Those who watched South Africa's first one-dayer, nearly 13 years back, remember it as an absorbing contest
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When South Africa arrived in India with a squad in which seven players had
no experience of international cricket, there was concern about how such
an inexperienced side might react in pressure-cooker situations,
particularly in the cauldron of humanity that the Eden Gardens can turn
into on a good day. Think then of the emotions of the first South African
team to tour India, in November 1991, who arrived with only one player who
knew what international cricket was like - Kepler Wessels - and played
their first game in front of a 90,000 strong crowd at the Eden Gardens.
Trevor Chesterfield, the veteran journalist, who came on that tour for the
Pretoria News, recalls how overwhelming the whole experience was, not just for the players but for the entire South African contingent. "The tour was
organised almost at the last minute," he said. "I remember we landed in
India on a Friday, and it had been decided we were coming only five days
before that, on the Sunday. There were still no airlines operating between
South Africa and India, so we arrived on a chartered plane. It was the
first South African plane ever to land in India - can you believe it?
"We were, of course, indebted to the Indian board for welcoming us so
warmly and arranging for our visit at such short notice. But it was when
we were taken to our hotel from the airport that we first began to feel
the enormity of the occasion. On our journey to the hotel we found the
roads were lined by thousands of people welcoming us to India, carrying
all kinds of signs and messages of goodwill for us. We were delighted to
find that our invitation to India seemed to have been issued not just by
the board, but by the people themselves."
For Colin Bryden, who came on that tour for South Africa's Sunday Times,
it was the first chance to see India's famed batsmen. "On Saturday, the
day before the game, I walked around the ground watching the Indian
players at nets. Before this Azharuddin, Tendulkar ... these had been just
names for me. Now I saw with my own eyes the distinct way in which they
played, and in particular how skillful they were with their leg-side
Allan Donald made an instant impact in his very first game
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The game began at 9:00am on a smoggy Calcutta morning, but not before an
unusual ceremony. The South African players did a lap of the ground to
thank the crowd for their warm welcome. Then play started. Those who saw
it remember that, although low-scoring, it was certainly absorbing. These
are the things most people seem to remember: Andrew Hudson falling in the
first over to Kapil Dev for a duck; Wessels emerging at No.3 and making a
gritty half-century; and some late fireworks from Adrian Kuiper, another
player who had lost his best years in the game. And there is one thing
that nobody has forgotten: the hostility and searing pace of Allan Donald,
who took three wickets in his first four overs, and 5 for 29 in all.
"I don't think the Indians had ever played anybody as quick as Donald
before," says Chesterfield. "But Tendulkar played beautifully for a
half-century, and later Pravin Amre made a very good fifty as well, and
India eventually won. But the atmosphere was absolutely incredible. You
had to be there and feel it to know what it was like. I remember Hudson
telling me later that he was overwhelmed by the occasion and by the atmosphere.
What passion cricket aroused in this country! He said he gained a new
sense of what cricket was all about and what it meant."
There were effectively two generations of South African cricketers playing
that game. Some, like Clive Rice and Jimmy Cook, were touching 40 and past
their best, and their selection was a small token of appreciation for all
the years of service they had put in without ever being able to play at
the highest level. In fact, as Bryden points out, Rice, then a promising
youngster, was picked for the tour of Australia in 1971-72, the tour that
never happened. Now, nearly two decades later, he was making his debut.
And the future of South African cricket was also seen in the form of
Donald, who was to become one of the all-time greats.
And now Donald's years in the game are over, and a whole new generation of
South African cricketers are acquitting themselves honorably on their
first tour of India. As they carry on the baton of South African cricket
they, too, must often have been reminded that, in a sense, in all began
here in 1991.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer for Wisden Asia Cricket