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India’s Greatest Challenge: Victory in South Africa

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India’s Greatest Challenge: Victory in South Africa

India played its first test match in 1932 making it the fourth international team after England, Australia and South Africa. However, the Indians never hosted South Africa or toured that country prior to its isolation from world cricket in 1970 due to apartheid. It isn’t really surprising considering the political landscape at the time. Other traditionally non-white teams, such as the West Indies and Pakistan, also never played South Africa prior to its two decade isolation. India had a hostile diplomatic relationship with the South African regime since the 1960s and was one of its most vocal critics on the international stage.

But once Nelson Mandela was released from the prison, the dark clouds of isolation finally seemed to be a thing of the past and there was ray of hope on the horizon. The ban that had denied the likes of Barry Richards and Peter Kirsten their moments in the sun wouldn’t affect the next generation of South African cricketers. As irony would have it, India proposed South Africa’s readmission into the game officially, hosting the Proteas for the first ODI series and becoming the first team to tour South Africa after the ban was lifted. Since then, a strong rivalry has developed, underpinned by a mutual respect between the two cricket powerhouses.

In 25 years of touring South Africa, the Indians have never conquered the Proteas in a test series. As Virat Kohli and his men prepare for the next African safari after two impressive seasons in the sub-continent, let’s rewind and take a look at India’s past Test Match tours to South Africa.

1992–93 Friendship Series (4 Test Matches)

Led by Mohammad Azharuddin the Indian team arrived in South Africa to take on Kepler Wessels’ men. The 4 Match Test Series was aptly called the Friendship Series. The first match at Kingsmead, Durban saw Wessels lead from the front and become country’s first centurion after readmission, guiding the home side to a respectable 254. The Indian team in response made a horrible start and were 38 for 4 before Pravin Amre scored a fighting hundred batting at No. 6 to take the score to 277. Rain on day 3 and 4 meant that South Africa were 176 for 3 with the match ending in a draw.

The second test match at The Wanderers, Johannesburg saw a South African batting collapse with the host struggling at 73 for 5 before Jonty Rhodes and Brian McMillan played handy knocks to take their team to 292. In reply, India were bundled out for 227 with only Sachin Tendulkar battling hard to make 111 runs. The South Africans were bowled out for 252 in the second innings setting the Indians a target of 318 to win. With India at 141 for 4 the match again ended in a draw.

The third test at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth would witness South Africa’s first win after readmission into the game. Indians were bowled out for 212 courtesy of a fiery spell from Allan Donald who picked up 5 for 55 runs. The home side replied with 275 and Hansie Cronje brought up his first test hundred. In India’s second innings Kapil Dev was the lone warrior scoring 129 as the team was dismissed for 215 with Donald picking up a memorable 7 for 84. South Africans came up with a strong reply and reached target losing one wicket.

The fourth test at Cape Town ended in a tame draw after South African took 170 overs in the first innings to score 360 runs. Thus, the South Africans claimed the first test series victory between the two nations 1-0.

1996–97 Tour (3 Test Matches)

Under a young Sachin Tendulkar the Indian team arrived in South Africa for a three-match Test Series. The first encounter at Kingsmead, Durban witnessed a complete capitulation from the visitors. Having bowled out the hosts for 235 in the first innings thanks to Venkatesh Prasad’s fifer, Allan Donald ran through the Indian line-up with a 5 wicket haul dismissing them for 100 runs. The South Africans followed up with 259 in the second innings setting Indians a target of 394 and the hosts surrendered at 66, offering the South Africans a mammoth 328 run win.

The scars didn’t heal for the visitors in the second match at Cape Town where the hosts piled up 529 thanks to three centurions Gary Kirsten, Brian McMillan and Lance Klusener. The Indians replied with 359 with Sachin and Azhar scoring tons. South Africa declared the second innings at 256 for 6 setting the visitors a target of 426 and again poor application meant that Indians were out for a paltry 144.

The third test at The Wanderers is a story that Indian fans haven’t forgotten when rain and bad light and some gritty batting by Daryll Cullinan denied them a win. Batting first India scored 410 courtesy of a stylish 148 by Rahul Dravid. In reply, the South Africans were all out for 321 and Srinath took 5 wickets in the innings. At 266 for 8, the Indians declared their innings and set a target of 356. They had the hosts struggling at 77 for 5 when rain came in and killed the momentum. When bad light closed play the hosts were 228 for 8. Thus, the series ended at 2-0 and on a rather sad note for the Indians.

2001–02 Tour (2 Test Matches & 1 Unofficial Test)

The Indians had shed their image of being gentleman tourists under an aggressive new captain Sourav Ganguly, who didn’t mind being tainted with a bad boy image as long as it helped his side win. But this three match test series (later turned into a 2 match series) is sadly remembered for the Mike Denness controversy. In the first test match at Bloemfontein, the Indians started well with 379 in the first innings with Sachin and Virender Sehwag scoring hundreds; the latter scoring one on debut and announcing himself on the big stage. South Africa replied with a dominant 563 with Klusener and Herschelle Gibbs scoring terrific hundreds. The Indians packed up for 237, torn apart by Shaun Pollock’s 6 for 56, and set the hosts a target of 54 which they achieved with the loss of just one wicket.

The second test match began on the right note with the hosts scoring 362 in the first innings with Gibbs alone notching 196. The Indians were bowled out for 201 with Pollock again the destroyer, claiming 5 for 40. In their second innings, South Africa declared at 233 for 5 in the last session of the 4th day setting India a target of 394 runs to win. India lost opener Das early to end the day at 28 for 1.

