South Africa had lost their maiden ODI series since readmission to international cricket, but they interested all and sundry by reaching the semi-final of the 1992 World Cup. The real test, however, lay ahead of them in the Caribbean Isles, for what would be their first Test in 22 years; the fact that they had to play West Indies — then the most formidable team in world cricket — at their den made the contest as difficult as any. And yet, South Africa dominated the Bridgetown Test for the first four days before they ran into one of the fiercest fast bowling pairs in the history of cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day when Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh ran riot at Kensington Oval.
When the topic of South Africa’s participation in the 1992 World Cup had come up, West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) did not reach a unanimous consensus. As a result, Deryck Murray, WICB representative at ICC, refused to vote at the meeting.
South Africa were immensely popular on return to international cricket, earlier that winter in India. Cracking West Indies, however, was different. Bacher set up a meeting with Clyde Walcott and Steve Camacho of WICB. The proposal was regarding 3 ODIs and a Test in West Indies in the summer of 1992.
There were opposition to begin with. Even Michael Manley, the Jamaican President who penned down A History of West Indian Cricket — one of the most definitive books on the history of cricket in the isles — was not in favour. It eventually took Nelson Mandela’s request to get the tour underway.
FW de Klerk also played a crucial role in the tour getting underway. De Klerk had asked the white South Africans whether they wanted to end the apartheid policy in South Africa. The question was simple: “Do you support continuation of the reform process which the State President began on 2 February 1990 and which is aimed at a new Constitution through negotiation?”
The results came out on March 17, 1992 — two days after South Africa had beaten India to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals. The support was overwhelming: 68.73% people welcomed the reform and wanted the discriminatory policy to end. In fact, of the 15 provinces, 14 voted in favour (the percentage zoomed to 85% for Durban and Cape Town). Only in Pietersburg (now Polokwane) did they lose.
The letter from Mandela and the outcome of de Klerk’s referendum definitely played a role in the tour going ahead.
Note: For the uninitiated, de Klerk was the last State President of South Africa. The post would be replaced by President of South Africa in 1994; Mandela would be the first President, and de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki would share Deputy President’s role during his tenure. Mandela and de Klerk were both awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993.
The tour went ahead. What was more, the tour was telecast on open-to-all national television in South Africa — in stark contrast with the World Cup, which was available on satellite television, mostly to the privileged white population.
Wisdom of Wessels
Of course, South Africa had played ODIs in India. They would also play in the 1992 World Cup, brushing Australia aside, crushing West Indies, and beating India and Pakistan comfortably. His spectacular fielding made Jonty Rhodes the poster boy of the tournament. His run out of Inzamam-ul-Haq remains one of the most-watched YouTube videos from that tournament.
But Test cricket was different. Test cricket was what they had been banished from when they had arguably reached their peak in the international arena. They had humiliated Australia on that 1969-70. The whitewash was a result as fair as any.
Meanwhile, as Bacher was going all guns to get that first Test underway, Kepler Wessels was not too confident. It perhaps had to do with the fact that Wessels was the only one in the side to have tasted Test cricket. He was aware of how demanding, how daunting a contest it was going to be like. He felt South Africa were not ready.
It did not help that South Africa would return to Test cricket in West Indies. Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, and Jeff Dujon had quit Test cricket together after the 1991 tour of England. Gordon Greenidge had retired as well. Richie Richardson was yet to lead them in a Test.
But even then, despite everything, West Indies were still the strongest side in the world, a fact that was evident in the ODIs. Phil Simmons thrashed the South Africans with a 113-ball 122 in the first ODI at Sabina Park. West Indies piled up 287 for 6 before their fast bowlers routed South Africa for 180.
Curtly Ambrose and Anderson Cummins took 3 wickets apiece in the second ODI, at Queen’s Park Oval. Worse, Andrew Hudson, Hansie Cronje, and Rhodes were all run out. South Africa folded for 152. Desmond Haynes and young Brian Lara dished out a 10-wicket defeat to the tourists, scoring at nearly 6 an over.
South Africa did bat all 50 overs in the dead-rubber match, also at Queen’s Park Oval. They crawled to 189 for 6. Simmons scored another hundred, and West Indies sauntered to a 7-wicket win with 7 overs in hand.
Wessels’ fears suddenly seemed real. After all, Kensington Oval, the venue of the one-off Test, was West Indies’ indestructible fortress. They had not lost a Test at the venue since 1935. Let alone a defeat, they had not even drawn a Test there since 1977.
Wisden, however, did not look too much into the South African defeat: “The South Africans went straight into the first game without a practice match 72 hours after their arrival. The nets in both Kingston and Port-of-Spain were unsatisfactory and the team were unable to get used to the perfect batting pitches and, after the white ball of the World Cup, a red ball which hardly swung.”
There was, of course, a bigger battle to be won, and that was done without much fuss. Omar Henry, the only coloured member of the touring side, was greeted with enthusiasm. And in the second ODI at Port-of-Spain, the tourists were given a standing ovation when they were practising before the match.
This was the same Port-of-Spain where a touring England side had faced protests because four of their men — Graham Gooch, John Emburey, Peter Willey, and Les Taylor — had toured South Africa.
Yes, South Africa were finally welcomed back to Test cricket.
NO CUMMINS NO GOINGS
Of course, it was not all smooth for West Indies, who lost both Gus Logie and Carl Hooper to injuries just before the Test. But that was not all.
The Bajans were not amused when Marshall had been left out of the 1992 World Cup. The most-feared man in the most-feared bowling attack in history never played international cricket after that.
And then, there was the case of the Antiguan Richards being replaced by the Richardson (another Antiguan, and younger to boot) ahead of the Barbadian Haynes. No, that had not gone down well, either.
The final nail in the coffin came when Cummins was left out of the final XI. There were two uncapped pacers in the squad. Obviously, there was only one slot to be filled, as a support to Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, and Patrick Patterson. They went for the Antiguan Kenny Benjamin ahead of the local boy Cummins.
Bridgetown collectively boycotted the Test as a city — to the extent that a total of 6,500 attended across five days — 3,000 of them on Day One. Yes, inter-island rivalry can reach extreme levels in the islands that look happy to the unsuspecting outsider.
As a result WICB incurred a loss that amounted to an estimated £100,000. Thankfully, the South African branch of British Petroleum paid the tourists’ expenses, which meant that WICB made a profit for the first time in a home tour in 15 years.
When play eventually got underway, the television cameras repeatedly focused on a banner at the ground with the text NO CUMMINS NO GOINGS sprawled across it in large letters. The attitude of the spectators was telling.
That, however, could not prevent the Test from becoming one of the greatest in history.
At a Snell’s pace
South Africa, too, fielded a pace-bowling quartet to counter the West Indians. It was an intriguing decision because of ICC’s new mandate: no bowler was allowed to bowl more than one bouncer per batsman per over.
Leading the pack was Allan Donald, at that point as fast as anyone in the world. Donald was always quick, but at that point of time in his career he also had the stamina to bowl for an hour, perhaps more, at extreme pace.
There was the erratic Tertius Bosch, who could sometimes be as quick as Donald, but was consistently guilty of overstepping.
Meyrick Pringle was not as quick, but he had single-handedly scythed through West Indies in their only previous encounter, in the 1992 World Cup. Pringle’s 4 for 11 that day were the best figures in the tournament.
Richard Snell, the fourth of the pack, could move the ball off a length at a shade above medium-pace.
They were four of the ten South Africans who made their debuts that Test. Wessels, of course, had played 24 times for Australia. On this day became the 14th man in history to play Test cricket for two nations.
West Indies, too, had three debutants, one of them being Benjamin. The others were Jimmy Adams, the obdurate batsman, and David Williams, the little-wicketkeeper. The replacements, a batsman, a fast bowler, and a wicketkeeper, were probably the best the selectors could bring in for Richards, Marshall, and Dujon.
Wessels had no hesitation in bowling first. No side had opted to bat at Kensington Oval since 1977, and there was no reason to opt otherwise.
Unfortunately, it almost backfired. Haynes and Simmons took firm control, adding 99 in 93 minutes before the latter hit Snell to Peter Kirsten at mid-off.
Out came Lara. He edged one to Wessels at slip first ball, but Wessels grassed it. Snell struck nevertheless, claiming Haynes for 58 shortly afterwards, caught at slip. Soon afterwards, Lara was caught down the leg-side by wicketkeeper Dave Richardson. The score read 137 for 3.
Richie Richardson took control, bringing a sense of calm to the middle. Partnering him was the more aggressive Keith Arthurton, who kept on finding the boundary at regular intervals. Just before tea the score read 219 for 3, and West Indies seemed firmly in control at that stage.
But they threw it away after that when Snell came back for his third spell. Richardson edged the fourth ball of the over to his surname-sake. Arthurton had batted beautifully for his 97-ball 15 (he hit 10 fours) before slicing to Adrian Kuiper at point off Pringle. Williams was the third in the list, getting out to another poor stroke, this time off Donald. Nine runs later Donald ran through Adams’ defence, bringing his hour-long vigil to an end.
The tail did not last, and West Indies were bowled out for 262, Snell taking 4 for 83. They had lost their last 7 wickets for 43 runs.
Andrew Hudson and Mark Rushmere played out time, finishing on 13 without loss at stumps.
Hudson keeps ’em at bay
Ambrose struck early next morning, removing Mark Rushmere, but that was about it. The West Indians ran into the broad bat and grim face of Wessels, who played some uncharacteristic cricket. He took his risks, often flashing outside off and watching the ball fly over point, but refused to cut down his shots.
Hudson carried on at the other end, almost dreamily, blocking or leaving anything pitched up but cutting or pulling anything marginally short. He got a reprieve on 22 when Ambrose bounced one and Hudson hooked and top-edged, only to see Walsh drop the catch at long-leg. Patterson found his edge, too, but Williams put him down.
Wessels finally cut Adams to backward-point for a 102-ball 59 with 8 fours and a six. Neither Kirsten nor Cronje lasted, and at 187 for 4 it seemed West Indies would claw back into the match. Hudson needed support at the other end; he found that in Kuiper, a man usually touted as a limited-over specialist.
Months before the Test Kuiper had led the charge during South Africa’s maiden ODI win with a brutal onslaught at Delhi. This, however, was different as he dug deeper and deeper, letting Hudson do the scoring.
At the other end, Hudson pushed Adams to mid-on for a single to become the first South African to register a hundred on Test debut. South Africa reached 254 for 4 by stumps, a mere 8 runs in arrears. Hudson was on 135.
Kuiper hung around till the third morning, falling only after South Africa had secured a lead. Richardson fell cheaply, but Hudson went on to amass 163. Till that point only ‘Tip’ Foster had scored more on Test debut away from home.
South Africa eventually scored 345, obtaining an 83-run lead. Surprisingly, Adams was the most successful of the bowlers, with 4 for 43.
Adams patches things
The West Indian second innings began in spectacular fashion: Haynes played Donald’s second ball on to the stumps — without a bail being dislodged. He survived.
There was no such luck for Simmons, who fell to Bosch soon afterwards. Haynes made his reprieve count, scoring 23, but more importantly adding 56 quick runs with Lara. Then Snell got Haynes and Richardson in quick succession, and West Indies were in trouble at 68 for 3.
Arthurton batted calmly, but there was some drama at the other end. Soon after bringing up his maiden Test fifty, Lara played Bosch on the back-foot. His foot touched the off-stump. A bail was dislodged, Steve Bucknor and David Archer confirmed, and Lara was declared not out.
But his luck did not last, for Donald soon had him caught-behind, for 64. Williams and Ambrose followed shortly afterwards. At stumps the score read 184 for 7. And Donald trapped Benjamin leg-before early on Day Four.
West Indies had accumulated 196 for 8. They led by a mere 113. Adams was there, but he had to bat alongside Walsh (the ubiquitous tail-ender) and Patterson (who batted below Walsh and never made it to 30 at First-Class level).
But Adams batted on. Wessels perhaps did the right thing by going flat out in pursuit of a wicket, but he left yards of open space on the square boundary on the off-side. Adams took full advantage, ran hard, and Walsh responded. The ninth-wicket stand yielded 25.
The wayward bowling did not help, either. “We didn’t bowl as well he could have. You can’t bowl one good ball and then four bad balls,” Wessels later admitted in the press conference.
Patterson hung around, too. Just like Walsh he ran quickly, always willing to give Adams the strike. Adams capitalised on the bowling, and the last pair added a whopping 62. It was probably expected of Adams, but Patterson?
Neither Walsh nor Patterson had hit a boundary, but between them they kept out 77 balls to score 24. They had also helped Adams add 86 for the last two wickets. Adams never had the exuberance of Lara, but every run of his unbeaten 79 was worth in gold.
