Why Durban matters

My grandfather, a fanatical cricket fan, would often speak of India’s tour to Pakistan in 1982-83 with the sort of pain you reserve for funerals. India lost the six-match series 3-0 but there was a reason why that particular tour stood out for him: that was the first time he had watched cricket live on TV and the sight of Imran Khan, in all his pomp, tearing through the Indian batting like a red-hot knife through butter was a sight he would never forget.

Mention the series to him and he would recollect, with remarkable detail, how every Indian wicket fell. His most vivid memory was the ball, that ball in Karachi, which Imran conjured to castle Gundappa Viswanath in the second Test during his sensational spell of 8-60. Viswanath shouldered arms to a ball that appeared to be heading to first slip but the astonishingly sharp change of angle – which people later termed reverse-swing – meant that the ball rattled the stumps, shocking and then scarring my grand-dad forever.

While grand-dad had watched grainy monochrome Doordarshan footage, often interrupted by the news or other programming, my first brush with televised cricket came with better picture quality. I remember watching highlights of India’s tour to the West Indies in 1989 – batsman after batsman getting hit amid some technical perfection from Sanjay Manjrekar – and also several parts of India’s trip to Australia in 1991-92.

However, it wasn’t until 1996, when India went to South Africa, that I remember watching every ball of every Test of a series mixed with pre-game shows, mid-innings discussions, wicket packages and post-game analysis (I had watched only a few bits of India’s series in England because of some cable operator issue in Bangalore) . It was Tendulkar’s first away series as captain and, for once, we could rely on the ESPN feed throughout the day.

Which brings me to Durban, a most unforgettable shellacking at the hands of a ferocious fast bowler (Allan Donald) on a green, spicy pitch. All out for 100 and 66. Done in three days. I knew the Indian team were poor travelers but here I saw them torn apart, by bowlers on the pitch and by analysts off it. I saw Javagal Srinath’s doleful expressions with every catch dropped in the slips, Vikram’s Rathour’s astonishing lack of footwork and Tendulkar’s ‘we didn’t apply ourselves’  spiel after every game. I saw several replays of all this. And I also saw the commentators dissecting every move. I’m sure it made a deep psychological dent.

It was all quite gory. It’s tough to forget the incutter of the series, Donald producing a bullet that got through the little gap between Tendulkar’s bat and pad, following up with the aeroplane dance; Azharuddin swishing wildly, Dravid leaving ball after ball, often with the exaggerated technique that seemed to require more skill than actually making runs.

Amid all this was Trevor Quirk, Alan Wilkins, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, flaying the team for their shoddy performance. Not to forget Kishore Bhimani emphatically spewing venom. We heard about the dysfunctional nature of the system, the structural flaws in our domestic set-up, the lack of steel. And we heard all this over and over again.

Fourteen years down the road, we’ve no doubt come a long, long way. Hammered in the first Test and put into bat on a green pitch, against a potent pace attack, which includes arguably the best bowler in the world, India have responded in a most inspiring fashion. Deprived of any warm-up games, they’ve adjusted to the conditions and shown the kind of character that one never saw in the ‘90s.

In the intervening period, they’ve produced some outstanding slip fielders – it was fitting that Dravid became the first to take 200 catches during the course of this game;  a pool of fast bowlers – never forget that our third seamer in Durban ’96 was David Johnson; an opening pair which will go down as the best in Indian history – always remember that our opening pair in that game were Rathour and WV Raman; a lower order capable of winning games with the bat; a captain who will probably go down as the best in Indian cricket history, and most important of all, a never-say-die spirit against all odds.

Sure, this wasn’t our first major win abroad. Sure, we’ve had Headingley, Jamaica, Wanderers, Trent Bridge, Perth and Galle. Sure it’s been a gradual progression.

But Durban is special. Immensely special. For 15-year-olds celebrating India’s win today just remember how lucky you are. It was not always thus.

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40 Responses to Why Durban matters

  1. Abhishek says:

    Beautifully written…….. Remember 1996 vividly and yes, this is sweet :). Thanks.

  2. Vijay Dev says:

    The last sentences are touching :-)

  3. Amit says:

    I too remember that series in anguish and for what could have been. It was an example of BCCI being out maneuvered by Ali Bacher and SA cricket board. India was given practice game on the slowest of pitches in SA(Hey they atleast had a warmup game), no net bowlers were provided which resulted in the Madan Lal bowling in the nets preparing the batsmen to face the likes of Donald. The third seamer was David Johnson and the fourth was Dodda Ganesh. The selectors had selected Pankaj Dharmani as a third wicketkeeper and Abey Kuruvilla was cooling heels at home.

