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The epoch making tour that started it all

South Africa were the third team to enter the Test arena in 1891 while India were granted Test status in 1932

Partab Ramchand
South Africa were the third team to enter the Test arena in 1891 while India were granted Test status in 1932. But for obvious reasons, there was never really any chance that the two nations would meet on the cricket field. In fact, because of the apartheid policy, South Africa could never play West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The opposition was confined to England, Australia and New Zealand. Indian cricketers, on an individual basis, however played with and against the South Africans in matches in England and Australia.
It was only after the dismantling of apartheid that the way was clear for South Africa to play the other countries. And it somehow seemed fitting that the first tour South Africa made after the new regime took over was to India. The trip was hastily arranged even as the Indians were preparing to leave for a full tour of Australia. Only an itinerary of three one day internationals could be squeezed in but from a historical, ground breaking angle, the tour was one of the most important in the history of cricket. ``This is the greatest day in my life,'' said Ali Bacher on the team's arrival in India, even as he was overcome with emotion.
Not surprisingly, there was unprecedented interest in the short tour and the visitors were given the red carpet welcome on their arrival. Led by veteran all rounder Clive Rice, who had enjoyed a wonderful record in English county cricket, the squad consisted of many well known players, hardened by their exploits in county cricket in England and first class cricket and rebel `Tests' back home. The only doubt was how they would fare against international level opposition on foreign soil.
Predictably enough, the tourists took some time to find their bearings on the whirlwind tour, complete with ornate receptions and public appearances. But even in defeat, it became obvious that this side had the nucleus of future world beaters. They lost the first ODI at Calcutta by only three wickets - and this after being contained to 177 for eight in 47 overs. Kepler Wessels led the way with a strokefilled 50 and Adrian Kupier bolstered the middle order with 43. But when the Indians batted, they came up against a tornado called Allan Donald. The pace spearhead had arrived with a high reputation and he took little time in living up to it. In his first spell he got rid of Ravi Shastri, Najot Sidhu and Sanjay Manjrekar when the score was only 20. It took the genius of Sachin Tendulkar to combat Donald's fire but even he fell to the speedster after scoring 62. Praveen Amre came good with 55 before falling to Donald, who finished with five for 29 as India squeaked home.
The second ODI at Gwalior also saw a close match before India won by 38 runs. Donald again showed that he was a world class bowler with three for 36, the wickets being those of Md Azharuddin, Kapil Dev and Amre. But K Srikkanth (68), Sidhu (61) and Manjrekar (52 not out) had built a solid foundation and India scored 223 for six in 45 overs. South Africa's reply was again built around a solid 71 from Wessels but there was precious little substance otherwise and they were restricted to 185 for eight in 45 overs.
By now there were distinct signs that the visitors had come to terms with the conditions and the result was an emphatic eight wicket victory in the third and final ODI at New Delhi. India led off with 287 for four wickets in 50 overs thanks to centuries from Shastri (109) and Manjrekar (105) and a typically swashbuckling 53 from Srikkanth. But on the Ferozshah Kotla featherbed, the South Africans took even this seemingly imposing total in their stride. Wessels came up with his third important contribution of the series - a brilliant 90 and with Peter Kirsten (86 not out) and Kuiper (63 not out) building on this, the visitors were home with 3.2 overs to spare. Perhaps it was good from the Indian angle that it was a three match series and not five. But it was basically a series played to welcome South Africa back into the international fold and it was but fitting that the man of the series was shared by Wessels and Manjrekar.