andrew Hudson's debut century, the first for South Africa.
In between, and amid the unprecedented furore over the axing of Clive Rice and Jimmy Cook, Wessels had become South Africa's new captain and had taken the squad to Australasia for the World Cup.
South Africa mixed a couple of purple patches with several black ones during the tournament but, generally, exceeded expectations in just failing to reach the final of the World Cup. It was the story of South Africa's international summer, one in which they briefly touched heights and revealed glimpses of talent yet never quite reached their ultimate objectives in their travels through India, Australia, New Zealand and Meyrick Pringle, the Test fast bowler from Western Province, topped the domestic averages with 31 wickets (13.58) finally in the Caribbean.
Back home, however, Wessels and Eastern Province did follow through to pick up most of the silverware, regaining the Castle Cup (formerly the Currie Cup) title and snatching a stunning victory in the Ben-son & Hedges Night Series final. And that was particularly satisfying for Wessels after the disasters of the previous summer, when EP failed to retain any of the three titles and there were constant reports of unhappiness in their dressing-room.
They went into the season without their Australian pace pair, John Maguire and Rod McCurdy, who had played pivotal roles in their 1989-90 clean sweep, while dissatisfied South African opener Mark Rushmere had to be persuaded to stay after being linked with a move to Western Province. But EP, after a slow start, found their winning ways again with Rushmere and the new-ball pairing of young paceman Rudi Bryson, considered unlucky to have missed selection for the World Cup, and West Indian Eldine Baptiste their most successful performers.
The Castle Cup, happily run on a league basis again, was stretched into a four-day competition to prepare South Africans for their return to Test cricket. Border, with Peter Kirsten their outstanding player -- he was sixth in the batting averages with 388 runs at 43.11 -- returned to this premier competition which had to be decided, unsatisfactorily, over one round because of the congested season.
Eastern Province won four of their six matches to end on 28 points, but were chased all the way by the young Orange Free State side, led for most of the summer by the 22-year-old Hansie Cronje. Rushmere topped the batting averages with 372 runs (62.00) in seven innings, while his World Cup team-mate Meyrick Pringle (WP) was the most successful bowler, picking up 31 wickets in the six matches at 13.58.
Franklyn Stephenson, the West Indian allrounder, made valuable contributions throughout the summer, finishing fourth in the batting averages (432 runs in nine innings at 48.00, with a century and three half-centuries) and sixth in the bowling (25 wickets at 19.52). South Africa's World Cup players were surprised he could not make the West Indian squad.
Another West Indian, Ezra Moseley, was second to Pringle in the bowling averages. He was leading wicket-taker with 35 in six outings at 17.37, and was followed by Tertius Bosch (23 wickets at 17.95) and Bryson (30 at 18.17). Baptiste was eighth with 26 wickets at 20.85 apiece. Free State gained some reward when they whipped EP in the final of the Nissan Shield one-day competition. EP were bundled out for 120 in 50 of their 55 overs, as Corrie van Zyl took 4 for 24, and Cronje's Free State raced to victory in 33 overs with six wickets in hand.
But the best was saved till last, when Western Province and Eastern Province produced an excellent Benson & Hedges day/night final at the packed Wanderers, just a couple of days after the South Africans had returned from the World Cup.
WP raced to a formidable 244 for 2 in 45 overs as Adrian Kuiper (107 not out) produced the innings South Africans had hoped to see in the World Cup. His team-mate Terence Lazard was not out with 108, and few gave EP much chance of matching a rate of 5.5 runs to the over. But Wessels, with 103 off 124 balls, and Rushmere (64) took them home by six wickets with five deliveries to spare, a fitting end to a summer which saw the domestic game overshadowed by international action on foreign fields.
This article was first published in the June 1992 issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly