First Test Match

India v South Africa 1996-97

At Ahmedabad, November 20, 21, 22, 23. India won by 64 runs. Toss: India. Test debut: V. V. S. Laxman. Devastating pace bowling by Srinath gave India victory on a poor pitch. Though it seemed best suited to the spinners, Srinath's fast, accurate in-swingers and off-cutters brought him career-best figures of six for 21. South Africa crashed for 105 after being set a modest 170 to win.

It was obvious that batting would not be easy on a brown, dusty pitch, and by winning the toss Tendulkar gave India a substantial advantage. But there were frequent changes of fortune and several questionable umpiring decisions. Although Mongia fell early to de Villiers, in the first of umpire Bansal's controversial lbw verdicts, India negotiated the first morning safely enough until Manjrekar misread a top-spinner from the unorthodox Adams. Thereafter, they struggled against accurate bowling and sharp fielding. Donald was superb, but the two most critical blows were struck by Rhodes. He held a dazzling diving catch at mid-wicket to dismiss Tendulkar and then ran out Azharuddin with a direct hit from cover.

Having restricted India to 223, South Africa needed to bat sensibly. Instead, they slumped to 119 for seven. Bansal gave Cronje out to a ball which pitched well outside leg stump and Cullinan when he was struck on the half-volley at full strength, but the South Africans were always struggling against the spinners. De Villiers showed the application needed over three hours: with first Symcox, then Donald, he established a 21-run lead.

Donald struck twice before India erased the modest deficit, and they were 38 for three when Tendulkar sliced a slower delivery form McMillan to Rhodes - again - at backward point. It was to be Rhodes' last significant contribution: later he strained his hamstring badly. Donald had Azharuddin brilliantly caught at second slip by McMillan, and, when Dravid was trapped by Symcox, India were just 70 ahead with five down. The 22-year-old debutant Laxman showed a cool head during a 56-run partnership with Kumble.

Needing 170, with nearly two days to get them, South Africa looked to their openers for a solid start before the spinners came on. Instead, Srinath took centre stage. His fifth delivery swung in to Hudson and Bansal's fateful finger rose again (replays suggested it would have missed leg stump). Cullinan edged the next, and South Africa were two down without a run on the board. With Cronje the only batsman to last long, his team seldom looked like reaching the target. Srinath's pace and swing combined perfectly with Kumble's customary accuracy on a crumbling pitch which made driving through the line virtually impossible. From 96 for four, South Africa lost their last six for nine runs. Tendulkar said he could not recall a Tst with so many twists and turns.

The match was stopped for ten minutes on the third afternoon when Adams was struck by golf-ball-sized pieces of concrete thrown from the crowd. Azharuddin became the first cricketer to play against all eight other countries, both home and away.

© John Wisden & Co