The Proteas are back
The Men in Blue have to pull up their socks, given their poor form of late, as the visiting South Africans have sounded the battle cry, says VIJAY LOKAPALLY, in a perspective of Indo-South African cricketing ties.
South Africa's Clive Rice (left) and Ravi Shastri during the toss in New Delhi, 1991.
FOR decades, India and South Africa had no ties. The Indian passport was "Valid for all countries except Rhodesia and South Africa". In such circumstances, cricket exchanges remained a dream and Indian fans could never see the likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Eddie Barlow and Mike Procter in action.
The barriers were lifted in the early 1990s and the two countries went out of the way to accommodate and fete each other. It was a victory for the vision of two great apostles of peace, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
When India first toured South Africa, the motorcade from Durban Airport to the Town Hall left the Indian cricketers in a trance. This was beyond their imagination. Being cheered by strangers and hailed as heroes in a land that was notorious for its policies of apartheid was a pleasant jolt.
Honestly, the Indians were not prepared for this reception. Incredible. "I never expected such a rousing welcome," was the legendary Kapil Dev's response. It was India's first-ever cricket tour to South Africa in 1992-93. It was historic no doubt and was aptly coined the "The Friendship Series". For the cricketers, meeting Mandela at the Africa National Congress (ANC) headquarters remained the highpoint. A new chapter was written a year ago when South Africa, returning to the international fold after more than two decades, sent its cricketers to India for a three-match one-day series. It was the then Board president Madhavrao Scindia's positive thinking that set the stage for such a visit. He brushed aside all opposition and extended an invitation which the South Africans were quick to accept.
The short trip by South Africa nearly met a premature death following a ball-tampering issue in the second match at Gwalior. It was Scindia's home and there was reason to believe that he was immensely upset by one of the South African officials making a mess of things by going public. Thanks to the timely intervention of some officials from either side, the tour survived.The rest is history.
South Africa's visit
The South Africans were accorded an unbelievable reception too when they landed in India for the first ever cricket match between the two countries. If you wanted to know just how much it meant to us to be back playing international cricket, you should have been on our flight from Johannesburg to Bombay in November 1991. "The welcome we received in Bombay exceeded everything we'd imagined. It was overwhelming. We were treated like gods during that fortnight in India," wrote one of South Africa's cricketing great Allan Donald in his autobiography.
The racial policies had played havoc in South African society. The sportsmen suffered the most as South Africa was banished from the international arena because of apartheid. Donald observed in his autobiography: "We South African cricketers were now on a fast learning curve about the racial policies of the past, and we read about the Indian influence on the ANC, of the passive resistance policies of Mahatma Gandhi, popularised by him when he lived in South Africa more than 70 years ago. Nelson Mandela had paid tribute many times to the Mahatma, and so it seemed absolutely right that we should share historic sporting times with India."
The late Hansie Cronje ... the scars of the match fixing episode still remain.
The first one-day series was won 2-1 by India. It had some great moments. The South African team's meeting with Mother Teresa. Donald's haul of five wickets in the opener at the Eden Gardens and the breathtaking batting of Adrian Kuiper and Peter Kirsten at the Nehru Stadium in Delhi. In between, there was the controversy at Gwalior.
Controversy at Gwalior
Coach Mike Procter discovered the ball had been tampered with by the Indian bowlers at Calcutta and the media savvy Dr. Ali Bacher, former captain and the man behind South Africa's return to the mainfold, decided to take up the matter. Dr. Bacher, however, did not view it as cheating. But he made the mistake of visiting the press box and making the issue public. Dr. Bacher, had almost destroyed the good work. Scindia, livid at the Indians being called dishonest, demanded an apology. The series was off, he threatened. The tour was saved when Geoff Dakin tendered an apology on behalf of the United Cricket Board of South Africa.
There was a bitter moment during India's tour of South Africa too. After the first two Tests had been drawn, South Africa dominated the one-day series to win 5-2. In one of the matches, at St. George's Park, Kapil Dev, after having warned Peter Kirsten thrice, ran him out for backing too far. The sight of Kapil fuming was unforgettable. The Indians were criticised and the team management reacted strongly but there was no threat to the tour though the Friendship tag looked jarring. India lost the Test series 0-1 too.
Hansie Cronje and after
The Indians made two more visits but failed to even win a Test. India's worst display came on a fiery pitch at Durban when it was bowled out for 100 and 66. The defining moment of the series was Donald sending Sachin Tendulkar's off-stump cartwheeling at Durban. When the South Africans visited India in 1996-97, the home team won 2-1 but the defeat at Calcutta was awesome 329 runs. Sadly, for the goodwill that cricket between the two countries generated, the match-fixing episode dented the image of the game. It was a pity that someone like Hansie Cronje, who led South Africa to a 2-0 win in the two-Test series in India in 2000, fell victim to the lure of money. Bookies had silently influenced the course of the game and South Africa as a nation suffered the humiliation brought upon them by one of its most illustrious sportsmen. Cronje was a product of the development programme which was aimed at boosting the underprivileged. As much as the match fixing issue, still viewed by many South Africans as a conspiracy against their cricket, relationship between India and South Africa was strained when six Indian players were fined for various offences and Virender Sehwag was slapped a one-match ban in the 2002 series.
For the first time in history, two teams played a "Test match that never was one". The International Cricket Council refused to grant the contest the Test status. It was bizarre indeed as the cricket world was nearly divided on racial lines. But the game survived yet another onslaught by inimical forces that emerged from within.
The South Africans have now come four years after the match fixing scandal but the scars remain. Herchelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje have opted to stay away, fearing arrests by the Delhi Police, as a depleted South African team begins a tough assignment under the captaincy of Graeme Smith. The recent 3-0 loss in Sri Lanka has only highlighted the decline in South Africa's cricketing fortunes.
The lack of talent overall and controversial selection policies have harmed the game immensely in the land of Mandela.
Can Smith and his mates emulate Cronje's feats of 2000. The events at Kanpur and Kolkata will reveal. The charismatic South African skipper warns: "Don't write us off". The Indians dare not, considering their own poor form of late, the victory at Mumbai in two days against the mighty Australians notwithstanding.
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