When India arrived in South Africa in late 1992 for their first-ever tour, anticipation had reached fever pitch. The Indians were not quite sure of the conditions they'd find - though no one expected any square turners - and the South Africans were yet to be tested on a consistent basis at the international level. As it turned out, South Africa won the seven-ODI series 5-2.
Woorkeri Raman, the left-hand batsman from Tamil Nadu, was one of the early successes of the tour, scoring 47 out of a team total of 184 and 33 out of 147 as India went down 0-2. In the third match, at Centurion Park, South Africa chose to bat first in a day-night match and put 214 for 5 on the board with Andrew Hudson, the opener, making 87. India, through a magnificent 114 from Raman, responded in fine style to notch up their first ODI win in South Africa.
"In terms of the situation - we had lost the first two games and were new to the conditions - and the fact that we were playing outside the country, that 114 was certainly the best innings of my one-day international career," Raman told Cricinfo in a somewhat reluctant trip down memory lane. "It was the first tour to South Africa so no one really knew what to expect in terms of pitches and conditions."
The hundred was to be the only one in Raman's career, and he rated it above his knock of 95 against West Indies at Rajkot in 1988. "That knock was also important in that it was the genesis of my becoming a top-order batsman," said Raman. "The transition from a left-arm spinner who batted lower down the order to someone who batted at the top happened after that innings. But the innings in South Africa was probably my best.
"The pitch at Centurion Park was really hard and bouncy and, in Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian MacMillan, South Africa had the pace attack to exploit it," he recalled. "You had to be able to play shots off the back foot if you wanted to be successful. The end scoreline reads 5-2 but it was a closely-fought series. Even the third ODI, where I got a hundred, we only managed to win in the last over, that too chasing only 215.
|The pitch at Centurion Park was really hard and bouncy and, in Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Craig Matthews and Brian MacMillan, South Africa had the pace attack to exploit it. You had to be able to play shots off the back foot|
"In this particular match the dew was a factor as we were batting second under lights, and the ball skidded off the surface and probably came through quicker in second half of the day than in the first," said Raman. "Also South Africa were really good at building up the pressure through their fielding. With the fast bowlers operating on a bouncy pitch, they had high quality fielders square of the wicket on both sides. This made it that much harder to score.
"When we won that game it was in the middle of the series and we were still alive at 2-1, so in that sense it was an important knock as well," Raman said.
Eventually India would win just one more game in that series. And strangely, after making 47, 33, 114, 0, and 16 in the first five ODIs - batting with a runner in the fifth match batting after twisting his knee - Raman was dropped for the last two games of the series. Despite this, he ended up topping the Indian averages at 42 and made only 22 runs less than Mohammad Azharuddin, the leading run-getter, despite playing two games less.
For all that, it's a series Raman remembers with fondness. The 114 he made was to be his only international hundred, his Test best being 96 against New Zealand in 1990.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo