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The Proteas’ Inaugural Test

Kepler Wessels

The South African visit to England in 1965 was just before my time, but I do vividly recall the controversy that erupted over England’s return visit in 1968/69, and the cancellation of that tour over what has always been known as ‘The D’Oliveira Affair’. Equally memorable was the ultimately successful campaign to ‘Stop the ’70 Tour’.

Once the dust had settled on South Africa’s exile from international sport the assumption followed that it would be permanent. The dismantling of apartheid never seemed to get any closer and the attempts that were made to achieve a degree of integration in sport were never going to appease anyone. The world was united; no normal sport is possible in an abnormal society.

Then, suddenly, in 1989 the wind of change, in the shape of FW De Klerk, blew into South African politics. Nelson Mandela was released from prison and fully democratic elections were called and it was clear that apartheid was at an end. As soon as November 1991 a South African cricket team was back in the ICC fold, playing three ODIs in India. They lost the series 2-1, but the convincing manner of their consolation victory in the third match made it clear they were a competitive side. That impression was reinforced when, in the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the South Africans reached the semi-finals before losing to England in controversial circumstances.

The first Test match for the Rainbow Nation had to wait a little longer, until April 1992 when there was to be a single Test between South Africa and West Indies in the Caribbean. A very short tour consisted of three ODIs followed by the Test at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. There were no warm up games outside those contests.

The West Indies were not quite the force of a few years previously, Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards, Jeff  Dujon and Malcolm Marshall all having retired in quick succession, but they were still a fine side and, more importantly, one that had not lost a Test series for more than a decade. They were on home territory and of their opponents only Kepler Wessels, in his Australian incarnation, had played in the Caribbean before.

All three ODIs were won by the home side and the margins of victory were 107 runs, ten wickets and seven wickets. The disappointing South African performances did nothing to convince anyone that the Test would be anything other than a gentle work out for the West Indies.

The South African side contained, inevitably, ten men making their Test debut. The opening batsmen were Andrew Hudson and Mark Rushmere, whose only Test this was to be. Wessels came in at first drop followed by the veteran Peter Kirsten. Next in was the youngest of the South Africans, Hansie Cronje, and off spinning all-rounder Adrian Kuiper completed their top six. After wicketkeeper Dave Richardson came four fast bowlers; Richard Snell, Meyrick Pringle, Tertius Bosch and, the jewel in the crown, Alan Donald, already a most accomplished performer. The only man of colour in the South African squad, 40 year old left arm spinner and useful batsman Omar Henry did not make the side.

West Indies batting was still led by Desi Haynes, opening with Phil Simmons, who had recorded a century in each of the two ODIs in which he had got to the crease. The mercurial Brian Lara was next, still not 23. He was followed by skipper Richie Richardson, captain for the first time, Keith Arthurton and Jimmy Adams. Gus Logie and Carl Hooper were both injured. Dujon’s replacement was David Williams, and the West Indies pace pack consisted of Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Kenny Benjamin and Patrick Patterson. Williams, Benjamin and Adams were making their debuts.

Sadly the match, which was to prove a fascinating encounter, was poorly attended. It was nothing to do with the visitors, who were welcomed warmly wherever they went, but good old fashioned inter-island rivalries. The selection panel, skipper Richardson (Antigua) and selectors Jackie Hendricks (Jamaica), David Holford (Barbados) and Irvine Shillingford (Dominica) left local fast bowler Anderson Cummins out of the side thus leaving the 36 year old Haynes as the only Bajan in the line up. The capacity of the Kensington Oval was 13,000, but due to the boycott that followed Cummins’ omission only 3,000 turned up on the first day, and for the remarkable denouement on the fifth day there were no more than 500 people present. Cummins had performed well in the three ODIs, but not so well that his exclusion from the Test side looked in any way perverse. Nonetheless for his fellow Bajans it was a case of ‘No Cummins no going’.

There were divisions on the issue even in the West Indies side itself. Ambrose, an Antiguan, took one view; There was no comparison between Kenny and Anderson Cummins. I and the whole of the Caribbean knew Kenny was the better fast bowler, but that didn’t placate the Bajans. I lost some respect for the Bajan spectators through this episode because it meant they care more for their local interests than for West Indies cricket.

On the other hand Haynes biographer, Rob Steen, described the omission as showing the selectors lacked nous and then explained further that the decision reflected the slights heaped upon the collective Bajan ego by the spurning of Desi, Greenidge, Marshall and now Cummins. There were many who felt Haynes and not the Antiguan Richardson should have taken the captaincy crown on Richards’ retirement, not least amongst them his fellow Antiguan Richards. Sir Vivian might have been a king, but he proved not to be a kingmaker.

History did not favour South Africa. West Indies had won their last ten Tests at Kensington Oval, and had only ever lost there once, to England back in 1935 on a pitch that was, to put it mildly, treacherous. Wessels won the toss and, in common with the last ten captains who had done so at the ground, he invited the home side to bat.

To start with Haynes, as he so often did, looked entirely at ease. Simmons was less fluent, but still got enough poor deliveries to ease him into his innings. The pair soon made their way to 99-0, with half an hour still to go until lunch. Then Snell made the breakthrough, dismissing both before the interval. Lara was dropped by Wessels at slip from his first delivery. He didn’t get too many, just 17, but had three quick wickets gone down perhaps all would have been different.

Lara’s dismissal after lunch brought Richardson and Arthurton together. They added 82 before the captain was dismissed. Arthurton top scored with 59 but was not convincing. Twice he was caught from a no ball, and gave another chance as well. The home side’s tail was a long one, and once Adams was seventh out at 250 it was exposed. West Indies were bowled out for 262, Snell the pick of the bowlers with 4-83, but all four pacemen stuck to their task admirably.

