The South African cricket team has always done well in India after their return to international cricket at a packed house in Eden Gardens, Calcutta on November 10, 1991. It was an ODI that India won while chasing 178 but the result of the game was insignificant compared to the significance of the occasion.
In subsequent years South Africa has given India the toughest challenge at home in Test cricket. After the last Test in Nagpur the South African team is up 5-4 in their overall record in India in 11 Test matches. In contrast, India’s record in South Africa becomes worth mentioning only because in their last tour India managed to win a Test; their first and only one at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. The overall record in 12 Test matches is a dismal one win against six losses.
In year 2000 South Africa registered their first series win in India by winning the Tests in Mumbai and Bangalore. India won the 2004 series 1-0 after the visitors managed to draw the first Test in Kanpur with Andrew Hall opening the innings and making a resolute 163. Harbhajan Singh bowled India to victory at the Eden Gardens taking seven wickets in the South African second innings.
The 2008 series was a three-Test series that started with a high-scoring draw in Chennai. South Africa batted first and made 540 and India replied with 627; on the back of Sehwag’s second triple hundred (319 runs in 304 balls; his was the second wicket to fall with India’s total at 481). South Africa took a 1-0 lead in Ahmedabad where India was dismissed for 76 in the first innings that lasted exactly 20 overs; Dale Steyn picked 5 and Ntini and Morkel 3 and 2 respectively.
South Africa made 494 with Kallis getting a hundred and de Villiers an unbeaten double hundred. India lost by an innings and 90 runs after getting 328 in the second innings. It was India’s worst home defeat in 50 years and if there was any positive to come out of it then it was an 87 by Sourav Ganguly, whose fate was hanging in balance after a duck in the first innings and not much in the three Tests prior to Ahmedabad. The innings ensured that Ganguly would live to fight another day.
It proved to be the vital difference for India as it was the defiance of Ganguly that went a long way in helping India level the series at Kanpur. The wicket was a rank turner and South Africa made 265 batting first. Ganguly made an attacking 87 in India’s first innings with one senior and neutral commentator calling it as the best innings he had seen on a turning wicket. Ganguly ensured that in his last Test against South Africa he played a stellar role just like he had in his return to the fold during his warm-up 83 in Potchefstroom; an innings that paved the way for his remarkable Johannesburg comeback.
The 2006-07 Indian tour to South Africa is a perfect example of how to throw the advantage without resistance. After Johannesburg came the debacle of Durban; where at one point India could have pushed for victory and at all points could have fought for a draw but South Africa prevailed despite almost a day being lost to bad light and rain. India was all out in 55.1 overs as the light was dropping sharply on the fifth and final day of the Test. Half-an-hour of defiance from the top order would have made it so much easier for those in the lower order who went down fighting.
If Perth has become the symbol of prevailing in adversity then Cape Town and Durban are inexplicable debacles showing lack of self belief and failure to build the advantage for a historic away win. Dinesh Karthik opened the innings in Cape Town with Wasim Jaffer and Sehwag batted lower down the order. The move was a great success as the pair added 153 before Karthik fell for 63. India made 414 with Sehwag getting 40 in 50 balls at number 7. What could have been a decisive lead was whittled out by Boucher and Pollock combining towards the end and SA finished with 373 on the board. Sehwag had repeatedly failed at the top of the order and did reasonably-well when used at number 7 in the first innings yet the ploy was not used the second time around. The second innings woes of Tendulkar didn’t help the Indian cause though he scored runs consistently in the first innings. More than the runs and the wickets what separated the two teams was hunger and doggedness and South Africa did better on both counts.
Having come out of a match where they were comprehensively beaten in all departments of the game India now go to the Eden Gardens with a series loss at home and the number one Test ranking at stake. They have everything to play for and they could do well to remember that this ground produced a cricketer who many a times produced a gem when the odds were stacked against him and the team’s fortune was hanging by the width of a thread.