JOHANNESBURG – Cricinfo had one of those video montages up on their site this week, which got me recalling - or trying to - the Indian tour to South Africa in the summer of 1992/93.
Test cricket felt all very new. Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan, Brett Schultz and the not-so-new Omar Henry and Jimmy Cook all made their Test debuts at Kingsmead.
Sachin Tendulkar was run out via the TV Umpire, Trevor Quirk, Robin Jackman, Jack Bannister and Lee Irvine were the TV commentators. The Test series actually halted after the first two matches, so that the sides could squeeze in seven ODIs and then resumed on Boxing Day (yup, India did used to play a Boxing Day Test in South Africa way back when) in Port Elizabeth, with the hosts winning thanks to Allan Donald.
It was to be the only victory by either side in a series, which by today’s standards would be described as ‘boring.’ Scoring rates, barely hit three runs an over - in fact it was only South Africa, who scored at a rate of more than three an over (3.02) when chasing 153 to win at St Georges Park - but 25 years ago, it was all so captivating.
The Newlands Test in that series was my first actually watching Test cricket live, in the old Willows section. Somewhere, in a cupboard at my mother’s house in Cape Town, there’s a match programme - stained with some drops from a Surf Joy sucker - with autographs obtained from Meyrick Pringle and more impressively Anil Kumble. No one knew what to expect in that series, because it was all so new, and South Africa - who used 14 players across the four Tests - hadn’t played Test cricket for over two decades.
This summer’s series too is a hard one to call. India are quite rightly confident. Sure, conditions in this country are not what they are used to, but they have so many skilful players, a potential ‘great’ of the game in Virat Kohli and importantly a seam attack with a lot of depth - something which they’ve never had in a previous series in this country.
South Africa’s batting is somewhat of concern, simply because of the limited game time so many of the players have had this season. Does that make India favourites?
Not really. It will be a series decided by small margins. There is probably more riding on the outcome for India than there is for the Proteas, simply because India’s No 1 Test ranking feels somewhat contrived owing to all the matches they’ve gotten to play at home.
Lose, and India’s ranking is discredited, win, and Kohli and Co can probably call themselves the best team to emerge from that country.