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On March 27, 2014, Ashwell Prince called it a day from all forms of cricket. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the left-handed batsman who made a name for himself at the international stage for his tenaciousness and ability to withstand pressure cooker situations.
After the quarter-final defeat against the West Indies in 1996 World Cup, the South African cricketers had returned home with a forlorn look on their faces. However, at the same-time, the Under-19 team from the Rainbow Nation was touring India and was giving the home side a run for their money. They had a setup made up of players with heavy dollops of burgeoning potential.
Of that team, names like Mark Benfield, Hendrik Dippenaar, Douglas Gain, Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini, Nantie Hayward and Pierre Joubert flash to one’s mind. Another name that can be added to the list is that of the Ashwell Prince.
Now, Prince was expected to pass the trial by fire of facing up to spinners, Balaji Rao and Murali Kartik, with aplomb. Though he struggled to pen his mark on turning tracks, he had displayed unmistakable potential and fortitude to succeed.
If we fast forward to our present world, it can be said that Prince, who walked into the sunset of his career on Thursday by retiring from all forms of the game can look back at his glittering achievements with a sense of fulfillment.
Prince had to bide for his time to make his debut for South African national team. He struggled for consistency and it was only in 2000-01 that he took his game to a different height in First-Class cricket by averaging over 50. The next season, he was soon playing for South Africa against the rampaging Aussies at Johannesburg, Wanderers. In the final Test of the series at Cape Town, he looked like a fish out of water even against Mark Waugh’s off-spin. Where was that Prince who, in his brief stays at the crease during South Africa Under-19′s tour to India, had looked like a quality player, one wondered.
In fact, it took him three more years of trials and tribulations before accruing his first hundred against Zimbabwe. But it was his innings against the all-conquering Australian setup at Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 2005-06 that would have given him immense satisfaction. As Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee came charging into the crease, Prince like an atlas stood tall to compile a hundred. It was clear during the innings that he had conquered his inner demons and was ready to fly on the wings of success.
He was in impressive form in 2006. It is difficult to forget his game-changing hundred against India at Kingsmead, Durban that year. South Africa had lost the first Test and they needed to up their game in the second Test. Prince shone like a beacon in the second game with a fine hundred in difficult conditions.
He was perhaps at the peak of his prowess when South Africa toured England in 2008. He amassed two hundreds that included him standing alone like a boy on the burning deck in the first innings of the first Test of the series at Lord’s. Even in the Test match played at Headingley, Leeds, his hundred played a major role in South Africa winning the match.
Prince’s final hundred was at Cape Town against Australia in 2008-09. In what turned out to be a dead-rubber contest, as Australia had already won the series, it was Prince’s innings that helped South Africa to save face and win the Test.
Since that hundred though, he struggled for form. He seemed to be going through a bad patch with no light at the end of the tunnel. The Test match played against Sri Lanka in 2011-12, Durban, turned out to be his last.
Prince wasn’t cut-out for shorter forms of the game yet, he averaged over 35 in that format. He was also the fulcrum of Lancashire’s batting line-up for many years. It has to be remembered that they play lots of their games at Liverpool, where the tracks were dicey to say the least.
Prince served every team he played with diligence and devotion. One can only salute the left-hander Prince for his fine batsmanship and for upholding the traditions of the gentleman’s game.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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