On February 15, 1998, South Africa’s No. 10 batsman and premier spinner Pat Symcox became only the third player to score a Test century in that position. The opposition was Pakistan and the venue, Johannesburg. Prakash Govindasreenivasan relives the knock that Symcox is fondly remembered for.
Pat Symcox was a wily customer, a spinner who used his mind more than his fingers. When Symcox made his Test debut in 1993, not many thought he was talented enough to play at the highest level. Yet, his competitive spirit kept him going as went on to be South Africa’s first- choice spinner for the next few years. His international career lasted just six years, but in this period he made a huge impact on the game in the Rainbow nation.
Symcox was dangerous with the bat when he got going. He started off his domestic career as a batsman but shifted focus to bowling off-breaks to settle down as a lower-order batsman who could throw his bat around. Yet, one of his most important contributions to South Africa came with the bat.
Pakistan tour of South Africa, 1993
The first Test between the two sides began on Johannesburg on February 14, 1998. Visiting captain Aamir Sohail won the toss and put Gary Kirsten’s men into bat in the hope that his bowling unit that had the likes of Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed would run through the South African batting line-up and give his side a chance to force a favourable result. To their credit, they almost did.
A little over 50 overs into Day One, the home side was reeling at 166 for eight when 37-year-old Pat Symcox walked in to join 21-year-old Mark Boucher in the middle. This duo, the oldest and the youngest in the team at that moment, put together a record-shattering partnership.
The mid-pitch talk before Symcox took guard would have probably been to try and play out the remaining one-and-a-half session and not let the game slip away.
The visitors bowled 30 more overs in the day but failed to break this duo’s resolve. The South African pair put on an unbeaten stand of 130 runs, to take their team to 296 for eight at the end of day’s play. Symcox, who had scored a half-century only a month ago against Australia, brought up another fifty on this day to finish at 77 not out. His partner, Boucher was undefeated on 50.
The Pakistan bowlers would have been disappointed at not being able to finish off the tail but would have backed themselves to come hard at the settled South African pair in the morning session of Day Two. Unfortunately for them, it was another session that belonged to Symcox and Boucher.
Symcox’s unexpected feat
Symcox was always considered a handy batsman down the order and expected to contribute those extra 30-40 runs to the total and frustrate the opponents. What he went on to do in the first session was something completely different, even unimaginable.
The duo of Symcox and Boucher continued their expedition of overcoming the challenges posted by the Pakistani bowlers and stay at the wicket for as long as they could. Symcox needed just five more runs to overcome his previous best of 81 runs, against the same opponents at Faisalabad a few months ago. He eventually did and went on to score his first- ever Test hundred.
The nervous 90s
Symcox had never been in a situation like this before and yet he could feel the pressure. From making a valuable contribution in the lower order, Symcox was suddenly on the verge of scoring his maiden Test ton. From 90 to 100, Symcox took 10 singles and even went on to celebrate with a big leap in the air as his mates in the dressing room were on their feet, applauding the big man’s achievement.
The epic innings and the partnership
“I’ve always wondered what it felt like to score a Test hundred,” Symcox said. “I was at the crease when Hansie [Cronje] and Daryll [Cullinan] scored their first centuries and it seemed like something very, very special. Now I know and all I can say is that it is incredibly tough, mentally more than physically,” he said in an interview after the knock.
His knock of 108 was laced with 17 boundaries and he went on to add a record partnership of 195 runs for the ninth wicket with Boucher.
The big man retired a year later after pouring his heart out in the six years of his international career and this knock of 108 is forever etched in our memories.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)
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