    Net result Sachin Tendulkar has no choice but to overbowl Srinath and Prasad during the series. Srinath’s shoulder gets worn down. Prasad promptly follows and we destroy what was probably our most lethal opening bowling pair for nothing.

    Oh Well….!!

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks for the comment. All valid points. I remember reading about Madan Lal bowling in the nets.

      • Rajeev says:

        1996 was Vishy’s time as selector, worst India every had. Doda Ganesh, David Jonson, Anil Kumble, (Sairaj Bahutule was better than) Rahul Dravid, Srinath and V. Prasad…it was just miserable . This turn around could have been achieved before…Kuriwila/Bahutule /Amare /Amol /Saurav and many others never got timely opportunity and few just wasted their talent. In time of glory, along with celebration this should not be overlooked and we should not repeat the history.

      • Pramod says:

        This is reply to Rajeev below

        The 1996-97 team was much better in terms of selection. Karnataka had won the Ranji Trophy that seasons and many good performances were rewarded.

        It was any way much better than say Ravi Shastri, Raju Kulkarni, Gulam Parker, Suru Naik and Chandrakant pandit in the 80 s who were selected even though far superior players were available in other parts of India. Only the wheel now has come a full circle.

        Anyway I agree we should not repeat history :-)

  4. Mohammad Kamran says:

    Beautifully written I Still Remember that 96/97 series only gud memory of tht series was the p’ship of Sachin & Azhar at Capetown & Than At Joburg Rain & Cullinan denied India victory ,This victory is sweet & hope that India win this series

  5. Venkat says:

    Durban, I was too young, but remember our ineptitude. But what sticks with me though is Cape Town. That was a horror show beyond all horror shows. We contrived to lose the game after scoring 440 odd in the first test. The second innings choke was brilliant. VVS run out. Sachin blocked his way to an LBW (not out given out by Asad Rauf), Dravid blocked till he got out. Ganguly was batting beautifully and he hit one to gully. And then the tail. The point I am trying to make is, Durban’s wounds would have healed for a lot of fans. Now please exorcise the ghosts of cape town. Please.

  6. Minal says:

    Siddhartha, you always manage to echo our feelings in much better fashion and are the first to put up the thoughts! So sorry if mine seems glaringly similar:-( As I was writing mine – going back to that horror of ’96- you tweeted and I immediately clicked to this post! mine seems a damp squib in comparison:-( But I loved every word you wrote, and how well have you conveyed the thoughts once again of our generation – the 80s kids:-)
    Thanks for reliving those memories again and yes guess the teenagers of today will never know our extreme delight at these wins:-) There is more to come hopefully!

  7. Agni says:

    I remember the 82-83 series as well(perhaps being a few years older,MY initiation into ball-by-ball cricket was when Imran destroyed India). Also at the risk of being a pedant, in 96-97 ESPN and Star Sports were still two different entities and hence the commentary team was Charu Sharma, Maninder Singh and Jimmy Amarnath(Jimmy and Maninder did Hindi as well).
    100 all out and 66 all out aarrgghhh!!!
    While i could never forget this humiliation, what I remember fondly was the Cape Town duet of SRT and Azhar and the near miss in Jo’berg.

  8. Mohan says:

    Excellent piece. I liked the last few lines. Greatly identified with it, since I have some bitter sweet memories of that 96-97 tour as well:
    1. In the midst of all that carnage in Durban (100 a.o. and 66 a.0), I remember Prasad taking a 10-wicket haul, including one where Gary Kirsten inside-edged one and Dravid at forward short leg lunged to catch the ball and in the process, knocked Kirsten down. I recall Robin Jackman saying “Well, not many batsmen have the dubious distinction of being given out when lying on the ground!”
    2. Sachin and Azhar’s terrific partnership in Newlands. I dont rem how Azhar got out but I vividly remember a truly stunning catch that Adam Bacher took to dismiss Sachin. I even recall Sachin being flabbergasted at the catch and taking a moment to understand that he was really out. Priceless, that was!
    3. Outside the Test series, I can never forget Allan Donald’s fiery remonstration after Dravid had thumped him for a six over long-on in the final of the ODI triangular series (Zim was the 3rd team). That was a match we should have won and somehow lost.

    • sidvee says:

      Thanks Mohan. I remember that catch too. Also Azzu was run-out at Newlands and Jackman said that it was the only way SA were going to separate them. Also, the Indian team met Mandela at lunch before that SRT-Azzu mania

  9. bongopondit says:

    Thanks for bringing back some bittersweet memories. Quite clearly remember watching the first test at Durban at home during the winter holidays; was very excited when Srinath and Prasad got the South Africans out cheaply (or so we thought) – including Ganguly getting a crucial wicket with his gentle outswingers – only to be deflated by the miserable batting.

