Ali Bacher on 30 years of Proteas’ return to international cricket

“I told our Board that we are back in world cricket because of India and hence we must invite India to come to South Africa. And they agreed,” says Ali Bacher, former captain and administrator of the South African Cricket Board as he reminisces about the nation’s re-admission into world cricket, his favourite cricketers and more.

Fond memories: “South Africa’s best achievement happened in 2008, when it beat England in England and Australia in Australia. Graeme Smith’s team beat England 2-1 and Australia 2-1,” says Ali Bacher.   -  Getty Images

South Africa returned to international cricket with a three-match one-day series in India in 1991. Ali Bacher, the architect of the nation’s return to the ICC fold, recalls the historic tour.

What were the main pathways that led to the historical event in 1991; South Africa’s return to mainstream cricket with a short three-match one-day series against India...

South Africa was re-admitted into world cricket (as full member of the International Cricket Council) in June 1991, but there was no talk of participating against other countries. We just wanted to be part of the ICC’s full membership. I told our people in the Cricket Board that South Africa had no contact with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India and that we have never played these countries. I told the Board that we should go and meet them.

READ: South Africa’s tour of India, 1991 - love, hospitality and cricket

We first went to Sri Lanka, then to Pakistan and then to India. When we were in Mumbai, the headlines in the newspapers was that Pakistan was not going to tour India. Obviously for political reasons. We then went to Jagmohan Dalmiya’s area (Kolkata) and when we met him, within no time, he saw the possibility of South Africa re-entering world cricket by playing a short one-day international series in India.

On our way back to South Africa, we had a stopover in Nairobi because we wanted to meet our counterpart there. I was sharing a room with Percy Sonn (senior board member). And he told me: “Ali, we are going very fast. We have just been re-admitted, and all of a sudden we are going to India.”

I telephoned Steve Tshwete (sports minister). He became a great friend of mine. I told him that we have this offer of playing a series in India, but Percy was very nervous. He (Steve) asked me to give the phone to Percy. And after their conversation, Percy put down the phone and told me, “We are going to India.”

We returned to Johannesburg on a Sunday afternoon, and we had a meeting with the South African Cricket Board. There were whites and blacks, and they were all there to meet us. It was an extraordinary meeting. The black members said let’s go to India because it was India. And the white members of which I was part of, were reluctant. But the majority prevailed and it was decided that South Africa will travel to India for a series.

And then on the Monday morning I got a call from Scindia (Madhavrao, the then BCCI President). He told me that the South African team is most welcome to India, but there would be problems if it were to be an all-white team. I agreed. I telephoned Peter van der Merwe, our convenor of selectors and told him that I want two young black cricketers and two white cricketers to be part of the team, and that’s how Hansie Cronje got into the team.

Back in action: South African cricket team on their arrival at Dum Dum International Airport in Calcutta, to resume cricket after 21 years of isolation, for a three-match one-day series with India on November 8, 1991. The team’s captain Clive Rice is seen showing the thumbs up. Ali Bacher, the tour manager and Managing Director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa and Jagmohan Dalmiya, former secretary of BCCI are seen at right.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Then, when we flew into Kolkata, from the airport to the hotel, there must have been over hundred thousand people on the way. We received a great reception.

But before all this happened, one of the greatest moments in my career was the unification of the South African Cricket Board. Then the white and black administrators were separate, and the unification took place in 1991. And that’s what took us to India. When we landed in Kolkata, it was the first time a South African plane had landed on Indian soil. When the apartheid government came into existence in 1948, India was the first to leave South Africa. So when we landed, it was more than history in the making.

Then, before we went to India, I told National Panasonic that the series played in India had to be shown live in South Africa. They asked how much money will be required and I said a quarter million rand. They agreed.

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When I met Dalmiya in Kolkata he told me that the BCCI doesn’t receive any money from the public broadcaster, Doordarshan to telecast cricket matches live. Then I told him that National Panasonic will pay the BCCI a quarter million rand for transmitting pictures of the one-day series to South Africa.

Dalmiya could not believe it, his eyes opened up. That was the time Dalmiya realised the commercial value of cricket. That’s how India became a permanent commercial entity in world cricket.

Another interesting development happened around the same time. I told our Board that we are back in world cricket because of India and hence we must invite India to come to South Africa. And they agreed.

South Africa’s return to the international fold must have been the happiest moment for cricketers of that day, such as Clive Rice. He got to represent South Africa, but many others had missed Test cricket because of apartheid; including you. 1969-70 was your last series against Australia. Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards were the others who missed big time cricket.

It was very sad, many of our cricketers of the 1970s and 1980s went to England to play county cricket. During that time, we had some world-class players who did not get the opportunity to play international cricket. Garth Le Roux was one who missed international cricket. Then Peter Kirsten, he was one of the best batter South Africa has ever produced. Allan Lamb, he went to England. Robin Smith was a South African; he too went to England.

Man of the match: South African opening batsman Kepler Wessels scored 90 runs against India in the third and final day-night one-day international at the Nehru stadium in New Delhi on November 14, 1991. South Africa won the match.   -  The Hindu photo library

 

Was South African cricket strong in 1991 and, if so, was it because the intensity of domestic cricket was kept alive by the Board and the players?

We did not have good black cricketers when we returned to international cricket in 1991, which was not the case especially in the 1960s. Hence South Africa predominantly fielded white cricketers in the 1990s. It was only when Makhaya Ntini came to the fore that the transformation began to happen.

