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

An alternate opinion!

When I was 7 yrs. old, I wanted to become a Policeman and save the people from the vices of the world. But the very next moment I saw a cockroach and got scared like hell and my cousins who were with me laughed at me marking the end of my dream to ever wear the starred khaki uniform.

When I was 14, Samrat, our cricket team captain, came up to me and asked me if I was interested in playing cricket for the school junior team. It was literally like a dream come true since, like any other Indian, even I had idolized the stalwarts of Indian cricket and wanted to be one too. I thought that this was just the ideal start for it. Couldn’t sleep that night and dreamt happily bout hitting centuries and guiding my team home to victories. But li’l did I know that even this dream was as short lived as the sleep I got that night.

When I was in my ninth grade, I joined the NCC. Thanks to it that I didn’t remain a shortie that I was till then! Trained hard for 9 months, sweated in the hot sun, screamed my throat off during the parades, withered the harsh Delhi winter and came back home looking as if I was a Nigerian. Then the thought came to my mind, how about being an Army Officer?? But alas, I was destined not be in J&K saving our borders but to be in Mangalore, Karnataka, writing this blog.

And in between I also aspire to be a cricket commentator, a pilot, an actor (which still somewhere probably I wanna be!) and so on…

But why am I talking about all this?

December, 2009: Released a super blockbuster, Aamir Khan Starrer, “3 Idiots”. It was an extraordinary movie with a very contemporary theme of “herd mentality” among today’s generation of students backed some truly powerful performances and amazing direction.

The movie spoke about how one should not just follow the crowd and instead should do something where one’s heart lies. It beautifully portrayed this with the lives of 3 friends and how 2 of them were literally forced into the college where they studied despite having interests elsewhere, just because it was a path where most of the people who walked on it eventually became “successful”. But during the course of their journey, the main protagonist of the movie throws light on how the whole system itself is flawed and it has just become a “rat-race” to say the least, without the students even realizing what they actually want to be in life and what do they need to do in order to achieve it.

The movie itself was a great lesson to all the parents – to allow and support their children in pursuing their dreams. It also was an encouragement for today’s youth to have the courage to speak up about their ambitions, fearlessly, no matter how wild and off-beat they are, and do anything and everything to achieve it. That is what ultimately happened in the movie where none of the three friends joined any MNC after their graduation despite it being every student’s ultimate aim in that college or rather the ultimate aim as per what was fed into their minds by their parents and society (even RajuRastogi (Sharman Joshi) who got through that interview, quit it later and took up a research job, publishing papers and journals relating to it). Farhan (R. Madhavan) went on to become a wild life photographer and Ranchhod das/phunsukwangdu (Aamir Khan) went on to open a school for the orphans in the beautiful valleys of J&K where he taught them pure sciences and focused on creativity and innovation rather than making them mug pots.

It was definitely an eye opener to the society and showed them the loop holes of the system that we are all an integral part of. It definitely opened mine. But what did I realize after I “opened my eyes”?

I realized that I too was a part of the same system which was mocked in the movie (yup I wanna become an MBA too despite having graduated as an engineer in Computer Science!), that I too was one of those thousands of other students who did their engineering just because it was the easiest way to get a good job and settle down in life without even taking some time out and asking myself what I actually want to be life. But as they say it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. So I began thinking, what I want to be life?? And it’s January, 2011 and I am still thinking what I want to be in life. An MBA? An actor? Cricket commentator? Policeman? Army person? MS in USA? Still as confused as I’ve always been in the past 23 yrs.

And during this period of realization I also realized few other things. First, that I am really not passionate about anything, for me to pursue a career in! Yes, I do love cricket, but I wouldn’t say am passionate about it. Yes I do love acting, (my frens curse me for always being in the “acting mode”, when sometimes am really not) but again I don’t feel that am really passionate about movies and acting either. Yes I am a Computer Science Engineer but just like 90% of the CS engineers, I too don’t wanna do an IT job for the rest of my life. I was beginning to wonder what have I been doing all these years and where do I want to see myself 10-20 yrs. hence. So I thought I‘ll ask a few people casually what they wanted to be in life. And then I had my second realization. They were as confused and clueless as I was if not more.

So what do people who do not have any real great passion or aspiration in life do? How does one find out what they want to see themselves as, in future, realistically? Do they wander all their life in search of it and in the deal ignore all the responsibilities they need to shoulder towards their parents and family, towards their nation? What is the right age to decide what u wanna do in life? 15? 17? When you are just out of school?? Are we actually so matured at that age that we can decide for ourselves what we wanna do in life?? I don’t think I was and I can safely assume that neither, the majority of the so called “herd” was. This led me to the third realization or rather a question in my mind. Is it right for us to be mocking the system??

Okay, now let us consider that everyone followed what was portrayed in the movie? Majority of the people would be without a job busy trying to find what they want to be in life and spend weeks, months and probably years in doing the same. What would have happened to those thousands of parents and families of such students? And especially in a country like India where the financial and societal problems of people are well known to everyone (like Raju’s family in the movie. Do they eat haired rotis throughout their lives??). What would have happen to the students themselves who would be feeling worthless and frustrated seeing their peers earn lakhs and crores whereas they would be still trying to find what they wanna do.

So what is the ultimate conclusion of all what I ve told till now? I think it’s not right for us to mock the system that exists no matter how many loopholes are there. Instead we should appreciate its very existence for providing so many jobs and “lighting so many homes” (as my dad always says) and making “unemployment” an obsolete political agenda for the politicians in most parts of the country. Instead we should all contribute and try to remove the loop holes out of the system and make it more transparent and merit based. And in the mean time we as individuals should continue dreaming and trying to find where our dream lays and what do we want to be. And so the confusion continues… wish I had time machine which would help me see what I would be in January, 2031. cricketer? Actor?Entrepreneur? Or still in Infosys Technologies Limited? Don’t you wanna see for yourself too???