    During the Newlands test I was back in college – remember very few people actually watching the game in the hostel common room, but it filled up very quickly as the Sachin-Azhar carnage progressed and then emptied quicker after that stunning catch to remove Sachin (those were days when the hostel common room emptied always emptied once Sachin got out).

    Also, the last test at Jo’burg when India finally came onto their own, with Kumble bowling Hudson on the last ball of Day 4, and Srinath/Prasad producing a burst on a rainy Day 5 for a whiff of victory, only to be denied by Cullingan, Klusener and bad light. Ganguly was pleading with the umpires to let the game continue, offering to bowl slow off-spin :-)

    Sorry for the bit of tangential rambling there…….as I said, this post brought back some memories. As you say, this win brings some closure to the 100/66.

  10. Chitra says:

    Siddhu, I happened to see this link in facebook and landed at your blog. I am still reading all the posts though I dont understand nor appreciate cricket (sorry kanna that’s what it is).

    Where did you learn to write like this? You create magic with words. I wish you would write on other topics too. Ivan thanthai ennotran kol enum sol thaan nyabagam varudu.

  11. Dhruva says:

    Superb!
    I still remember watching that Durban test where Donald’s in-swinger broke through Sachin’s defenses and oh yeah that celebration by Donald too. India have come a long way!

  12. ghostkadost says:

    This is what I had posted some 17 hours earlier. https://twitter.com/ghostkadost/status/20102316749234177
    Looks like I am not the only old sentimental fool around :)

  13. amit says:

    Enjoyed every bit of sentences written here, including all the comments. That is the only overseas cric series I vividly remember. Everything has been captured quite well in this blog.
    One imp. point abt that tour was that only in last test at Jo’berg did the opening pair give a stand of more than 50 runs and I remember Rathore getting out LBW there. He started walking, even before umpire gave him out. Maninder Singh commented that, he had seen ‘anyone’ walking for LBW the first time and indeed that was the only time that I have seen anyone walking for LBW. Everytime someone gets out LBW that memory comes back. Indeed 15 yr olds today wont understand why Durban or South Africa is important. In a way the overseas tours early in Sachins captaincy set the trend for the rest of his career as a captain.
    The sight of Sachin being desperate with his limited resources was far too uncomforting. Dont even want to talk of the one day finals and the qualifier for the finals against Zimbabwe. Sachin’s batting in finals, Dravid’s six against Donald, Donald going berserk at that point and Jadeja caught in the deep in the finals which later turned out to be part of the fixing saga, that series had everything a Hindi movie would have.
    Today lets celebrate the confidence a fairly new entrant Che Pujara has, when he faces fast bowlers at Durban, that captures the journey of Indian Cricket in the past decade.

  14. Richa says:

    I am not an avid cricket fan; i was, until the 20 over things came around and it lost its charm for me. But reading your article revoked several memories; my grandpa reminiscing cricket matches he watched; me and mum biting our nails at every ball sachin played i n his early days; and Allan Donald, yes, i recall, white lips, that frowned freckled forehead and bowling at lightning speed.
    This wasnt just about cricket; it was about emotions, memories and pride all entwined around the bat and the ball. Awesome! Kp Up!!

  15. Shashwat says:

    The last line is absolutely correct. Overseas wins have started coming in and kids of today are luckier than those of yesteryears.

    Kids should rejoice and we should all pray that India wins at Cape Town.

  16. Raj Narayan says:

    As a cricket fan, another memorable moment was when Srinath bowled a bouncer at South African all-rounder Meyrick Pringle that left the batsman with a broken jaw and pretty much ended his career. How many times have we seen Indian bowlers make the rival batsmen hop, skip and jump? Of course, rumors said the bowler actually felt faint on seeing the blood spilling out of the batsman’s face! Similarly, the ball that Sreesanth bowled to Kallis will definitely change the way hosts teams make pitches for India.

  17. praneet says:

    Sid ..are you Prof vaidya’s son at IIMB.. I remember him gently complaining in class that students read your articles more than his class notes. Awesome writing.. still remember the article you wrote when Ganguly retired.. that whole 1996 SA tour was horrible..there were a few positives though from the whole tour.. RObin singh won/tied a match on his own..Dravid was a one man team.. I remeber Sachin hit a square drive in one of the ODIs against SA when Jonty was fielding at point. Jonty decided against catching the ball as it was such a fierce shot . Or may be I was imagining things. :) small pickings.

