While the 10th to 14th November 1991 may not hold significance for many, for some South African cricket fanatics, it marked their first foray into international cricket. After a 21-year enforced Apartheid suspension, it was the well-established Indians who welcomed them to their shores first and so began a compelling battle between two superpowers, one that continues to encapsulate viewers even 24 years later.
When South Africa’s 72 day tour begins on Friday, it will be the first time fans will be treated to such a lengthy period of competition between the evenly matched sides. Having never competed in a full T20 series against each other, with mere one-off matches taking place between them previously, this promises to be a riveting battle, especially considering the South Africans’ familiarity with the India pitches. With numerous members of the squad plying their trade regularly in the IPL, their knowledge of the Indian conditions is vast and will certainly play a part in their performances. Key players like AB De Villiers, Faf Du Plessis and JP Duminy, who all have vital roles in their IPL teams of Royal Challengers Bangalore, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils respectively, will take on the challenge of guiding newbies like Eddie Leie, Kagiso Rabada and Khaya Zondo through their first tour of India and ensuring that the raucous crowd does not overwhelm or intimidate them.
India vs South Africa- The South African Perspective
The Proteas’ most recent T20 match against India still remains painfully etched within the minds of South Africans: a semi-final in the last World T20 where India easily chased down the 172 set by their opposition. As the game was an opportunity to finally reach an elusive ICC tournament final, the result was highly disappointing and it was particularly concerning how India reached the total so easily, barely breaking a sweat. While warm-up matches are usually mere practice, India’s ability to chase down 190 runs on Tuesday with a second string batting line-up may provide a jolt South Africa need to improve their bowling performances and ensure India do not attain targets with such relative ease. With the tour taking place in the same country where the next World T20 will take place, Faf is understandably keen to “give guys an opportunity, guys who can potentially make an impact in these conditions.” Right now, the South African focus is rightly on the World T20, and a hard-fought series victory against India may just be the confidence boost they require before returning in March for another attempt to acquire that elusive trophy.
Besides being a perfect way for South Africans to become sufficiently acclimatised to conditions they will face in the next World T20, the series also serves as a precursor for the ODI matches, a massive five-game contest which, given the cricketing history between the rivals, will certainly be an engaging affair. While South Africa’s previous ODI encounters in India have not been that positive, with the Indians dishing out series defeats of 3-2 or 2-1 on four occasions and a solitary drawn series coming in 2005, South Africa, however, will be keen to right that record and attain a first time series victory on Indian soil. Ahead of them though, stands a confident Indian side, one that will be hoping to exert their dominance in their own backyard. South Africa will hope the confidence gained from emerging victorious against Sri Lanka last year will aid them in taking another subcontinent scalp. At home, they have triumphed over India in every ODI series, so it seems as though this contest is largely dependent on home ground advantage.
With both sides having star players with the ability to steal the game from the opponents in a matter of minutes, it promises to hold some intriguing confrontations. From Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers and Imran Tahir to Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravichandran Ashwin, each side will be confident in their abilities to achieve victory against a worthy opponent. With all series between the two countries recently being named the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela series after their revered leaders, both countries will aim to be the first to be awarded the Freedom Trophy and making their adoring, cricket mad nations proud.
With just two places separating South Africa from their hosts in the T20 rankings and a single spot in the ODI ones, they will be hoping that they can overtake them with two brilliant series victories. A far more significant challenge than the recent series against the Blackcaps, they know they will have to step up a gear and perform at their peak to take down the might of the Indians in front of their enthusiastic, vociferous home crowd.