'Ali Bacher's love of the game still all too evident. The difference between him and the power-hungry businessmen threatening to take over the game couldn't be starker' © Getty Images

On the eve of the Test, as the evening shadows lengthen, we head to the suburb of Sandton, and a quiet bungalow that's home to a man who was Mr South African cricket for more than a quarter century. Aron Bacher, Ali to nearly everyone, captained one of cricket’s greatest sides, and then earned further renown as one of the best administrators that the game has seen. He eased himself out of the limelight after successfully planning and conducting the 2003 World Cup, and his association to cricket these days is limited to appearances at the Wanderers and SuperSport Park in Centurion.

Bacher walks slowly to the door when we arrive. Two bandages still cover his lower leg, a legacy of a second bypass surgery that he underwent last week, having first gone under the knife way back in 1981. "I've had about six escapes," he tells us with a smile later. "But I feel as good as new now. I walk three times a day, and might even make it to the Wanderers to catch play on Saturday and Sunday."

Bacher is an eloquent speaker, and he has no reluctance to admit to mistakes of the past. The rebel tours, which he helped organise, were a huge mistake in his view, errors of judgement that happened because "we lived in a cocoon during the Apartheid years". "Had I known that Apartheid would end, I would never have tried to organise it. But we felt we needed to keep interest in the game alive."

He narrates some fascinating anecdotes about South Africa being fast-tracked back into international cricket - "The meeting in Sharjah lasted just about 25 minutes, and the Pakistani general who was their board representative was the first to propose our return after having spent all meeting opposing it!" - and the amazing reception that the team got at Eden Gardens for their first match back in November 1991.

He had woken up early in the morning to watch the Perth Test - "Monty bowled beautifully, didn't he? I can't understand why they didn't play him earlier" - and scoffs at the suggestion that standards have declined in recent years. "You have great players in every generation," he says. "Those like Lara and Tendulkar are every bit as good as [Graeme] Pollock and [Viv] Richards."

There's a wistful sigh when he talks of the team that he captained to a 4-0 rout of Australia back in 1969-70. "We had some amazing players," he said. "Most importantly, we had some great allrounders, guys like [Mike] Proctor, [Tiger] Lance and Eddie Barlow." Almost as an afterthought, he says with a laugh, "Even you could have captained the team, we had so much quality."

As we sip our tea, he enquires about Jagmohan Dalmiya, before shaking his head and saying: "You should know when to quit." And as we're about to take his leave, the phone rings. It's Jonty Rhodes, enquiring about his health. "Makhaya [Ntini] also called me," he says. "As for Jonty, he's a top man."

So's Bacher, with his love of the game still all too evident. The difference between him and the power-hungry businessmen threatening to take over the game couldn't be starker. As we leave, I glance at the portico. Two small plastic cricket bats lie on a shelf. He had talked of how he still loves to play and watch the game with his grandsons, 10 and 7. Who knows? The Bacher years in South African cricket may not yet be over.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo