South Africa made a historic return to Test cricket after 22 years in the wilderness as they took on the West Indies in a one-off Test match played at the Kensington Oval at Bridgetown in Barbados from April 18 to 23, 1992.
The West Indies had been unbeaten at Bridgetown for the last 57 years, while South Africa were playing their first Test match against the West Indies. The two teams never faced each other prior to 1969-70 (when South Africa were exiled) because of the shameful Apartheid policy in South Africa.
A legion of talented players such as Barry Richards, Greame Pollock and Eddie Barlow could not make it big on the international circuit simply because their best years coincided with their country’s exile. After an agonisingly long wait, South Africa were finally welcomed back to the Test fold.
The West Indies were led by a new captain in Richie Richardson, while his opposite number was Kepler Wessels, who became the 13th player to play Tests for two countries – he had earlier played 24 Tests for Australia between 1982-83 and 1985-86.
Disappointingly, this historic Test was witnessed by few people, numbering only about 6500 across all five days. The reason was a Barbadian protest against the team selection policy – Anderson Cummins’ exclusion from the team to be precise. It also meant that the most of the local public missed an exciting game of cricket.
The West Indies were in a transition phase as the greats such as Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall had retired. Yet they were strong enough and in addition, they had history on their side.
The South Africans meanwhile would have been glad just to play Test cricket and they quickly adjusted to the world stage again. They had marked their return to international cricket with a one-day series in India five months back, but this was their first Test since they blanked Australia 4-0 at home back in 1969-70.
A historic ocassion – the West Indian and South African teams together, before the start of the Test at the Kensington Oval (source – espncricinfo.com)
Wessels won the toss and put the West Indies in to bat, as was the case at Bridgetown more often than not. The opening duo of Desmond Haynes (58) and Phil Simmons soon highlighted the inexperience of the South African bowling unit, rattling up a 99-run partnership.
However, right-arm pace bowler Richard Snell made an impact, removing both openers before his fellow fast bowler Tertius Bosch accounted for Brian Lara. The hosts were now 137/3, but skipper Richardson and Keith Athurton (59) helped the Windies regain control by stitching an 82-run stand for the fourth wicket.
Richardson got out for 44, caught behind by Dave Richardson, off Snell. From thereon, the rest of the batsmen subsided quickly as the hosts collapsed from 219/3 to 262 all out. South Africa used pace throughout (four bowlers), with Snell (4/83) being the pick of the lot. They ended the first day at 13/0.
On day two, Curtly Ambrose removed Mark Rushmere early, but then the other opener Andrew Hudson proceeded to play an excellent innings. He put on 125 with captain Wessels (64) for the second wicket and was unbeaten on 135 at the end of the day, with South Africa placed at 254/4 and slowly beginning to dominate the Test.
Hudson became the first South African batsman to score a century on his Test debut. He continued batting confidently at the start of the third day, his fifth-wicket partnership with Adrian Kuiper yielding 92 runs.
Hudson was seventh out with the score at 312, getting clean bowled by Kenny Benjamin for 163 from 384 balls with 20 fours – indeed a gutsy knock in which he displayed a sound technique and great concentration, batting for more than eight and a half hours.
The West Indians had also fielded an all-pace attack, but in the end it was the part-time left-arm orthodox bowling of Jimmy Adams (4/43) that ensured that South Africa reached no more than 345. Adams took three of the last five wickets, which South Africa lost for 52 runs.
Andrew Hudson, who made 163 in the first innings, became the first South African to score a century on Test debut (source – espncricinfo.com)
With a deficit of 83, the West Indies needed a solid start to their second innings. But the South African bowlers made regular inroads in the top order, reducing the hosts to 68/3. Brian Lara (64) and Athurton put on 52 for the fourth wicket, stemming the damage to an extent.
However, ‘White Lightning’ Allan Donald bowled Athurton and then had Lara caught behind, as the score now read a wobbly 139/5. Two further wickets fell before close of play, as the West Indies reached 184/7, leading by only 101 and the comeback boys firmly in the driver’s seat.
It soon became 221/9 early on day four, with Donald and Snell bowling very well in tandem and giving the hosts a taste of their own medicine. But Adams, who came in at number six, was still there and he added to his bowling show by playing a mature and sensible innings.
Adams was joined by last man Patrick Patterson and the duo altered the course of the game by adding 62 for the last wicket. Adams remained unbeaten on 79 as his team was bowled out for 283, with Snell (4/74) and Donald (4/77) accounting for the bulk of the wickets. South Africa needed 201 to record a historic victory.
South Africa got off to a poor start, losing first-innings hero Hudson for a duck to Ambrose off only the second ball of the innings. Ambrose also accounted for Rushmere to make the score 27/2. But Wessels was in fine fettle, and he found a willing ally in Peter Kirsten.
Kirsten, aged 36, became the second-oldest South African Test debutant after Geoff Chubb, who was 40 when he made his debut against England at Nottingham in 1951. Wessels and Kirsten steadied the ship and made sure that South Africa ended the day comfortably placed at 122/2, requiring only 79 more to win on the final day. It seemed that the West Indies had finally found their match at the Kensington Oval.
But the pitch was becoming uneven and on the final day, the South Africans had reckoned without Courtney Walsh. Walsh, who looked off-colour in the first innings, bowled like a determined man in the second as he scythed through the middle-order with a spell of 4/8 in 11 overs.
He had Wessels caught at slip for 74 (Wessels put on 96 with Kirsten for the third wicket), Kuiper caught behind for a duck and then bowled Kirsten for 52. Meanwhile at the other end, Ambrose dismissed Hansie Cronje. South Africa were reduced to 142/6 and the hosts had their tail up.
Two world-class fast bowlers had turned the tide with a display of incisive bowling, and a match which was South Africa’s for the taking was now fast slipping away. And surely, it did slip away very fast – Ambrose mopped off the final three as South Africa were bowled out for 148. The tall Antiguan removed Richardson (caught behind) and Donald (bowled) in successive balls to seal the game.
The deadly duo of Walsh and Ambrose ensured that there would be no fairytale comeback for the South Africans (source – indiatimes.com)
Ambrose took 6/34 (8/81 in the Test) while Walsh returned 4/31. The visitors had sensationally collapsed, losing 8 wickets for 25, and had lost a massive opportunity to not only win the first Test on their comeback, but also break the West Indies’ golden run at Bridgetown.
The hosts thus maintained their unbeaten record at their favourite ground, but only just. The streak was broken in 1993-94, when England won by 208 runs. The West Indies might have won the Test by 52 runs, but only after letting South Africa dominate the first four days.
The turning point was undoubtedly the last-wicket stand in West Indies second innings, which ultimately proved to be the difference. The Man of the Match award was shared by Ambrose and Hudson.
South Africa undid all the good work by capitulating on the final day, but they had re-announced themselves to the cricketing world. More importantly, it marked a new dawn for South African cricket, hope for generations to come and an assurance of a future free from the shackles of the troubled past.
In their very next Test series, a four-match rubber at home against India in 1992-93, South Africa recorded a 1-0 victory and quickly went on to become one of the best teams in the world.