South African cricket had to be innovative during the apartheid years, we had to be one step ahead of our competitors. We started day/night cricket in the 1980s. When we came back, our standard was very good. We very nearly beat the West Indies in the first Test we played in Barbados. Peter Kirsten was very disappointed with the defeat. I told him it was a good thing to have happened. I was not unhappy that we lost in Barbados.

India won the ODI series 2-1, but South Africa competed and won the third match.

We should have won the first match in Kolkata. But Sachin (Tendulkar) won it for India. I went to the Indian dressing room after the match. He was very young then. I congratulated him. Our relationship started then.

The third match was played in Delhi and Ravi Shastri got a hundred. All I remember about that match is the crowd booing Ravi. I asked him what happened. And he said: “Listen, this is the rivalry between Mumbai and Delhi. It’s nothing to do with India. He got a hundred, but South Africa won that game. That was our start to returning to world cricket.

The first Test was against the West Indies, a politically correct thing to do. Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose played that match. Also Allan Donald and Hansie Cronje.

Match-fixing scandal and death... “The Hansie Cronje incident... It was one of the tragedies of South African cricket,” says Bacher.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

  Look, I have seen some of the greatest West Indian cricketers in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I had an obsession about going to the West Indies one day. And it became a reality for South Africa.

From the archives: More than just cricket

When we went to the West Indies, we were outclassed in the three ODIs in Jamaica (one match) and Trinidad (two matches). Then we went to Barbados for the Test match. Andrew Hudson got a great century (163). And all of a sudden we were in a position to beat them. Then the West Indies gave us a function on a ship on the sea. The South African players were dancing and enjoying themselves. I had never seen this before. And I said to myself: ‘I don’t like this.’ Lara told me that on the fourth day morning the West Indies team had a two-minute meeting and said to themselves that no way is South Africa going to beat them. And South Africa slumped, and the West Indies won the game. But deep down, as a I said before, I was not unhappy with the result.

Then of course the series against India at home.

The Indian Board never said that they should be the first to visit South Africa. I went public saying that because India supported us, they should be the first to be playing in South Africa. It was the right thing to do. I was under a lot of pressure from Pakistan. When the Indian team came they went to a few black townships to promote cricket among the black youth.

South Africa has played 39 Tests against India until now. It would have been unthinkable in 1969/70. India has virtually dominated the home series (14 wins); ditto with South Africa (15 wins). Ten Tests have ended in a draw.

Look, Steve Waugh is a good friend of mine. I have interviewed him. He told me that he, as captain, never won a Test series in India and that’s been his greatest regret. I think we have done very well in India. Maybe we have the best record in India (South Africa has won five Test matches in India). Look, we have a special relationship with India. I have personal relationships with a lot of people in India. I think the India-South Africa relationship will carry on.

What are the three biggest incidents in South African cricket since 1991?

I was the captain of the South African team in 1969-70. We beat Australia 4-0. A lot of people believe that was our best win in Test cricket. But the best achievement happened in 2008, when South Africa beat England in England and Australia in Australia. Graeme Smith’s team beat England 2-1 and Australia 2-1.

The second incident destroyed me for a period and his family for a period — the Hansie Cronje incident. It was one of the tragedies of South African cricket.

The third has to be the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

My career as a professional cricket administrator started in 1981. I have made mistakes, but in the 1990s I wanted to take a long shot at conducting the World Cup in South Africa in 2003. Two-and-a-half years before the event in 2003, I wanted the World Cup to be the best, a great event. There were some wonderful people who gave me all help. I did everything that I could do for it, day in and day out for two-and-a-half years. It was an event South Africa would be very proud of.

South Africa has produced great fast bowlers such as Dale Steyn, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and a few more. They kept South African cricket in good stead.

The reasons for this is that there are 27,000 schools in South Africa. I told someone to research for me and the result has been that most of these cricketers come from about close to 35 schools. These schools have a passion for cricket and good coaching systems. Adam Bacher’s son is the captain of the school where I went. My grandson, Jarren; I go and see him play for Bishop’s School, he is a damn good off-spinner. He has taken the most wickets this year. So these schools are good in cricket. So our base is still good.

In my opinion Dale Steyn is the best ever South African fast bowler. Why? He bowled the late away swingers. This is unusual for a very fast bowler. Allan Donald is in that league. I sent him to Warwickshire, because I knew David Brown against whom I played.

Favourites: “Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards are the best South African batsmen I have ever seen,” says Bacher.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

What about Jacques Kallis. One of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game.

Steve Waugh described Kallis as one of the greatest cricketers of all time. That sums up Jacques Kallis.

You should name the best South African batsmen you have seen.

Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards have to be the best. I have watched so much of AB De Villiers. I will put him in that league. De Villiers is the most innovative batsman I have ever seen.

An idol: “Once Jonty Rhodes effected the run out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in Brisbane in the 1992 World Cup, he became a PR Agent for South African cricket,” recalls Bacher.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

 

And what about Jonty Rhodes, a great fielder?

The two best fielders I have ever seen are: Colin Bland and Jonty Rhodes. Bland was majestic. He fielded at cover. Jonty would take unbelievable catches at backward point. He was all over the field. He would effect great run outs. He was in the league of his own. Once he effected the run out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in Brisbane in the 1992 World Cup, he became a PR Agent for South African cricket. He became the idol for all young cricketers in South Africa and the world.