South African cricket this week celebrates 25 years since its unification and re-entry into world cricket. There have been many memorable moments, from sublime to gut-wrenching.
It began when the late Clive Rice led a hastily arranged three-match tour of India. The team arrived to a rapturous welcome and the tour was a resounding success despite losing 2-1.
The World Cup followed and Jonty Rhodes shot to global stardom by launching himself at the stumps to run out Inzamam Ul Haq. In the semi-finals against England, rain dealt South Africa a cruel blow. After a delay, they went from needing 22 runs off 13 balls, to the farce of 22 off one.
This became an omen for World Cups.
Soon afterwards, South Africa returned to the Test arena with one match against the West Indies in Barbados. Andrew Hudson scored 163 on debut. Set 201 to win, the Proteas fell 52 short.
India was the first to tour South Africa, with a 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar. South Africa won that four-match series 1-0. Highlights in the years after included the dramatic Sydney New Year’s Test in 1994 when Fanie de Villiers bowled to an improbable victory. Thrashing England by 356 runs at Lord’s that year was another high point.
Moving along to the 1999 World Cup in England: in South Africa’s nerve-wracking tied semi-final against Australia, Allan Donald and Lance Klusener ran themselves out, needing just one run with three balls remaining.
The Hansie Cronje scandal of 2000 was a dark period, inflicting injury from which we have still not fully recovered.
In World Cup 2003, there was another tied match and more heartbreak, against Sri Lanka in Durban. Thanks again to Duckworth and Lewis, and miscalculations in the dressing room, we were eliminated in the group stages on home turf.
The Graeme Smith era followed and Test series wins in Australia, England and the West Indies cemented our status as the No 1 Test team. The Proteas enjoyed this for 42 months over six years.
Who will forget March 12, 2006, at the Wanderers? South Africa confounded all by chasing Australia’s mammoth 434. Herschelle Gibbs’s electrifying 175 off 111 balls, Smith’s 90 in 55, and Mark Boucher’s unbeaten 50 saw the Proteas daze the visitors.
Then there was Hashim Amla’s 311 against England at the Oval in 2012.
Great moments, disappointing moments – on and off the field. Brilliant play and hopeless lapses, reasons for immense pride and exasperation.
If the years ahead are as unpredictable and exciting as the last 25, South African cricket fans have a lot to look forward to.