On November 10, 1991, South Africa made a return to international cricket after an exile of over two decades. Abhishek Mukherjee provides an eye-witness account of the action at Eden Gardens in which 11 players debuted — including 10 from South Africa!
Born in the pre-internet era, my generation’s knowledge of South Africa was restricted to Richard Attenborough’s epic. We had vaguely heard that they had been banned from international sports for something that had to do with apartheid. So when they came back to international cricket, and it was in my city, I had to coax my father to take me to the stadium.
The Eden was packed to capacity — then 90,000 plus. I clearly remember that the match was scheduled for an early start, despite the Kolkata smog that prevailed in November in the early 1990s. However, there was a ceremony of sorts that delayed the start of the match by a few minutes.
When I look back at the match now, it seems almost funny that the entire Eden Gardens crowd — or at least the ones audible to me — was under the impression that South Africa, like Zimbabwe, were apparently minnows of world cricket. A few knowledgeable people had seen Kepler Wessels and had heard of Clive Rice, but that was that. How opinions changed in a few months hence, at the World Cup!
I tried to shout and make him aware of the fact that he could easily have inserted Wessels (vessel) in the poster, but he did not seem to catch it.
Before the smog lifted, Andrew Hudson was gone, caught behind off Kapil Dev.
At the other end, Manoj Prabhakar bowled a tight line, as runs were hard to come by for South Africa.
Both Indian seamers bowled a tight line, and when the young tearaway Javagal Srinath removed Cook, Eden Gardens passed the verdict that the Proteans would fold for less than 100. Cook’s painstaking 17 had lasted 48 balls, and did not contain a single boundary.
Wessels prodded on, though, holding one end tight. Mohammad Azharuddin had introduced spin, and Venkatapathy Raju pierced Peter Kirsten’s defence. Like Cook, Kirsten did not manage a boundary either, and could scrape seven off 29 balls.
“Will Kapil cook Rice for lunch?” went up again.
Adrian Kuiper walked out next, and it was then that the match changed gears. Kuiper, unlike Cook and Kirsten, rotated the strike expertly. As Wessels held one end intact, Kuiper began to accelerate. “Looks like he’s their best player”, uttered a middle-aged gentleman.
South Africa crossed 100, and soon afterwards, Wessels reached a well-compiled 50. Immediately, Tendulkar managed to hit his stumps, and the ground erupted. Nine years earlier, Wessels had scored a fifty on his ODI debut for Australia. Now he managed to achieve the same feat on his debut for South Africa as well.
Kuiper hit a six, and with a few blows from Rice and Richard Snell, South Africa reached 177 for eight in 47 overs, a below par score even by 1991 standards.
As Shastri and Navjot Sidhu went out to open batting, the general notion was that India would knock off the target with eight or nine wickets in hand. As the tall, lean Shastri took guard, we saw a menacing figure measuring out his run-up at the High Court End. He was tall; he was broad-shouldered; he was blonde; and it seemed like he meant business. Their wicket-keeper Dave Richardson stood way, way behind than where Indian wicket-keepers do. Something was different here, I thought.
I was seated just behind deep extra cover, getting a square view of the ground. Had I got a Clubhouse ticket, I might have actually seen the ball Allan Donald bowled from the High Court End. As it happened, I could not. I didn’t think either Shastri did! All I saw was a mild puff of dust at the point at which the ball hit the pitch; the next thing I knew was Richardson collecting it in his gloves. Four balls later Shastri was walking back to the pavilion after edging one.
Meanwhile, Snell at the other end looked quite human; at least what he unleashed was visible to the naked eye of the spectator!
Donald bowled on, relentlessly, and possibly got faster in his second and third overs. Manjrekar’s stumps were uprooted, while Sidhu cut one to Brian McMillan at gully. India were reeling at 20 for three, all three wickets falling to Donald. Some old-timers mentioned Wes Hall, some others Malcolm Marshall and Patrick Patterson. But all of them were known dangers, unlike Allan Donald.
Donald’s bowling had hit Eden Gardens so hard that it had almost forgotten to welcome its two favourite sons — Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin. Though Donald beat both of them early in their innings, he was tiring, and was soon taken out of the attack. McMillan, despite his humongous frame, was not as fast, and Tim Shaw, the left-arm spinner, seemed quite ordinary, and runs were scored at will.
With the score on 60, Azharuddin stepped out and tried to loft Shaw, and was stumped. In walked Praveen Amre on his ODI debut. Amre looked unimpressive in stature (though when the bowler ran up to him, he hit the ground with the bat so hard that it seemed he might dent the pitch if he was there for a few hours: the thak-thak could be heard in the gallery).
Tendulkar batted with panache, and Amre supported him patiently. Both batsmen hit a few boundaries, and the imminent danger seemed over as Tendulkar crossed 50 and India reached 100. That was when Rice brought Donald back for a second time. And he removed Tendulkar almost immediately. Tendulkar’s 73-ball 62 included eight fours and a pulled six over mid-wicket. India were 116 for five, with the all-rounders to follow.
Donald’s second burst was a small one. Rice probably kept him for the end, and brought himself and Kuiper on. Both bowled medium-pace off short run-ups: the 42-year old Rice’s accuracy was phenomenal. He gave nothing away, and was well-supported by Kuiper. Even Kapil could not manage to score fast off them, and he ultimately perished as Kuiper clean bowled him. Kapil fell for an uncharacteristic 30-ball 11, and at 148 for six, South Africa were still in the match.
Amre, however, continued in an unperturbed manner. There was something calm and reassuring about his presence at the crease. Not a flamboyant strokemaker like his illustrious fellow student at Ramakant Achrekar’s, Amre was all about efficiency. He looked solid in defence, and whenever there the loose deliveries did not go unpunished. He reached his fifty on debut.
Rice brought back Donald again, and though Prabhakar hung around, Donald trapped Amre leg before for a crafty 55, scored from 74 balls. Like Tendulkar, his innings consisted of eight fours and a very, very straight six. This was Donald’s fifth wicket, and his final figures read 8.4-0-29-5 — only the third bowler to take five wickets on his ODI debut.
I was fortunate to have witnessed the arrival of a star on the international arena.
The Man of the Match award was shared between Tendulkar and Donald, which I thought was a bit harsh, since Amre had played an almost equally important role as Tendulkar, and none of them had performed the way Donald had in the match, on his international debut.