“Raman’s effort remains one of the best in limited overs cricket by an Indian batsman against hostile fast bowling on a very difficult surface. Too bad it was a rare, rare highlight in his rather mediocre career”.
It was a tough period for the Indians.
The first tour of South Africa, the first by any country since Bill Lawry’s Australians in 1969-70. And they suddenly discovered that the standard of cricket had been painstakingly preserved through the depressing years of isolation.
Besides, the bounce and movement offered by the South African tracks made it a torment to bat.
And then there was the bowling attack. One fast bowler after another, every one of them were world class. Allan Donald led the charge. Then there was Brett Schulz, Craig Matthews, Brian McMillan and Fanie de Villiers.
The tourists battled it out to two tough draws in the first two Tests. On a green Durban wicket, Pravin Amre’s scintillating debut century saved them. On a seaming Johannesburg track, it was the 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar who guided them to safety.
But then arrived the ODIs before the 3rd Test at Port Elizabeth.
At Newlands Donald, de Villiers, McMillan and Matthews choked India, while Hansie Cronje came in the guise of offering medium-paced relief and ended up with 5 for 32; and South Africa won a close battle. It was a similar tale at St George’s Park, and India were 2 down.
In the third game, at Centurion Park, Verwoerdburg, the 214 runs scored by the home team perhaps did not look formidable on paper. Captain Mohammad Azharuddin had used his bowlers astutely, and the young bespectacled leggie who did not turn a ball had applied the brakes on South Africa. Anil Kumble’s 10 overs had cost just 29 and he had picked up the scalps of Kepler Wessels and Hansie Cronje.
But, then the attack of Donald, de Villiers, McMillan, Matthews and Cronje, on that difficult wicket, and backed by some outstanding fielding, made the chase more than a difficult proposition.
On the scoreboard, the Indians looked secure, reaching 50 without losing a wicket. But then, it was a laborious effort. Ajay Jadeja crawled through 55 balls for his 20. And the first-wicket stand of 56 consumed 19 overs.
Pravin Amre, coming in at No 3, tried to hit his way out of trouble and holed out to deep midwicket off Cronje. Azharuddin took his time to settle before playing all over a Matthews delivery.
Tendulkar struck a brisk 24-ball 22, including a ferocious straight drive, before falling to a controversial caught behind decision. And Kapil Dev could manage just 1.
However, all along, opener WV Raman held firm. There was the customary lazy poise, with plenty of steel underneath the silken elegance. There were cautious dabs, in the beginning, graduating to flowing off-side drives and once in a while the hard hit to the leg. When the South Africans bowled short, he was not averse to playing the hook. And at least once he stood straight and struck the ball through midwicket with a vertical bat off the backfoot. It was classy.
And on 90 he opened his shoulders and essayed a lofted on-drive off Matthews that sailed into the crowd.
It was a chanceless hundred. Indeed, the only opportunity he offered was at 106 when his pull off McMillan was put down by Donald on the mid-wicket fence. And in Ravi Shastri, he found an unlikely ally in the brisk chase for the remaining runs.
In the end, it was quite a sight to watch Shastri and Raman, two of the slowest movers in world cricket, stealing singles under the noses of the electric South African fielding outfit.
Raman fell for 114, and at that point, the total read 194 in the 47th over. His attempted leg-side hoick off Donald was miscued and big Brian McMillan threw himself at mid-off to come up with the catch. But by then Shastri was middling the ball well with some endearingly old-fashioned slogs.
Raman had singlehandedly brought India close. Shastri settled the issue with some good use of the long handle, the cheeky Kiran More keeping him company. India got home with 5 balls and 4 wickets to spare.
Raman’s effort remains one of the best in limited overs cricket by an Indian batsman against hostile fast bowling on a very difficult surface. Too bad it was a rare, rare highlight in his rather mediocre career.