Last week’s article on the short visit by the Proteas to India for a three-match tour brought back some exciting memories for former Border cricket captain Peter Kirsten.
The trip in November 1991 was the first official international contact for SA since March 1970 when Australia were vanquished 4-0 in a Test series by Ali Bacher’s strong team.
Kirsten recalls vividly the arrival of the team in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
“We were treated like royalty and had a police escort to the hotel.
“On the way from the airport to the hotel people had welcome placards.
“It was overwhelming but a source of inspiration to us. And I was so happy to be part of it all.
“There was a real contrast with the poverty we saw along the route and then the opulence of the hotels.
“I suddenly realised just what we had been missing for all those years,” he said.
The opening ODI took place at Eden Gardens ground in front of an estimated crowd of 90,000 screaming fans.
Kirsten called it a “cacophony of noise”.
Kirsten recalls that after SA had lost the first two ODIs, a stern Bacher, the manager of the team, had tongue-lashed the players to get their act together and at least leave India with one win under their belt.
Chasing 288 in the final ODI at New Delhi, Kirsten scored 86 not out in SA’s inaugural ODI victory.
The Proteas reached their target for the loss of only two wickets with 20 balls to spare.
“The tour was one heck of an experience and never to be forgotten,” Kirsten said.
Highlights of the trip for Kirsten included a visit to Mother Theresa where the team received a blessing from her. She had been working in Calcutta’s slums among the poor for many years.
The Proteas also visited the Taj Mahal and other places of interest.
Kirsten said the only negative factor about the tour was that it only lasted about a week.
Later, tours to India were of two to three month’s duration.
Kirsten had enjoyed a rapid rise in the cricket world. He made his first-class debut for Western Province at the age of 18 in 1973.
He was a wonderful stroke-maker with all the shots both sides of the wicket and a magnificent fielder, particularly in the covers.
In the 1976/77 season, he was in outstanding form, scoring four centuries in successive innings and six tons in seven innings for WP and SA Universities.
He represented Derbyshire in the English County Championship and over the years scored six double-centuries for the County as well as two in SA, including 271 for Border against Northern Transvaal in the early 1990s.
His eight double-centuries are a record for a South African batsman, a record he holds with his brother Gary.
Outlawed from playing official international games for almost 22 years, during the 1980s Kirsten captained SA in what became known as “Rebel Tests” when teams from England, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies played unofficial Test matches against a SA XI to keep the game from stagnating in this country. When the preliminary squad of 30 for the 1992 World Cup was selected, Kirsten and Jimmy Cook’s names were missing. Also out was Clive Rice, who had led SA in India.
However, Kirsten eventually was chosen and was SA’s most successful batsman during the tournament.
But the cricket world was now opening up for the Proteas. Soon after the World Cup, SA toured the West Indies for the first time.
In April 1992, SA played their first Test match for 22 years when they met the West Indies at Bridgetown, Barbados. SA took a handy lead of 83 on the first innings, thanks to a great innings of 163 by Andrew Hudson on debut – the first ever for SA – and for the first four days the South Africans held the upper hand.
They were finally set 201 to win and at close of play on the fourth day, the Proteas were on 122 for two wickets, needing just 79 with eight wickets in hand to record an historic victory. But it was not to be.
An inspired Curtly Ambrose (6-34) and fast bowling partner Courtney Walsh (4-31) steam-rolled the Proteas for 148 for the Windies to win by 52 runs.
The last eight wickets plummeted for 45 runs and only Kepler Wessels with 74 (7×4) and Kirsten with 52 (5×4), reached double figures.
Kirsten then played in all four Tests against India in SA in 1992/93 and then returned to Australia in 1993/94, playing in the third Test in a drawn series away and then three Tests at home against Australia in a series which again ended in a 1-1 stalemate.
In 1994, he toured England where he scored his only Test century, a solid knock of 104 at Headingley, Leeds in the second Test.
In 12 Test matches Kirsten scored 626 runs (average 31.30) and in all first-class cricket he made 22,635 runs with 57 centuries and 107 half-centuries (at 44.46 per innings), excellent figures for one of SA’s greatest cricketers who was denied by politics to demonstrate to the world his undoubted talents.