    • sidvee says:

      Ha. Dad and his humour :)

    • amit says:

      Standard Bank Series final ODI match. Sachin was at his bestest best. It was Daryl Cullinan who just decided to go away from line of the ball. The commentator, some South African said it aloud on TV. The bowler I think was Rudy Bryson.
      We Indians are really cricket crazy to remember details from a 15 yr old series.

  18. Srinivasan K V says:

    Excellently written. Well articulated. As one of the 80’s kids, I vividly remember the horrifying matches in SA (Durban), WI (Franklyn Rose triggering a collapse in pursuit of 128), England and Australia when India is beaten by bounce or swing or raw pace. Victories have been sweet in England and Australia ever since 2002/03 but SA has always been a terrible place to tour for India; not just test matches but one dayers as well. This victory is really sweet in that respect. I really hope Dhoni can pull off another victory or a winning draw in Cape town; like how Ganguly’s men started off from the 2003/04 tour with a drawn test series in Aus that showed the fans the Indian team’s desire to win and not just try to be an also-ran on alien conditions.

  19. At the risk of sounding like a 18 year old after a sighting of Shah Rukh, I am so excited to see your posts on cricket again! Was a big fan of your writings on Cricinfo (in particular that piece you wrote on the Fab Four), and was starting to wonder whether the world of cricket journalism had lost you permanently to the highways of the US of A.

    Wonderful post, and yes, more than 100, the 66 was even more painful. When you were thinking that India would at least do better than a 100, they come out and prove you wrong. At that point of time, I thought W V Raman was an inspired selection given his 100 against the Saffers on the previous tour, but how wrong I was proved to be. And David Johnson of the “I clean bowled Sachin at the Challengers” fame, was spraying it all around the place. I remember him trying to bounce McMillan and getting thumped. We have come a long way indeed!

  20. absar says:

    lovely article… best ive read in days.. reposting it on FB…

    thats exactly what i was telling my friend yesterday, now when we discuss durban (which unf we do, quite a bit… even now) we will have some fond memories… other than the horror or 100 and 66…

    i still remmeber robin jackman (or trevor quirk) telling us after the test in kanpur (where we beat the SAF’s, the pitch was apparently rolled only ONCE) that india should expect, HARD, FAST and BOUNCY wkts.. being a 12 yr old then, I didnt understand what he meant… Well, I had to see it to believe it I guess… left a horrible scar on our psyche lol… We did do well in patches though, Sach/Azza partnership, srinaths spells, robin singhs match, dravids assault on donald.. also dravid scoring his 1st test ton… but everything was overshadowed by 100 and 66. Thank you team India, for laying that ghost to rest…

  21. Karthik says:

    Forget tests…India coudnt beat SA in ODIs. Also Australia. We definitely have come a long way :) Not just in cricket but even other sports!

  22. Satya says:

    Very well written Sid…I remember that match very clearly. I was 17 then and being from a small town in Orissa, I had to watch the match standing outside a TV showroom as we did not have the game live in the hostel I was staying in. Through out the series our openers (Rathour and Raman) were so pathetic that during the innings break we (with my friends) will go to grab something to eat and by the time we come back (within 15 minutes), India will be at least 2 wickets down. And I did not understand Rathour, as he used to hit 100s regularly in the warm-up games preceding the test matches. But the benefit of that match in Durban was that Dravid displayed impeccable technique to play in those bouncy conditions and was immediately promoted to number 3 and India got its best number 3 batsman for that test match.

    On a different note, had rain not denied India that win at Joburg and had India chased that 120 runs in the following series in West Indies ( I guess in Barbados), Sachin’s captaincy record would have been different and more importantly India could have started believing earlier that they can win on bouncy pitches.

  23. neeraja says:

    so very true….i sometimes feel all the angst of the 90’s has made these last few yrs so much more spl…..i remember a time when a test victory outside india seemed an impossible dream….wonder how we all still managed to keep watchin test cricket and hoping things will change!

  24. Tapobroto Sarkar says:

    Great Piece… My scar from the test was the sight of Ganguly after being clean bowled by Donald. We have come a long way. Yes. But i think we as a generation are luckier as we can appreciate todays success a lot more.

  25. Mahesh Balakrishnan says:

    Remember those days,also Dravid’s fabulous test century ,smashing Donald,also his 27 out of a team total of 55

  26. Pingback: Sydney to Sydney, Perth to Perth | ________________

  27. Pingback: An era to savour | ________________

  28. Pingback: Bouncing at Lord’s | ________________

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