From left to right: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers and Yusuf Pathan © Getty Images
From left to right: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers and Yusuf Pathan © Getty Images

As India gear up to take on South Africa in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs), Arunabha Sengupta looks back at 10 of the best innings seen in the showdowns between the two teams.

1. Sachin Tendulkar 62, Eden Gardens, Kolkata, Nov 1991

“Now I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he walked on the moon,” Clive Rice observed after leading South Africa out at the Eden Gardens. It was the return to international cricket for the Rainbow Nation and the first time India and South Africa faced one another on the turf.

The visitors managed just 177 in their innings, but as Ravi Shastri took guard the huge crowd gasped at the pace at which the ball left the hand of Allan Donald and thudded into the gloves of Dave Richardson. Seldom had someone bowled that quick in the ground.

Shastri lasted 5 balls, Sanjay Manjrekar 10. Eighteen-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was in the middle with the score reading 3 for 2. And soon, Navjot Sidhu cut Donald into the bucket hands of Brian McMillan at gully to make it 15 for 3.

But, Tendulkar stood rock solid, threading the field with resounding drives and delectable flicks. Mohammad Azharuddin gave the charge to left-arm spinner Tim Shaw and was stumped. Tendulkar carried on undeterred, with debutant Pravin Amre for company. He brought up his fifty and celebrated it with an effortless six over mid-wicket.

Donald came back to dismiss him for 62, but by then the match was all but over. India won by 3 wickets.

2. Adrian Kuiper 63 not out, Nehru Stadium, Delhi, Nov 1991

Twin centuries by Shastri and Manjrekar propelled India to 287 in the third and final game of the historic series. In 1991, that amounted to a colossal score. Perhaps even the biggest South African supporter resigned himself to a 3-0 scoreline. However, Kepler Wessels hit his third half-century in the series and Peter Kirsten demonstrated his class with some fluid stroke-play.

At 183 for 2, the asking rate was still pretty steep as Adrian Kuiper joined Wessels. The Western Province all-rounder had already given an indication of his hitting abilities by hitting an enormous six at the Eden Gardens, which had been applauded by the massive crowd. Now, he came out and started striking the ball with grace, ease and a lot of power. He skipped down the wicket to the fast men, and, when they bounced in retaliation, he had all the time to adjust his stroke mid-stride and rock back to pull.

His 63 from just 41 balls that day not only took South Africa comfortably past the formidable target with 20 balls to spare, it also put the re-emerging nation firmly onto the cricketing map.

3. WV Raman 114 at Centurion Park, Verwoerdburg, December 1992

Indians had been hammered in the first 2 ODIs of their first tour to South Africa. In the third game, the 214 runs scored by the home team perhaps did not look formidable on paper. But, the attack of Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Brian McMillan, Craig Matthews and Hansie Cronje was perhaps the hardest to get away, especially on a difficult wicket and backed up by some outstanding fielding.

The first Indian wicket put on 56 before Ajay Jadeja fell; but it was an uphill struggle consuming 19 overs. Amre and Azharuddin did not amount to much, and the asking rate kept mounting steadily. Tendulkar scored brisk 24-ball 22 before being out to a controversial caught-behind decision. Kapil Dev could manage just one.

All along, opener WV Raman held firm at one end, with plenty of steel underneath the lazy elegance. Classy drives were punctuated with steady hits to the leg side. The century he scored that day was superb and chanceless. Indeed, the only opportunity he gave was at 106. In the end, it was quite a sight to watch Shastri and Raman, two of the slowest movers in world cricket, stealing singles under the noses of the South African fielding outfit. Raman fell for 114, and at that point the total read 194. He had singlehandedly brought India close. Shastri settled the issue with some old fashioned slogs through mid-wicket. India won with 5 balls to spare.

4. Sourav Ganguly 141 not out, Gymkhana Club Ground, Nairobi, October 2000

It was the semi-final of the ICC Knockout Trophy, later to become known as the Champions Trophy. It was a good toss to win and Sourav Ganguly had no hesitation in electing to bat. And then he went on to justify his decision with a knock that lasted the entire stretch of the Indian innings.

He started slow, but his eyes lit up when Nicky Boje came on. The left-arm spinner was lofted for 3 sixes in his 2 overs and was left licking his wounds in the outfield for the rest of the innings. Ganguly’s knock had only one blemish, when he guided Lance Klusener to the backward point – fortunately for the Indian skipper it was a no-ball.

Ganguly ended with an unbeaten 141 out of a total of 295. South Africa could score only 200 in response.

5. Gary Kirsten 133 not out, New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, October 2001

When both openers of the opposition score centuries while putting up a big total, it is generally a difficult target to chase. Sourav Ganguly’s 127 and Sachin Tendulkar’s 100 took India to 279 in the first match of the 2001 series.

