The Indians dished out home style treatment to the South Africans when they came to India in November 1996. The first Test match at Ahmedabad went to India by the margin of 64 runs. A low scoring affair on a pitch that was not suited to free strokemaking started with India making 223. No batsmen even made fifty, but in the end, many useful contributions in the twenties and thirties helped India along.
When it was South Africa's turn to have a go, they just about bettered India's score, reaching 244 after Fanie de Villiers made the highest score of his career. An unbeaten 67 from de Villiers batting at No 9 kept South Africa in the game after a good spell from Sunil Joshi pegged the top order back. The Indian second essay was marginally worse than their first attempt and yet it was enough to put up a score that they could defend.
Debutant VVS Laxman scored a useful half century and was well supported by Anil Kumble towards the end of the innings. Kumble made an unbeaten 30. India made 190, leaving South Africa with a target of 170 for victory.
A lively spell of fast bowling from spearhead Javagal Srinath settled the issue in India's favour. The Karnataka speedster knocked the stuffing out of the South African middle order and tail. Captain Hansie Cronje put up staunch resistance from one end, but watched in dismay as the wickets tumbled around him. His 48 was almost half the South African score as the visitors were bundled out for 105. With six batsmen making ducks, it was hardly surprising that the South Africans were bundled out for such a small score. This gave India victory by 64 runs and a 1-0 lead in the three match series. Srinath's 6/21 in the second innings in addition to his 2/47 in the first innings fetched him the man of the match award.
The South Africans were quick to regroup and gave India a sound thrashing at Calcutta. Debutant Lance Klusener burst to the fore with an eight wicket haul in the second innings that took the match away from India. However, it was only a solid batting performance that made this victory possible. At the top of the innings, Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten were impenetrable as they both made solid centuries. In an opening partnership that was worth 236, Kirsten made 146 and Hudson helped himself to 102. The rest of the batting line up chipped in with useful scores and saw South Africa through to an entirely convincing total of 428.
A belligerent hundred from Mohammed Azharuddin at his favourite ground was well backed up by an invaluable 88 from Kumble coming in late in the order. Though India made 329, it never looked like it would be quite enough.
The South African reply confirmed that belief. Daryll Cullinan was in masterly form and stroked his way to an unbeaten 153 and stroked the Indians out of contention. Not to be left out, southpaw Gary Kirsten helped himself to 133. The others did not have much to do as South Africa declared on 367/3.
Chasing 467 for victory, the Indians were shot out for 127. The enthusiasm and pace of Lance Klusener shut the Indians out. Klusener kept the ball up to the bat on a wicket that did not assist driving off the front foot. Once again it was only Azhar who made any runs. His half century too was in vain as India lost the match by 329 runs. Having scored a hundred in each innings, Kirsten was rightly adjudged man of the match. With the three Test series leveled at 1-1, the teams had everything to play for in the final Test at Kanpur.
The final Test was a low scoring affair till Azhar hit a purple patch of form and slammed an unbeaten 163 in the second innings. Batting first, India could muster only 237. The top four made runs, but no one went on to make a hundred. Kumble was once again in the thick of things on a dusty track and he picked four wickets, sending South Africa spinning to 177 all out. A lead of 60 was stretched to 460 thanks to Azhar's innings. The South Africans were overawed by the situation and crumbled to 180 all out. India won the match by 280 runs and took the series 2-1.
At the end of the tour, a benefit match for Mohinder Amarnath was played in Mumbai. The One-Day game was won by India by the margin of 74 runs. Sachin Tendulkar made a hundred and was the man of the match.