South Africa had a difficult nine overs before the close, but Hudson and Rushmere got through them and the visitors were 13-0 overnight. Next morning Rushmere managed just a single before Ambrose dismissed him, but if the West Indies thought the door was open they were to be disappointed. Hudson went on to play the innings of his life and was still at the crease at the end of the day, unbeaten on 135. He put on 125 with Wessels and although neither Kirsten nor Cronje stayed too long Kuiper steadied the ship and the South Africans ended the day just eight runs adrift with six wickets still standing.

Hudson’s career was to extend over six years and 35 Tests but this would always remain his finest hour. He was the first South African to score a debut century for South Africa (Wessels had done so for Australia). The innings was not flawless. Walsh put down a difficult catch in the deep when he was 22, and Williams shelled a much more straightforward one when he was on 66.

On the third morning Hudson went on to 163 before, looking tired, he was late on a Benjamin yorker and bowled. There were no substantial contributions from the tail but a few runs were added as the fast bowlers lashed out at Adams’ occasional left arm spin. Adams held his nerve however to claim four wickets. The South Africans were all out for 345, a lead of 83.

There was a curious start to the West Indies second innings when, from only its second delivery, Donald had to watch a Haynes defensive shot roll back on to his stumps without dislodging a bail. Later when Lara trod on his wicket he did dislodge a bail. Unfortunately for the South Africans however the umpire was watching the ball, so could not give the decision and although it was obvious to all with access to television pictures what had happened no referral ‘upstairs’ was available in those days.

In a close game such incidents are always important both for the runs that result and for the effect they have on the morale of the sides. The South Africans stuck to their task manfully in the circumstances and were still on top at the close which saw West Indies on 184 for 7. Haynes had added 23 to his score after his slice of good fortune, and Lara another 13 although there was an element of justice delayed rather than justice denied in his case as, according to Lara, both he and the bowler were agreed he did not touch the delivery from Donald from which he was adjudged to have been caught at the wicket.

In those days some Tests, this one included, still had a rest day. On this occasion both sides attended a function on the rest day and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the West Indians were unusually subdued. That the South Africans were not certainly didn’t go unnoticed amongst their opponents, Ambrose commenting that their laughter and enjoyment translated to us as a message that they felt they had already won, and that memory was no doubt still festering on the fourth morning.

A lead of 101 was modest, and looked the more so when Benjamin fell on the fourth morning with just a dozen added. The last two batsmen were Walsh and Patterson, the fact that Walsh was batting at ten of itself demonstrating how low the expectations must have been. At the other end was the debutant Adams whose skills in his main discipline were now desperately needed. In the event he was able to protect the two fast bowlers sufficiently well to ensure he had got to 79 and his side to 283 before Bosch finally burst through Patterson’s defences.

In the final analysis the 87 runs those last two wickets added were crucial. Years later in his autobiography Donald blamed the length he and his fellow fast bowlers adopted. With the benefit of hindsight he felt they should not have bowled at the stumps as much as they did, and that Walsh and Patterson should have had to face more short pitched deliveries. That said the match was played under a new ICC regulation limiting bowlers to one bouncer per over, so there was never going to be an all out assault.

With 201 required to win West Indies were still favourites and increasingly so once, from only the second delivery of the South African innings, it was very much a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ for Hudson, who was caught at slip without scoring. When Rushmere followed him after scratching around for forty minutes for just three the score was 27-2 and the winning post a long way away. Had another wicket fallen at that point the match would surely have been all over. As it was however the two South African veterans, Kirsten and Wessels, dug in. They were still there at the close, leaving just 79 required on the fifth morning in order to bring off a famous and improbable victory. A few of the later South African batsmen were out late that evening once again enjoying themselves. During their carousing they found themselves at one point in the same club as Lara – the young Trinidadian did tell them what was going to happen.

Great champions do not, of course, give up easily and no better example of that can exist than the events of that final morning. The attritional battle began again with, perhaps surprisingly, Richardson setting a run saving field. Three overs brought just a single before Walsh found the edge of Wessels’ bat and Lara, the solitary man in the slips, brought off a fine low catch. The loss of their captain seemed to take away any self-belief the South Africans had and a procession followed as they collapsed in a heap. There were ducks for Donald, Snell and Kuiper, just two runs each for Cronje and Richardson and four for Pringle. Bosch was the last man standing, but he didn’t have a run to his name. Only Kirsten showed any grit, adding 16 to his overnight score before playing on to Walsh.

The last days play lasted just 24.4 overs and saw 26 runs scored for the loss of eight wickets. Walsh and Ambrose were superb in taking four wickets each on the day. There was no great pace in the pitch, although the bounce was uneven. The dismissal of Richardson, the ninth man out, sums up the combined effect of the psychological damage and the pitch. An Ambrose delivery, from a good length, took off and flew over his head. There was, of course, absolutely no need to play at it at all, but the South African ‘keeper essayed what amounted to a tennis smash style forward defensive, and the ball took the edge.

For the West Indians the result was a great relief. They had not done well in the World Cup and Richardson had been under a great deal of pressure, even being booed by the Kensington crowd at one point. The lap of honour at the end, the players hand in hand, was an odd sight in a stadium with such a small number of spectators inside. Haynes summed it up; I wanted to win that Test more than any I have ever played in. It had nothing to do with politics. I wanted to beat them badly because it was their first Test in twenty two years and I didn’t want people scoffing at us.

After a fright the West Indies had managed to reassert themselves, and it would be three more years before Australia finally toppled them. There were valuable lessons for the South Africans too, which they made good use of just a few months later, as they beat Mohammed Azharuddin’s Indians 1-0 at home.

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