March 5, 1994. Shane Warne bowled Andrew Hudson round his legs and proceeded to give the batsman the most animated send-off ever seen in cricket. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the incident which had Wisden noting ‘Rarely on a cricket field has physical violence seemed so close.’
It was a huge tour for both the nations. The Australians had not been in the country for 24 years, ever since Bill Lawry’s men had been handed a 4-0 rout by an exceptionally talented bunch of cricketers. And that is about as much the world was allowed to see of that brilliant South African unit. The next 22 years were spent in painful isolation.
And now, in 1994, Allan Border took his men to the Rainbow Country. It was to be his last international series. The tour was not a happy one.
It was high pressure situation. As their plane touched down, as many as eight thousand people thronged to welcome the Australian team in the airport lounge. The interest generated was enormous and unnerving.
In his book Shane Warne, My Own Story, the legendary leg-spinner writes that the sight that greeted Australia as soon as they set foot on the land was not a very appealing one.
“Only half an hour after the Australian team landed in Johannesburg one warm February morning in 1994, we saw something from the bus taking us to our hotel that seemed a bad omen for the rest of the tour. People were heading off to work, walking across fields, queuing for buses, packed into the back of pick-up trucks. And in the middle of all this, on both sides of the freeway, were six bodies with white sheets draped over them. It was quite a shock. Welcome to South Africa.”
The Australian cricketers were supposedly always under spotlight. People crowded them, asking for autographs, wanting to meet them, snatch a few moments of their time, shake their hands and touch them. It was intense and the focus was unsettling. And all the while they wanted the home team to thrash the visitors in exactly the same way as 1970, recalls Dean Jones who was also on his last international tour. There were quite a few ‘sheep jokes’ that were thrown about at the expense of the tourists.
Warne claims that the continuous attention of the public got to him.
On the cricket front, it was always going to be a Titanic tussle. Earlier that season, South Africa had pulled off a freakish five-run win in Sydney and then lost comprehensively in Adelaide to share an away series. Now, the side was keyed up to take on the might of Australia at home.
A late bowl
The Australians started strongly in the first Test at Johannesburg, Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes reducing the hosts to 126 for six. It was yet another rearguard recovery engineered by Jonty Rhodes and Dave Richardson that saw the Proteans end up with 251. Warne, held back till the 49th over, picked up one wicket for 42.
The South African attack, lacking in variation but highly skilled, consisted of four high-quality pace bowlers. Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Brian McMillan and Craig Matthews did splendid work to restrict the Australians to 248, with only the Waugh twins making decent scores.
The hosts began their second innings late in the second day and the trusted pair of Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten took the score to 42 without loss.
On Sunday, a huge crowd flocked in and the South Africans steadily started to bat Australia out of the match. Kirsten was snared by off-spinner Tim May, but Hansie Cronje joined Hudson at the wicket and was slowly taking the game away from the visitors. In a strange move, Allan Border kept Warne off the attack till the 44th over, and when he was allowed a bowl, the score was already 122 for one.
Wisden claims that it may have been this long delay before being put on to bowl in both the innings that instigated Warne into the disgraceful act that followed. The bowler, however, says that it was mainly due to all the trouble back at the hotel. When Border tossed the ball to him saying, “We need you, Warnie, Come on, get us a wicket,” he was pumped up and jittery. In his own words, “I was in a state and wanted to show all the 40,000 people at the ground that I was going to fix them right up.”
The third ball from Warne bowled Hudson round his legs. Nostrils flaring, the leggie charged at the batsman, screaming, “**** off. Go on, Hudson, **** off out of here!”
Wisden chronicled the event as: “Rarely on a cricket field has physical violence seemed so close.” Ian Healy finally grabbed Warne and tried his best to stop him.
It was totally uncalled for and Hudson was not amused. Neither was the crowd who angrily booed Warne all through the rest of the day.
Warne confesses in his book: “Hudson is a good player and a lovely bloke, a good friend of my close mate Jonty Rhodes. Andrew had done nothing to deserve that sort of abuse. I look back at it now and wonder what was going on. The film of that incident is pretty awful, and the guy in the footage is not the real me.”
Neither were his teammates fascinated by what he had done. Paul Reiffel, the twelfth man, claimed that Warne had been rude to him when he had asked him for a few balls for a warm-up bowl. David Boon even commented that Warne had seemed tense and angry for the whole week.
South Africa ended the day at 335 for five, buoyed by a hundred by Cronje and a fifty from Kepler Wessels. At the end of the day, Warne had to appear in front of the ICC match referee Donald Carr. He was slapped with a thousand dollar fine.
It was not the only unsavoury incident that plagued the Australian side. Merv Hughes, frustrated by the determined South African batting, got into an ugly abusive snarling match with a spectator and was fined thousand dollars as well.
On their way back from Carr’s room, Warne and Hughes had to cross the South African dressing room, and came face to face with Hudson. According to his book, “I apologised to him straight away. I told him there was nothing personal in it and he was fine. In fact, most of the South Africans just had a good laugh about it all. They had no problems with me, which was a relief as the teams had been getting on very well.”
Well, the rest may be true, but the point about the teams getting on well may have been a bit stretched.
After South Africa had wrapped up the match by 197 runs, the action shifted to Cape Town. During the Test, Brian McMillan and Allan Border went at each other, unleashing a torrent of verbal abuse that even the hardened sledgers found difficult to swallow.
At tea, Border was winding down with a cup in hand when McMillan borrowed a AK-47 from a soldier posted, and cocked it at the Australian captain with the words: ”Anything to say now?”
Dean Jones wrote later in The Age “AB went white! Many of the South Africans thought it was funny. AB didn’t, nor anyone else in our team. McMillan handed the gun back to the soldier, and the game went on.”
The series was shared 1-1.
Brief scores: South Africa 251 (Jonty Rhodes 61, Gary Kirsten 47) and 450 (Andrew Hudson 60, Hansie Cronje 122, Kepler Wessels 50, Peter Kirsten 53; Shane Warne 4 for 86) beat Australia 248 (Mark Waugh 42, Steve Waugh 45) and 256 (Michael Slater 41, David Boon 83) by 197 runs.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)