Then, the controversy: Six Indian players were pulled up by match referee Mike Denness at the end of the fourth day’s play including Sachin Tendulkar, who was charged with ball tempering, and skipper Sourav, who was banned for not being able to control his players. The Indian team wanted to pull out of the test match immediately but back-channel talks between the BCCI and CSA meant that the team took the field on the last day to complete the test match.

Wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta and Rahul Dravid batted out 70 overs to deny the hosts a win. BCCI’s aggressive stance asking for Denness’ removal for the next test match at Centurion and the ICC’s reluctance to do so meant that the third test match was devoid of the ICC’s approval and became a five day ‘friendly’ encounter.

In the unofficial Test match, which was agreed upon by BCCI and CSA for the crowds, the Indians batted first and made 232 while the hosts replied with 566 for 8 declared with Jacques Kallis and Pollock scoring hundreds. In the second innings, the Indians made 261 thus handing an innings and 73 run win to the hosts. The test series which was officially a 2 match series according to ICC records ended with 1-0 win for the hosts.

2006–07 Tour (3 Test Matches)

Under a new captain Rahul Dravid, the Indian team arrived in South Africa boasting what was touted as India’s strongest-ever batting line up. In the first innings of the first test at Johannesburg they were bowled out for 249 with Sourav Ganguly making an impressive comeback with 51 runs after being side-lined for more than a year. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth destroyed the hosts in the first innings picking up 5 for 40 and dismissing them for a meek 84 runs. India made only 236 in the second innings but set a target of 402 to win and bowled the hosts out for 278, despite a fighting 97 by Ashwell Prince, earning India its long-awaited first test win in South Africa.

In the second test match at Durban, the hosts came hard after their defeat in the opening encounter scoring 328 in the first innings with Prince accumulating a composed 121. India’s reply was below par as they fell for 240 runs despite most batsmen getting a start. In the second innings, South Africa declared at 265 for 8 and bowled the Indians for 179 runs to tie the series at 1-1.

The third test match at Cape Town would act as the series decider. Batting first India made 411 thanks to a well-crafted 116 by opener Wasim Jaffer. In reply the South Africans were bowled out for 373 runs; skipper Graeme Smith top scoring with 94. A poor showing in the second innings meant that India was dismissed for 169 and the hosts easily chased the 211-run target, again bagging the series 2-1.

2010–11 (3 Test Matches)

MS Dhoni’s team began with a dismal start in the first test match at Centurion when their old habits of succumbing on a green top came back to haunt them. Batting first, the team collapsed for 136 thanks to a brutal 5/20 from Morne Morkel. South Africa showed there were no demons in the wicket declaring at 620 for 4 with Kallis scoring a double hundred. Replying in their second innings India produced a massive 459, but this still wasn’t enough to prevent a loss by an innings and 25 runs.

With their backs to the wall, the Indians nearly crumbled in the second test as well, being bowled out for 205 in their first innings. But Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan bowled impressively to skittle the hosts for 136 runs. The lively pitch meant that it was to be a low-scoring encounter and the Indians were dismissed for 228 with VVS Laxman scoring 96, setting the hosts a target of 297. There was a palpable sense of relief for the Indians when they bowled the Proteas out for 218, earning an 87 run win and just their second test triumph in South Africa.

With the series tied at 1-1, the third test match at Cape Town generated lot of interest. The hosts batting first put 362 runs on the board with the relentless Kallis making an impressive 161. India replied with 364 thanks primarily to Sachin Tendulkar’s 146; a great hundred against testing bowling. In the second innings the South Africans made 341 with Kallis again the star. By the end of 5th days play, the Indians were 166 for 3 with the test match, as well as the series. ending in a hard-fought draw.

2013–14 Tour (2 Test Matches)

The MS Dhoni-led side arrived at South Africa determined to undo their poor record and seemed to be in the right frame of mind in the first match at The Wanderers. Batting first, they scored a solid 280 with Virat Kohli carving out a brilliant 119. In reply, the Proteas found Zaheer Khan’s bowling too hard to handle and fell for 244. The second innings saw the brilliance of Chetheshar Pujara and Kohli, with the former scoring 153 and Kohli falling four short of his second ton, taking India to 421. With 456 to chase, South Africa nearly did the impossible on the last day and scored 450 before the umpire declared stumps – the home team falling short by just 6 runs in a test match that surely deserved a result. Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers scored brilliant hundreds to inspire a thrilling chase.

The second test match at Kingsmead saw a familiar script where the Indian team failed to live up to the promise shown in the earlier test match. On a good batting strip they scored 334 in the first innings with Murli Vijay top scoring with 97 before seeing the hosts amass 500 runs in response. In the second innings, India collapsed for 223 setting the hosts a simple target of 58 runs, which they achieved without loss. It was a familiar tale with South Africa winning the test series 1-0.

In six tours so far, India has been able to win only two Test matches in South Africa – perhaps their worst record overseas. Will Virat Kohli and his men, who have achieved a record equalling 9 successive series wins, be able to write a new page in history? What a great thing it would be for the Indians to achieve their tenth consecutive test series win on foreign soil, especially as a team that has often been seen as tigers at home and lambs abroad. We will wait and watch India’s African safari, led by their most aggressive captain, who has been in phenomenal form for the last 24 months.

Image Credit: BMN Network

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