At the onset of New Year 2018, India is slated to play a three-match Test series in South Africa, along with six ODIs and three T20s.
Since decades, the real test of the Indian Test squad has actually been playing in South Africa and Australia (can add England also after the drubbing in 2011 and 2014). Lush green grounds, fast and bouncy tracks and a formidable opponent, this is how Test cricket is defined in Australia and South Africa.
It is for this reason that Indians regard India’s Test victories at Adelaide 2003, Perth 2008 and Johannesburg 2006 as the finest ever in recent years.
But let’s put cricket aside for a moment and touch upon a different facet. South Africa has always had a special bond with India, on and off the cricket field. It is in South Africa where our father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi as a common man embarked upon a journey which transformed him into one of the greatest leaders in the world.
At Pietermaritzburg railway station in South Africa, a 24-year-old young lawyer from India Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was thrown out of a bogey by a white TTE as it was reserved for whites only. This was a seminal incident, which ultimately shaped the life of millions on India. (Pietermaritzburg hosted an ICC World Cup match between India and Namibia in 2003).
The Apartheid Era
India was one of the biggest supporters of anti-apartheid campaign of native blacks of South Africa. By virtue of a long oppressive British rule in India, India was the one country which had a zero tolerance policy against apartheid.
In 1974, India was up against South Africa in the final of Davis Cup. India refused to play the title clash and forfeited the Cup. South Africa was boycotted by almost the entire world till the onset of the nineties and thus they there was no international cricket involving South Africa for more than twenty years.
During the eighties, when I was following the game as a teenager, we knew little about South African cricket.
All we knew was that the country has produced legends like Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock (uncle of Shaun Pollock), Clive Rice and few others. They could have been among the best Test cricketers had South Africa played international cricket during all those years (1970-1991).
Graeme Pollock, who scored over 20,000 runs in first-class cricket, had to play his last Test in 1970. He could play only 23 Tests in his career.
That was the hefty price which South Africa and its citizen paid for tyrannical policy of apartheid. International exposure for South African cricketers was limited to rebel tours by disgruntled international cricketers to the country.
In February 1990, revolutionary leader Nelson Mandela was released, changes ushered in and the oppressive whites’ rule and apartheid came to an end. South Africa was all set to join the world as all boycotts were revoked.
India Takes the First Step
India was the first to take the lead and as an epic goodwill gesture, India invited the South African team for an ODI series, which took place in November 1991. It was the first international cricket series for South Africa after decades of boycott.
The South African side was led by veteran Clive Rice, who was 42 years old during that series. Rice was a known face for ardent cricket followers in India because of his flamboyant stint with Nottinghamshire in English county cricket.
However the best known player in that South African side was Kepler Wessels, who earlier represented Australia in international cricket. When India played Australia in the World Championship in 1985, Wessels was in the Australian playing eleven.
In the very first ODI, we got to see the genius of Allan Donald. He was ferociously quick and alluring to watch. Donald claimed a 5-wicket haul and almost pulled off the game for South Africa.
India won the first two ODIs but South Africa registered an emphatic victory in the third ODI played in Delhi.
South Africa reciprocated the Indian gesture and India became the first country to play a Test series in South Africa during 1992-93 after more than two decades. It was a huge moment for South African cricket.
When the Indian team landed in Durban, they received a rousing welcome; the team were driven from the hotel in open cars. Thereafter, the team met Nelson Mandela.
However, India were decimated both in the Tests and the ODIs.
Indians always struggled in Tests played in South Africa during the nineties. The team won the home Test series in 1996-97 against South Africa but soon after they capitulated in the Test series in South Africa in 1996-97. In the Durban Test, India lost their twenty wickets for just 166 runs.
Important Moments for India-SA Relationship
Sachin Tendulkar led India in a Test series against South Africa in 2000. During that series, the infamous match fixing scandal involving South African captain Hansie Cronje was uncovered.
One of India’s most prolific Test batsmen in recent times, Virender Sehwag made his Test debut against South Africa in 2001. He scored a century in his debut Test.
In 2009, when the Indian Premier League couldn’t be held in India due to the General Elections, South Africa came up as an interesting option. IPL received a colossal reception in South Africa and the edition was hugely successful.
India’s two finest cricket moments in recent times have an uncanny South African connection. In 2007, India lifted the inaugural ICC World T20 played in South Africa.
Four years later, when India lifted the ICC World Cup in 2011, it was under South African coach Gary Kirsten. We can also add India’s glittering performance in the 2003 ICC World Cup played in South Africa to this list, when the team finished as runners-up.
Hashim Amla, one of the finest batsmen South Africa has produced, is of Indian origin and has his roots in Gujarat. His forefathers migrated to South Africa from Gujarat. After more than 50 Test matches and a Test average of 50, Amla is already a legend.
A strong Indian side is visiting South Africa and an exciting Test series is on the cards. But beyond cricket, let’s enjoy and relive the eternal bonhomie between these two nations.