2019 India vs. S. Africa Test series: A victory to savor for the 90s Indian cricket fan

The Indian Men’s cricket team beat their South African counterparts by an innings and 202 runs in the third Test to win the series 3-0. They won the first match by 203 runs and the second by an innings and 137 runs. All the wins can be considered comprehensive and the dominance of the Indian team was on full display. Given the recent form and quality of the Indian team and the lack of it on the South African side, one can say that nothing unexpected happened and therefore not delve too much into it. But being an Indian cricket fan who started following the game from the early 90s this result is greatly satisfying and worth rejoicing.

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26-30 Nov 1992: Sachin Tendulkar of India in action during the Second Test match against South Africa at The Wanderers in Johannesburg, South Africa. The match ended in a draw. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport

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Pravin Amre batting for India during the 1st Test against South Africa in Durban, November 1992. Amre scored a century in the match, which was his test debut. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

South Africa is a great sporting nation and are among the best in a lot of team sports, cricket being just one of them. In Rugby, for example, the South African national team, The Springboks, has performed well taking the 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cups and are in the semis of the ongoing one. They are highly competitive in individual sports having won 29 medals in athletics in Olympics. So, despite not playing international cricket for more than 2 decades because of Apartheid, South Africa’s quality of cricket never dipped. They still had a robust domestic structure producing some of the world’s best players many of who, unfortunately, could never showcase their skills and talents on the international stage. With the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, South African cricket saw a newfound hope of returning to international cricket. In fact India was instrumental in fast tracking them back on to the world arena by hosting them for their first ever series after readmission. It was a 3 match ODI series which India won 2-1 but one could see the quality of the South Africans in those games. It was the start of a bilateral battle that was so heavily dominated by the Proteas which makes the current series win so sweet.

A tour to South Africa for a Test series was close to nightmarish almost every single time for the Indian team and to cricket fans like me. Having played most of the domestic and home international matches on either flat tracks or dust bowls, Indians were found wanting in every series there. No wonder we still haven’t won a Test series there yet. The first Test series there in 92/93 was probably the least brutal of all. A 1-0 defeat in a 4-match series was definitely not a bad return against a pace-filled bowling attack. Memorable knocks by Tendulkar and a century on debut by Pravin Amre were the highlights of the tour. Things only went downhill after that in SA. I remember watching the 96/97 series as a young kid hoping that a Tendulkar led side would dominate SA in their home conditions. But the spicy wickets were too hot to handle for the Indians who were not used to playing the horizontal bat and dealing the swinging ball. The first Test in Durban particularly hurt the most. Winning the toss, India opted to field first and did a decent job of restricting SA to 235. What followed was one of worst batting performances by India in the last 2-3 decades. In the first innings they were bowled out for 100 and 66 in the second. The result did not change in the second Test either, although there was a better fight and the 200+ run stand between Tendulkar and Azharuddin will always be fondly remembered. There was more respect restored in the 3rd Test with India coming very close to a victory and Dravid emerging as an all-weather star.

The tour of 2001/02 was marred with controversy with the Mike Denness fiasco which only made the final score line paint a prettier image, 1-0 instead of 2-0 loss. The final unofficial Test resulted in a drubbing by an innings reflecting how ill-equipped India were in overseas conditions. However, there was a silver lining to this series. This was a new look Indian team under a new captain, Sourav Ganguly. They had just beaten the mighty Aussies at home in one of the most famous Test series ever. They were headed in the right direction and would go on to win Tests and draw series in England and Australia. And in 2006, India finally managed to win a Test in SA on their 4th tour there. The Test is one of the few things that Sreesanth is fondly remembered for in an otherwise topsy-turvy career. But then again, India squandered the lead and went onto lose the remaining two games and the series. In 2010, we finally managed to not lose a series in South Africa and drew 1-1. The trajectory however again went down after that with India losing a short 2-Test series 1-0 in 2013 and their most recent tour in 2018, by a margin of 2-1. However, the fight shown by India in these last two series is something the team can be proud of. In fact the 2018 tour as a whole was a highly successful one as India won the ODI series 5-1 and the T20I series 2-1. Nevertheless, a series win in SA still remains elusive and it must definitely be on Kohli’s to-do list.

India, on the other hand, has been a powerhouse at home right from the early 90s when they developed a good batting line up around Tendulkar who were excellent players of spin and had an oversupply of good spinners led by Anil Kumble. But the current streak of 26-1 at home since the last home series defeat against England in 2012/13 is one for the ages. One team, however, always challenged India even at home and on multiple occasions got the better of them during this period. And that was South Africa. SA toured India 5 times for a Test series since readmission and till 2010. In those, they won one (2-0 in 2000), drew two (1-1 in 2008 and 2010), and lost two Test series with an overall win-loss ratio of 5-5. Compare this with 2-8 for the Indians in SA till 2010. That is pretty impressive for a team that has not produced a lot of quality spinners. This goes to show how good their batsmen were, how smart their fast bowlers were, and how well they fought in every series that they just never gave up! India did win 3-0 even in the last series at home in 2015 but the pitches were a shame and even Kohli, Shastri and co. do not take pride in that win anymore. This time around the pitches were of great quality with much more bounce and pace in the wickets even on Day 4. Indian pacers outdid their South African equivalents but it was heartening to see Indian pacers dominate and pick up so many wickets.

In all it was a very satisfying win and result for a cricket fan like me. Hopefully next time when the Proteas tour India, they have a more robust and stable side but I also hope that India continue to maintain their dominance and still win it as comprehensively as they did this time. Till then, the Indian cricket aficionado in me will celebrate and savor this victory as much as the Indian team itself.

Tit-bits from the 90s India vs. SA series:

– In the ODI series in 1992, Md. Azharuddin, one of the finest fielders of the era, dropped 3 high catches which got him a lot of wrong attention as well as helped build some theories around it

– The 1996 Boxing Day Test loss in Durban is the 3rd lowest match total for India – Azharuddin was known for his counter attacking batting in Tests. Two such innings came against SA, one at home, at his favorite venue Eden Gradens, and another one away in Cape Town.

– The partnership of 222 between Tendulkar and Azharuddin at Cape Town still remains the highest partnership for any wicket for India in South Africa

– In the final of the 1996/97 ODI tri-series, Rahul Dravid, considered to be a Test-only batsman, smashed Alan Donald for a six over his head that angered him and made him give Dravid a piece of his mind. India narrowly lost the rain-affected match chasing more than 6-an-over but the fight shown was heartening to watch

– The 2000 home series was followed by the match fixing scandal which cost Hansie Cronje, Azharuddin and several others their careers