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A great deal of humdrum cricket failed to detract from the diplomatic and sporting history made when India embarked on a tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa late in 1992. Slow scoring and negative captaincy, coupled with moribund pitches, marred both Zimbabwe's inaugural Test and the first series staged in South Africa for 23 years. The continued failure of the Indians to do themselves justice away from home also militated against the representative games being worthy of these occasions. By the end of the tour India had gone 25 Test matches outside their own country without a win. In the wider context, though, this first tour to South Africa by a recognised non-white side was a success. The visit had the active support of rancour. More than £650,000 of the profits made by the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) went into their development programme for black cricketers. The Indians undertook a heavy schedule of duties off the field, in townships and elsewhere, and proved fine ambassadors.
The tour will be remembered for the introduction of ICC's scheme for independent umpires and even more for the South African board's experiment using television replays to settle difficult line decisions. It was a successful innovation, welcomed by most players and officials after some initial reservations. Hitherto, for as long as the game has been played, batsmen have received the benefit of an umpire's doubt. When officials on the field felt unable to decide, a third umpire in the pavilion watched video replays to rule on run-outs, stumpings, (and hit-wicket decisions, though none arose). A green light signalled that the batsman must go, and the red that he was not out. Invariably the crowd buzzed with excitement as they waited and at some grounds they were able to watch the big-screen replays at the same time. The only major dispute rose when the West Indian umpire Steve Bucknor declined to call for a replay.
The dreary routine that characterised the Tests was started on a lifeless pitch in Harare. Zimbabwe set their sights on avoiding defeat through dour batting and defensive bowling. As it happened, they were in the box seat for long periods, primarily due to dominant performances from David Houghton and John Traicos, arguably their only players of true Test class. Indian shortcomings - unreliable batting and ineffectual bowling - were already discernable. Perhaps Zimbabwe could be excused a little for their caution, in view of their limited playing resources. Whether they justify their Test status will depend on the success of their schemes to find cricketers among the previously untapped African population.
India's problems were underlined more harshly when they reached South Africa, where they were beaten 1-0 in the four-match Test series and trounced 5-2 in the day/night internationals. The chief discrepancy between the teams was the accurate and spirited South African quick bowling, backed by spectacular catching and fielding. The tactical influence of Mike Procter, the team manager, was obvious as the Indian stroke makers found their favourite shots restricted. South Africa's batting was less reliable, but that innate combativeness their sportsman have always possessed ensured that somebody played the innings required on the day. Often it was Kepler Wessels, whose experience proved vital, even if his captaincy was over-cautious. Hansie Cronje, Andrew Hudson, Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan and Daryll Cullinan all made telling contributions at different times.
McMillan, regularly, was a difficult man to dislodge. Also a consistently dangerous bowler and an outstanding second slip, he emerged as one of the best all-rounders in the world. He must have come close to being chosen as the man of the series. This award went to Allan Donald, the linchpin of the South African attack, who maintained his hostility and speed in a manner that was a tribute to his stamina as well as his skill. India's lack of confidence at the crease was most evident when he was bowling. His match figures of 12 for 139 in the Third Test at Port Elizabeth, together with a determined hundred by Cronje, clinched an emphatic victory and thus the brilliant interceptions on the off side; but there were no weak links and the Indians were rendered jittery and unsure in their running between the wickets.
For all Mohammed Azharuddin's qualities as a diplomat, he failed to get his team to gel as a unit. The main batsmen often fell to a combination of poor technique and ill-chosen strokes. More than once, greater determination was shown lower in the order. The averages demonstrate how Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri struggled for runs and Sanjay Manjrekar lost his touch after starting the tour well, scoring three hundreds. India suffered from their openers' inability to get a proper start and the No. 3 position also became a worry. Pravin Amre did little after an impressive century on debut in the First Test at Durban. Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred in the Second Test at Johannesburg without looking at his best and he had a miserable time in the one-day games.
India's batting reached its lowest ebb in the Third Test at Port Elizabeth, apart from a memorable hundred by Kapil Dev in a losing cause. Kapil's bowling was always steady but he was unable to recapture the penetration he showed in Australia 12 months earlier. Manoj Prabhakar's swing brought him a rewarding spell on the first morning in Johannesburg, but he remained an inconsistent cricketer. Javagal Srinath was a whole-hearted trier: his deceptive pace and movement hinted at a promising future. The fast leg-spinner Anil Kumble had a busy tour and the batsmen's reactions suggested that India might have done well to include a slower, more orthodox leg-break bowler as well. There were also occasional debatable umpiring decisions. These were infrequent but they tended to go against the Indians.
The Durban Test was ruined by rain and in Johannesburg both captains spurned the chance of striking out for a result. Any hope that the final Test would provide some atonement was dashed when South Africa chose to sit on their lead. On another slow pitch India saw little point in trying to take the initiative. The outcome was one of the slowest-scoring and most boring Test matches in history. It did nothing to help promote the traditional game in South Africa after the long years in isolation. Fewer than 200,000 paid to see the four Test matches, while near-capacity crowds, 150,000 in all, packed the seven venues for the day/night series. But even these games were not especially exciting.
The second, at Port Elizabeth, saw the only discordant note on what the marketing man had called the "Friendship Tour": Kapil ran out Peter Kirsten at the bowler's end for backing up before the ball was bowled. Kirsten, who had been warned by Kapil in other games, was fined for dissent when he was given out. India lodged a complaint that Wessels had struck Kapil's shins with his bat later in the same over but Clive Lloyd, the match referee, found the charge unproven. Sir Colin Cowdrey, the ICC president, reserved previous policy and allowed the referees to clarify such incidents with the media. This realistic step had a hand in ensuring that the tour was so free of strife.
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