*A picture of South African cricket team with the West Indies team before the start of the first Test to be played by South Africa in over twenty years. However they had resumed international cricket by playing a three match ODI series against India in India.
There was heartbreak, but there was triumph too….a big one. Without a doubt the best one-day team of this time period. There are many who would argue that the Golden era of cricket in South Africa was in the sixties, but the truth is that it was the nineties that established them as a cricketing powerhouse. To come out from a two decade long exile and do match the best in the business with ZERO exposure at international level…. It said a lot about what cricket meant to the rainbow nation, even in abandonment where the CURRY CUP(To the uninitiated it is the local/domestic cricket in South Africa as it was known to the world in the 70s, 80s and early 90s).To start from scratch and to reach where they are, it has to be one of crickets biggest feats(collectively). The world wondered as to how could South Africa actually be that good after resuming. Exploits in the English domestic cricket was a haven to many and there were many talented South African players who actually made a career at the international scene by donning the cap with three lions. Allan Lamb and Robin Smith were two such names. And then there was Kepler Wessels who made mark by playing for Australia and then returning to his country after it became evident that South Africa was going to be a name yet again in the small set of countries that play international cricket. If there is one person to actually be thanked for this, it has to be Dr. Ali Bacher who fought all those fights in the boardrooms and did all the negotiating to get it done. It was a wonderful moment not only for Souuth Africa, but for the rest of the world that were a witness to that great day in the winter of 1991/92 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata…..where it all started again. It was in this period that the Saffers tasted a lot of success and a bit of hard-luck. But it was so soothing to the eyes of a cricket fan. The biggest responsibility of this team was to bridge the generations lost and they did it rather well. Shaun Pollock is a living example.
To many, the readmitted South African cricket team post apartheid was like a breath of fresh air in the early nineties. There were energy levels on display like never before, there was a new zeal in the way people looked at fielding and the athleticism came to the fore. There were big expectations, but the challenge to live up to them was huge.
The roots lie deep in the South African culture, where sports is a way of life and the infrastructure has always been top-class. What made them special was their pace battery and bench strength. They had several fast bowlers of great repute.
This was a very exciting phase for cricket as a game, the ODI format was challenging Tests and overpowering it. The cricket in sub-continent started getting larger than life and the money started getting big as well. All of a sudden these aliens pop in with a refreshing brand of cricket that took many by surprise and many by amazement. There was Jonty Rhodes flying around and Donald who looked so surreal with a layer of zinc-cream. The Big MAC was not the golden arcs but the arc that those big legs of Brian McMillan formed in the slips. The solidity that Andrew Hudson brought and the elegance of Kirstens were all magnificent. Then there were the stalwarts in Clive Rice and Kepler Wessels who could not see much of cricket thereafter because they hadpassed their primes. But there was joy in plenty when they reaffirmed their stronghold.
After Wessels departed and Cronje got the captaincy, it was a period of stability and strength for the team. They tasted unprecedented success. In Hansie Cronje they had an ice cool and composed yet charismatic captain who took the entire team together to glory. The true strength of this team came from the fact that they had plenty of genuine all rounders…at times they batted all the way down till No.10. Thogh what followed after 1999 was shameful, but we have many good reasons to remember Hansie Cronje.
The journey had its share of heartaches, the 1992 World cup Semi-final being the biggest of them all…..and who could forget all the drama in the 1999 World Cup Semi-Final with three balls to spare….South Africa have worked hard to earn the tag of chokers, but the brand of cricket that they play has given cricket many reasons to smile.
South Africa is reaping the fruits of all the sacrifices and hard-work that went into the grass root levels in the dark ages.
What immortalizes that period is something not purely cricketing, but there is a picture of Bob Woolmer and his laptop(and trust me when I say this- a laptop in those days was as fancy as a sports car!!) that will always be there in the mind. People used to wonder if these energetic androids were actually programmed to play cricket.