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The Sydney Cricket Ground Test on South Africa’s tour of Australia ended in a humdinger on January 6, 1994. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls the day when Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald wrecked the hosts to an out-of-nowhere victory.
The series that had been called off over two decades back was now about to happen. The tourists did not have the likes of Barry Richards, the Pollocks, or Mike Procter, but what they had in store was no pushover either. The South Africans were in Australia with a purpose.
Leading the side was Kepler Wessels, who had scored a hundred on Test debut for Australia. They had serious pace in their ranks, and even if their batsmen were not really spectacular, they were solid in defence and defiance. Additionally, they had a supreme fielding unit, led by the inimitable Jonty Rhodes.
The first Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground had started amidst rains, and it was not until the fourth day that Allan Border could declare the innings closed at 342 for seven with Mark Taylor scoring nearly half the runs. Time ran out when South Africa were on 258 for three. There was no clear winner, and no team was on top when they reached SCG. Wessels won the toss and elected to bat.
Day One: Warne at his best
Australia struck early, with Glenn McGrath rapping Andrew Hudson on the pads. He was given out despite the ball seemed to have been going above the stumps. Hansie Cronje walked out to join Gary Kirsten, and the pair settled down with a grim, single-minded determination to keep the bowling out.
The ball “did things” even on first day (both Tim May and Shane Warne got turn very early in their spells), and runs were difficult to come by. Kirsten and Cronje remained intact till lunch with a vow to making it as difficult for the Australians as the hosts had made their lives to be.
Kirsten lost patience and was dropped by Mark Waugh off Craig McDermott at second-slip, but the pair held fort otherwise. The second wicket saw 90 runs being added in 152 minutes before Cronje flashed hard at McDermott, only for Waugh to come up with a low, diving catch.
Darryl Cullinan was fortunate to get a long-hop from Warne early in his innings (the rest of their careers would face an entirely different fate); he duly dispatched it for four, and followed it up with another cut for four off the same bowler. The joy did not last, as a googly (pitched almost exactly where the previous leg-break had) from Warne broke back and hit Cullinan’s stumps.
It all went wrong from there. True, Kirsten reached his fifty shortly afterwards, but Warne broke through – first by trapping Rhodes leg-before, and then by sucking Kirsten into a half-hearted grope: the southpaw was left stranded as Ian Healy removed the bails. He had scored 67 in 186 balls.
Dave Richardson was caught brilliantly by Taylor off Warne as the fielder showed great anticipation in bending towards his left and coming up with a one-handed reflex catch; Wessels himself hit a tossed-up delivery back to Warne, and three balls later Warne turned one across Craig Matthews that took his edge and went to Taylor.
Warne then decided to come round the wicket, and poor Pat Symcox was left completely clueless as he was bowled round his legs. Fanie de Villiers’ slash off McDermott went straight to Waugh’s hands at second slip, and South Africa crashed to 169 after being 91 for one. Warne finished with seven for 56.
Allan Donald struck early when a ball moved just a little away from Taylor at rapid pace, found the edge, and landed in Richardson’s gloves. Australia finished the day on 20 for one, 149 runs behind, with Michael Slater on five and David Boon on seven as the 32,681-strong crowd returned home.
Day Two: Slater secures lead
Slater and Boon stayed at the crease, adding 48 crucial runs before de Villiers brought one in. The ball found Boon’s inside edge and hit the stumps. Waugh made the cardinal sin of playing a turning ball from the crease; the off-break from Symcox surprised everyone by turning a mile and found Waugh’s pads. Australia were 75 for three, and a couple more wickets would certainly get the tourists back into the Test.
It was then that Border – like many, many times before in his illustrious career – set up tent at the crease and resisted the fightback of the South African seamers. Slater bludgeoned one through extra-cover to bring up his fifty, bringing the 27,679-strong crowd to its feet, and played an uncharacteristically dour innings.