However, Gary Kirsten approached the task with clinical efficiency. The opening stand with Herschelle Gibbs saw 114 put on in less than 18 overs. Jacques Kallis, Johnty Rhodes and Lance Klusener all stayed with him for crucial periods. None of them managed big scores, but Kirsten just went on and on.

After the initial bout of aggression, his methods were of simple, straightforward consolidation. He was still there when the Proteans overhauled the target without any fuss, with 10 balls to spare.

6. Herschelle Gibbs 116 retired hurt, R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, September 2002

Yet another Champions Trophy semi-final. The Indian total of 261 looked puny with Gibbs at the wicket. The cover drives were magnificent, the pulls imperious and the sweeps essayed from the middle of the bat. It was sensational hitting and the Indians had no idea about how to stem the flow of runs. South Africa looked all set to win this at a canter.

And then at 192 for 1 in 37 overs, with 70 runs required with plenty of resources in terms of overs and wickets, Gibbs was attacked by cramps in both hands and walked off the ground. The Proteans choked. Within 2 runs, Jonty Rhodes and Boeta Dippenaar had been dismissed by Harbhajan Singh, the former falling to a spectacular catch by Yuvraj Singh. And then Sehwag produced a scintillating spell of bowling to win a near impossible game for India.

7. Justin Kemp 100 not out, Newlands, Cape Town, November 2006

Justin Kemp walked out to bat in the 19th over with South Africa were reeling at 71 for 5 against the Indian pacemen.

Soon, AB de Villiers was caught behind for 29 to make it 76 for 6. Kemp played sedately in the company of Shaun Pollock. He made just 35 from the first 62 balls. And then he erupted, with massive swings of the willow, putting the spectators sitting beyond long-on and mid-wicket in considerable physical danger. Off the last 27 balls, he scythed through the Indian bowling at a strike rate of 240.74. After Pollock had departed for 33, Andrew Hall proved an able partner. And Kemp stepped on the accelerator with both feet. 76 runs came hurtling between the 43rd and 47th overs.

Kemp remained unbeaten on 100, with 6 fours and 7 sixes. Three of those sixes were slammed off Zaheer Khan and 3 more off Irfan Pathan. South Africa ended their innings on 274. India could manage only 168 in response.

8. Sachin Tendulkar 200 not out, Captain Roop Singh Stadium, Gwalior, February 2010

It was the day the Everest of ODIs was scaled. The 200-run barrier was crossed on the shoulders of an ageing giant running his last few spectacular laps on the cricket scene.

Sachin Tendulkar paced his innings to perfection, scoring fluently all through, reaching the fantastic milestone in the final over, off 147 deliveries. There were 25 fours and 3 sixes as all bowlers were treated with equal disdain. The flowing knock was studded with trademark flicks and delightful drives, and once in a while a charge down the wicket with a lofted drive to the deep.

India finished on 401. AB de Villiers did hit back with a century, but South Africa could manage only 248.

9. AB de Villiers 102 not out, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, February 2010

There were 17 overs and 1 ball remaining in the innings when de Villiers walked out to bat at Motera. In the 44th over, he cut an Irfan Pathan delivery from outside the leg stump to the point boundary to bring up his fifty.

The remaining 22 balls he faced got him 52 more, with 5 fours and 3 sixes. All the sixes were struck against pace bowlers, one of them an exquisitely lofted over extra-cover, another an incredible slog sweep over square-leg and the third slammed over mid-wicket.

South Africa were propelled along to 365 and won by 90 runs.

10. Yusuf Pathan 105, Supersport Park, Centurion, January 2011

As India chased a revised target 268 in 46 overs, Yusuf Pathan made his way to the crease with the score on 60 for 5 from 12 overs. It soon became 74 for 6, then 98 for 7 and 119 for 8.  And in desperation, Pathan clubbed a century of frightening violence that had the Proteans flayed witless for at least a short while during which a miraculous Indian victory looked increasingly likely.

He started with a tumbling reverse sweep off Robin Peterson. He fell over but the ball went all the way. And with Zaheer Khan managing to survive in spite of some typical tail-ender slogs, Pathan clobbered his way forward, reaching 66 from 58 balls.

At this stage, with India needing 93 runs from 80 balls, Pathan bludgeoned 4 sixes and 3 fours, getting to 100 in 68 balls. With this charge, India required just 51 from the last 11 overs. Another few minutes of Pathan and it would have been a fairytale finish. However, with an asking rate below 5, he tried to slam Morne Morkel out of the ground. The ball went heavenwards and Faf du Plessis waited for an eternity before accepting it with his grateful palms. Pathan left disconsolate, for a hurricane 105 from 70 balls with 8 fours and 8 sixes. India lost by 33 runs.