By beating India 2-0 in a two-match rubber, South Africa ended India's sequence of 14 unbeaten home series since Pakistan won there in March 1987. Consequently, victory also gave them the distinction of becoming the only country in that 13-year period to win series in all three countries of the subcontinent. Sadly, South Africa's achievement would be first undermined by accusations of match-fixing against their captain, Hansie Cronje, and four team-mates, then overshadowed by Cronje's admission to the King Commission in June that he had accepted money from bookmakers since South Africa's tour of India in 1996. Cronje continued to deny all allegations of match-fixing, but the integrity of his captaincy, along with his team's record, had been seriously besmirched.
For India, the losses, coming on top of the 0-3 whitewash in Australia, extended their run of consecutive defeats to five. And as if their morale was not already low after the calamitous time in Australia, it suffered further when Sachin Tendulkar announced four days before the start of the Test series that he would relinquish the captaincy immediately it ended. The timing of his resignation roused speculation that it was linked to the reinstatement of Mohammad Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia - out of the side since Tendulkar's return as captain and the coinciding appointment of Kapil Dev as coach. In the unpleasant atmosphere that prevailed, India were vulnerable.
South Africa, despite the subsequent revelations by and about Cronje, nevertheless deserve credit for their triumph. They were given just one first-class match, of three days, to accustom themselves to India's slow, turning pitches. Moreover, Daryll Cullinan, their leading batsman, was injured during that match and could not play in the First Test. He just made the Second. Cronje's poor luck with the toss must also rank prominently among South Africa's handicaps, for both Test pitches were prepared to nullify South Africa's fast bowlers and give India's spinners an extra edge. For the Second Test, India included three front-line spinners, with Anil Kumble opening the bowling.
South Africa's superiority was testimony to thorough tactical planning, disciplined bowling on and around off stump, and batting that was resolute, if seldom spectacular. Outstanding fast bowlers prevail on all surfaces, and Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Nantie Hayward certainly left bold marks on the series. Cronje and Jacques Kallis took important wickets by dint of swing and, with a match haul of seven wickets at Bangalore in only his second Test, left-arm spinner Nicky Boje hoist India with their own petard. He also made 85 there as night-watchman.
Kallis, the Man of the Series, batted in subdued style but played crucial innings in both Tests. His temperament was undoubtedly the decisive factor in the low-scoring, closely fought First Test. South Africa had lost four middle-order wickets for 21 in the second innings, leaving them to get 35 more with four wickets in hand while Kumble and Murali Kartik were bowling venomously on a pitch that had become vicious. Kallis, who had made a tormented, undignified start, held his ground for three hours 11 minutes, if for only 36 not out. In the Second Test, he made 95 and his partnership of 164 with Lance Klusener virtually secured the series for South Africa.
It is ironic that an Indian, Azharuddin, made the only hundred in the Tests, for their batting was deplorably poor. Tendulkar may have been a reluctant captain, but as a batsman he was not wanting for courage and grit. He made 97 in his first innings of the series, but as India's fortunes declined he seemed hard put to sustain his concentration. India's bowling, apart from Kumble and Javagal Srinath, was pedestrian.
For the Pepsi Cup one-day tournament that followed, India's captaincy passed to Sourav Ganguly, who immediately led them to victory in the first two games and went on to win the series 3-2. But the sweet smell of success did not last long. Within three weeks, Delhi police investigations into match-fixing, following intercepted phone calls between Indian bookmakers and between Cronje and a bookmaker, cast doubt on the games at Kochi, Faridabad and Nagpur. And even without this breaking scandal, there were good reasons for not viewing the one-day series as a consolation prize. The dismay and disappointment occasioned by the succession of Test defeats put into perspective the decline of Indian cricket brought about by the cynical downgrading of their domestic competitions, and demanded that the issue be addressed.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Indian Board President's XI v South Africans at Mumbai (BS), Feb 19-21, 2000