Border stood firm as a rock at the other end, but neither batsman hesitated from playing strokes whenever anything loose was on the offer. With de Villiers and Matthews at their economic best and the fielders backing them up brilliantly, the Australians managed only fifty runs in the second session – but, to their credit, did not lose a wicket.
Border eventually gave in when he tried to slash de Villiers and could only edge it to Richardson. He had scored 49 from 190 balls, but had helped Slater add a crucial 104 in 242 minutes. Thanks to the partnership Australia were ahead by ten runs. Without a single further run being added, Donald clean bowled Slater with a smoking yorker for a 262-ball 92 at the other end.
South Africa grassed two chances, allowing Australia to go to stumps on 200 for five, 31 runs ahead. Damien Martyn was on 15 and Healy on six.
Day Three: Ups and downs
Both Martyn and Healy started confidently the next morning, aided by a Kirsten drop at short-leg. The fifty-run partnership took 98 minutes, and as soon as the milestone was reached, Healy top-edged a hook off Donald and the ball ballooned up to land into Richardson’s gloves.
Warne swept Symcox for four but fell soon afterwards as he tried to clear the ground off the same bowler: Rhodes, placed strategically at cow-shot corner, ran in to take the catch. Martyn broke loose at the sight of McDermott walking out to bat, bludgeoning two boundaries before a deft late-cut off Symcox to reach his fifty.
He lost “Billy” as the fast bowler hit to Cronje at mid-off when de Villiers pitched up, but found resistance in May, who hung around for 51 balls in the end. Martyn eventually edged one to Richardson off de Villiers, and though McGrath scampered for his first Test run, but was no match for the Donald scorcher that hit his stumps.
Australia had secured a 123-run lead – which was huge given the pitch. Donald and de Villiers had picked up two wickets apiece. The crowd of 17,942 waited for the South African chase.
Hudson fell cheaply again, this time edging McDermott to Healy for one. Once again Kirsten and Cronje put up a stubborn resistance, putting up an exemplary display of stamina, temperament, and footwork, adding 73 in 134 minutes before Kirsten played-on against McDermott.
Despite a broken finger and a sore knee, Wessels promoted himself to four. South Africa finished the day on 94 for two – still 29 runs behind – with Cronje on 37 and Wessels on seven. They perhaps needed a 200-run lead to put up a challenge of sorts.
Day Four: Warne routs, de Villiers avenges
Despite his restricted movements due to his injuries, Wessels showed excellent application as he hung around with Cronje. The pair was doing fine till McDermott produced a beauty: the ball found the perfect line and length and bowled the vice-captain. Wessels swept Warne for four but was bowled shortly afterwards to one that spun almost at a right-angle.
Cullinan struggled for a while before a fast delivery from Warne trapped him leg-before. South Africa were reduced to 110 for five and were still 13 short of making Australia bat again as Richardson walked out to join Rhodes.
The 17,285 spectators at the ground had to wait for the next wicket as the pair not only held fort but also piled up runs. The 123-mark was achieved first, then 150; the 96-minute partnership of 72 came to an end only when McGrath had the wicket-keeper leg-before.
Once the Australians saw the slightest streak of light they broke through the door: McDermott bowled one on a perfect line and length that had Symcox caught-behind while Warne turned another almost at a right-angle across Matthews that took his edge and went to Waugh at silly-point to give Warne his tenth wicket.
Rhodes flicked Warne through mid-wicket to bring up his fifty and the South African 200, but there was no stopping Warne: the ball that hit de Villiers on the pad would have gone on to hit the middle-stump. As Donald walked out Rhodes decided to play his strokes, and lofted McDermott for a six over square-leg.
Rhodes scored runs at a frantic pace, wanting to score as many as possible before Donald’s resistance ended. The pair added 37 in 42 minutes before Donald was caught-behind off Warne, leaving Rhodes stranded on a 162-ball 76: it would turn out to be the partnership that would define the Test.
Warne had picked up five for 72 (his match figures read 12 for 128) while McDermott had four for 62. Australia needed to score only 117 to go one-up in the series.