Donald and Snell picked up 4 wickets apiece. After bowling out West Indies for 283, South Africa had to chase 201.
Ambrose took out Hudson and Rushmere quickly, but Wessels and Kirsten eased into proceedings. They dominated the four fast bowlers to reach 122 for 2 at stumps, adding 95 in 42 overs before stumps that evening.
True, the wicket was deteriorating. True, the ball was doing things. But then, South Africa needed a mere 79 on the final day with 8 wickets in hand. The runs still had to be scored — but didn’t Adams add 86 for the last two wickets with Walsh and Patterson?
The night before
Dave Richardson told ESPNCricinfo that Pringle had got champagne in anticipation of the historic win. “When we found this out, he was admonished for his over-confidence and the bottles were banished from view,” Richardson later confessed.
But there was no stopping Pringle, who made it a point to inform Lara that the South Africans were going to have gala celebrations once they won the Test.
Lara, tongue-in-cheek as ever, responded with “I hope you won’t be the one to hit the winning runs.” Pringle, who batted only above Donald and Bosch, responded that he would not be needed.
Whether coach Mike Procter was aware of this is not clear. He told Reuters that “the lads are pretty quiet; there’ll be no partying tonight.”
Demolition by pace
There were barely five hundred spectators at the ground to witness Ambrose and Walsh go all out at the South Africans. They had barely settled down when Wessels flashed at Walsh in the last ball of the third over of the day. Lara took a brilliant catch at first slip. Wessels walked back without adding a run to his overnight score of 74.
He would admit after the match that “one of the most difficult innings he had ever played”.
Ambrose did not give an inch away at the other end. The next 5 overs fetched 7 runs. Then Cronje edged Ambrose to Williams. At the other end, Walsh found Kuiper’s inside edge, and Williams flung himself to his right to pull off a sensational catch. The score suddenly read 131 for 5.
Some resistance came from Richardson, but Walsh eventually got the big wicket. Despite the rogue wicket Kirsten had ambled to 52, reaching his fifty with a cut past backward-point. Then he tried to cut one too many off Walsh, chopping it on to the stumps. The score read 142 for 6.
By now the balance had shifted. Snell survived that over, but was up against a snorter from Walsh that he could barely fend off his hips. Adams took a brilliant catch at short-leg.
And finally, after batting for 50 minutes for a painstaking 2, Richardson edged one to Williams off Ambrose. The end came near, when Ambrose ran removed Pringle and Donald off successive balls.
West Indies won by 52 runs.
South Africa had added a mere 26 runs in 21.4 overs on the fifth morning, losing 8 wickets in the process. Walsh bowled unchanged, moving the ball both ways off the deck and taking 4 for 8 from 11 overs. At the other end, Ambrose claimed 4 for 11 and finished with figures of 6 for 34.
Wessels was all in praise of Walsh and Ambrose after the match: “I knew today would be difficult. When they get a whiff they bowl superbly. They gave us hardly any bad balls to hit.”
Before that, however, there was a spectacle to behold when the West Indians stood in a row, their fingers linked with each other’s — to show their inter-island solidarity: after all, as long as they were playing under the West Indian banner, did it really matter how many men represented each island?
The handful of spectators — fans to whom it did not matter how many Barbadians had been picked — fans who had witnessed one of the greatest displays of fast bowling in history — cheered till their heroes disappeared from sight. They cheered for their Jamaican and Antiguan fast bowlers, their Antiguan captain who had struck gold in his first Test, the Trinidadian prince who had just arrived, the Jamaican debutant who had shepherded the tail to make sure West Indies had a sizeable lead…
West Indies 262 (Desmond Haynes 58, Richie Richardson 44, Keith Arthurton 59; Richard Snell 4 for 83) and 283 (Brian Lara 64, Jimmy Adams 79*; Allan Donald 4 for 77, Richard Snell 4 for 74) beat South Africa 345 (Andrew Hudson 163, Kepler Wessels 59; Jimmy Adams 4 for 43) and 148 (Kepler Wessels 74, Peter Kirsten 52; Curtly Ambrose 6 for 34, Courtney Walsh 4 for 31) by 52 runs.
Players of the Match: Curtly Ambrose and Andrew Hudson.