When the South African cricket team had boarded their chartered Boeing 707 on November 7, 1991, for Kolkata, history was already in the process of being forged. Coming off a 22-year-break from any officially blessed representative match, South Africa were about to come back to the international scene, holding the hands of their captain, Clive Rice.
Despite only having three ODI appearances in his entire career, Rice is regarded as the torchbearer to modern-day South African cricket. His post-match quote at Eden Gardens after leading his team to their first-ever one-day international, “I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon”, is etched in the history of the game.
Born in 1949, Rice belonged to a generation of world-class allrounders, ranging from Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, and Imran Khan. But without any opportunity to showcase his talent on the big stage because of the domestic political turmoil, he chose to become a serial winner with Nottinghamshire and Transvaal until destiny came calling.
Nothing was as monumental as the afternoon of November 10, 1991, both for him and his nation.
For more than four decades, South Africa were plagued by the evils of apartheid for which they were ostracised from the cricketing scene due to global opposition to such institutionalised racial segregation. But as soon as the scales to their favour in June 1991 with the alliance of South African Cricket Union (SACU) and the multi-racial South African Cricket Board (SACB), things were set in motion to arrange a one-day international (ODI) tour.
The newly formed United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) rejoined the International Cricket Council (ICC), and soon arranged a tour of India, in which the then secretary of the BCCI, Jagmohan Dalmiya played a vital role. With the first-ever ODI in sight, South Africa named a squad with players who had near nought international experience, with most players only ever having played first-class cricket. Even their captain, who was set to make his debut at the age of 42.
As the apartheid ban saw a crop of players like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Procter ending their careers abruptly, and Allan Lamb, Robin Smith opting to play for England, the 1991 series was a Lazarus pit for South Africa. Reborn with newer talents, South Africa made themselves known to the world before the World Cup, through the likes of Peter Kirsten, Andrew Hudson, Brian McMillan, Dave Richardson, and Allan Donald.
Out of the eleven that played in front of the 90,800 crowd of Eden Gardens on the occasion of their historic ODI, only Keppler Wessels had international experience having played for Australia previously. After the warm welcome from the Kolkata mass which replaced their nervousness with smiles, India’s captain, Mohammad Azharuddin won the toss and elected to field.
Kepler Wessels’ half-century complemented with Adrian Kuiper’s measured knock of 43 guided the Proteas to 177 for 8 from a weather-affected 47 over innings. Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar’s economical bowling kept the run-rate in check, which saw them both bagging two wickets each.
The hosts’ chase of such a paltry target was transformed into living hell due to a 25-year-old’s lethal pace and movement of the ball — none other than Allan Donald. His 5/29 in just 8.4 overs did announce him to the world, but it didn’t reap any rewards, as a masterful 62 run-knock by Sachin Tendulkar helped India win by three wickets.
Despite the defeat, it was a mammoth win for South Africa, who had defeated their long-lasting demons to finally come back to the accepting fold. Although they lost the second ODI and the series at Gwalior, their first ODI win at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium was one for the history books. The Proteas had successfully chased down a target of 288, owing to a 90 from Kepler Wessels, and a 86 and a 63 from Peter Kirsten and Adrian Kuiper respectively.
With a first ODI win and the inevitability of participating in the World Cup in Australia in 1992, South Africa’s tour of India holds a special place within the cricketing fraternity. Maybe that’s why even after 28 years Clive Rice’s moon-landing analogy still stands strong as a showing of how the good old bat and ball can bridge gaps and reshape a nation’s fortune.
South Africa: 177/8 (47 overs) (KC Wessels 50, A Kuiper 43; K Dev 2/23, M Prabhakar 2/26)
India: 178/7 (40.4 overs) (S Tendulkar 62, PK Amre 55; A Donald 5/29)