The Indians arrived in South Africa in mid-December for the second leg of their back-to-back Test series. They had just won the home leg 2-1 on some characteristically Indian wickets. But now it was their turn to play on pitches vastly different from their own. The itinerary, including only two first-class matches outside the three Tests, militated against India, particularly their batsmen, and their difficulties in acclimatising were compounded when their only fixture before the First Test was badly disrupted by rain. Criticism of the itinerary should be aimed at the Indian authorities, however: the length of the tour, or rather its brevity, was their choice. The Tests were followed by a triangular one-day series with Zimbabwe, which South Africa won, before the Indians went to Zimbabwe briefly.
Even allowing for the handicap of inadequate preparation, India were poorly equipped to match South Africa, who won the first two Tests to clinch the rubber and avenge the defeat in the series completed in India only a fortnight earlier. Nevertheless, India came tantalisingly close to winning the Third: they were denied by the weather and Daryll Cullinan.
With 20 wickets at 15.95, fast bowler Allan Donald had an immense influence on the outcome of the series. South Africa's specialist batsmen all took turns at playing major innings but a large part of the gap between the sides was accounted for by the extra depth provided by their all-rounders. Among them, Brian McMillan was outstanding. He was South Africa's highest run-scorer with 296 and headed the averages at 98.66. And a raucous century by Lance Klusener, during a record eighth-wicket partnership with McMillan, was crucial in the Second Test. Batting more sedately, Klusener also helped Cullinan save the final Test.
The heaviest scorer among the specialist batsmen was Cullinan, who made his runs with panache at No. 4. As opener, Andrew Hudson served South Africa well, particularly on a mettlesome Kingsmead pitch in the First Test. His main ally in both innings was the only newcomer to the side, Adam Bacher, the 23-year-old nephew of Ali Bacher, South Africa's chief executive and former captain. Making his debut at the troublesome No. 3 spot, he proved his temperament and technique were equal to the challenge of the pitch, the early fall of the first wicket and the high quality of India's opening bowlers.
The potential strength of India's batting was not fully realised, largely because of a distressing weakness at the top of the order. Vikram Rathore made runs in the two provincial matches, but lacked the technique to play high-class fast bowling on a pitch of any pace, while Woorkeri Raman failed every time. Both were dropped, and Rahul Dravid and Nayan Mongia, the wicket-keeper, were pushed up the order to open. It was only in the final Test, in which the South Africans bowled below their best, that an Indian innings got off to a start worth the name.
Sachin Tendulkar, the captain on whom the Indians were so reliant, recovered from a barren season at home, yet played only one sizeable innings. Azharuddin, too, came good only once, together with Tendulkar at Cape Town when the pair produced a golden partnership, with bold and brilliant batting considered by many observers to be the best they had ever seen. But it could not avert defeat.
Match reports for
2nd ODI: Zimbabwe v India at Harare, Feb 17, 1997
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