Slater, the hero of the first innings, was bowled through the gate by de Villiers for one before Taylor and Boon settled down for a 109-minute partnership of 47. Boon hit one tamely back to Donald, who grassed the chance, but Kirsten pulled one out of thin air at short-leg off de Villiers to dismiss Boon.
May, sent in as night-watchman, was trapped leg-before the first ball; Waugh prevented the hat-trick with an elegant flick that fetched him three, but de Villiers had Taylor caught-behind as well shortly afterwards. Australia finished the day on 63 for four with Waugh on four and Border on seven, all four wickets having gone to de Villiers. Could they polish off the remaining 54 runs?
Day Five: A historic win
Free entry was announced for Day Five, and a huge crowd of 107,587 flocked to the ground. Both sides had a chance to win; Australia, however, were the favourites.
Wessels could not field in Australia’s second innings, and Cronje had been an excellent job as a stand-in. Before the day’s play, however, Wessels had a chat with Cronje: he had, after all, played alongside Border for a long time, and knew what might work against him.
The first ball from Donald seemed to be a gentle loosener that pitched just on off and moved away from Border. The second ball pitched at approximately the same location, but held its line and hit the off-stump: the main thorn in the South African flesh was out of the way.
A screaming Donald yorker hit Waugh on the boot and the umpire nodded in approval; Healy was sized up by an awkward bouncer first-up, and when he managed a single to reach the other end he found his stumps rattled by de Villiers; it was the first Test five-for in the fast bowler’s career.
Martyn then pushed the ball to extra-cover with Cronje in hot pursuit; the batsmen turned blind, and so did Cronje when he picked up the ball; the direct hit found Warne short of the non-striker’s end. Australia were 75 for eight, and the balance had tilted in the favour of the tourists.
Martyn was there, though: the thought seemed to have given McDermott ideas as he opened up. The broad shoulders, strong forearms, and the club of a bat came into action as he sent the tourists in a leather-hunting spree all around the ground. With hundred coming up the Australians inched closer and closer towards the target.
The hosts reached 110, which meant that they had to score only seven more. It was then that it happened: Martyn, who had held strong for 106 minutes, had a sudden brain-freeze of sorts. He hit an entirely unnecessary stroke off Donald to Hudson at cover, ending his 59-ball resilience that was worth only six singles.
McGrath got a single amidst tumultuous cheer from the crowd. As the clock ticked over to 12.50 de Villiers steamed in, and, with only six more runs to get, McGrath lobbed one back to de Villiers. From 51 for one they had collapsed to 111, and de Villiers had finished with figures of six for 43 (and match-figures of ten for 123).
Wisden called it “An Australian collapse reminiscent of [Ian] Botham’s Test at Headingley in 1981 – the eventual total of 111 was exactly the same.” Ali Bacher called the victory “our finest achievement ever”, which was a big thing to say, given that Bacher himself had led South Africa to a 4-0 whitewash the last time the teams had played. South Africa had won nine of their previous 13 Tests against Australia.
- The SCG defeat had not gone down too well with the selectors. Unfortunately, they picked out only Martyn, who was not recalled for over six years.
- Australia had their revenge in the third and final Test at Adelaide. Steve Waugh, with 164 and four for 26, set things off before Warne led the hosts to a 191-run victory.
- Cronje led the South African side after Wessels’ retirement over a tenure that was remembered for multiple reasons.
South Africa 169 (Gary Kirsten 67, Hansie Cronje 41; Shane Warne 7 for 56) and 239 (Jonty Rhodes 76*, Gary Kirsten 41; Shane Warne 5 for 72, Craig McDermott 4 for 62) beat Australia 292 (Michael Slater 92, Damien Martyn 59, Allan Border 49; Fanie de Villiers 4 for 80, Allan Donald 4 for 83) and 111 (Fanie de Villiers 6 for 43, Allan Donald 3 for 34) by 5 runs.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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