Ask around South Africa and the international team most cricket supporters would like to have seen first-hand is the legendary West Indians. Their glory days were ending as South Africa were readmitted into the international game, so that by the time they toured the country in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they had gone from all-conquering to almost all-conquered. But in the summer of 2007, West Indies finally arrived. They stunned South Africa with a historic Test win in Port Elizabeth . Daren Ganga was part of the victorious XI and shared their story of success ahead of the second Test at the same venue in the ongoing series.
The guys had played some T20s in South Africa and won in Port Elizabeth so by the time the Test players like I joined them we felt very confident that the team would be competitive. We knew from our experiences in 1998-99 that the PE track was quite fast but over the years it had become batsman-friendly. We analysed it well so we were not too worried when we were put in to bat even though our past record may have led the South Africans to believe that they would beat us.
We felt their bowlers were a bit off their usual form and there was some indifferent bowling upfront. Myself and Chris Gayle were able to put on an opening partnership two short of 100 and that really set the tone, especially through Chris’ contribution.
Back then he was at that stage between being carefree and maturing and it really showed how he was developing. He was also our leader on the tour so he had the responsibility and he really took that on.
At the end of the first day, we were in a good position. Marlon Samuels had scored 94 and Shivnarine Chanderpaul was still batting, but there was still a lot to do. Only after Shiv took us over 350 and then over 400 did we really feel we could take some control.
Our first-innings total set the precedent but we knew we had struggled to get 20 wickets in the past, especially against better teams. But our attack seized the initiative. They operated in partnerships. They were aggressive but disciplined and at the end of the second day we had South Africa five down.
After we bowled them out cheaply on the third morning, we followed up with a solid batting performance in the second innings too. Not great but solid. That’s when it started to seem like we could win. When we broke it up session by session, we could see that every day we had taken more control. First we put ourselves in a position from which we couldn’t lose the game and then we went for the win. We were very hungry for the victory.
On the final day, our bowlers picked up early wickets again and we were smelling victory, especially since we could see the tension on the South African faces. I was fielding at forward short leg when Fidel Edwards bowled one into Graeme Smith’s ribs and he fended it off. I took the catch basically on the pitch. I could just see the anxiety and that South Africa knew we could win.
Jacques Kallis was the only guy who looked like standing between us and victory and when Edwards had him caught behind, we thought we could get through the rest. And we did, even though AB de Villiers batted well and there was some resistance at the end.
We really wanted the win so kept at it because we knew how much it would mean to us. In previous series, we had struggled to start well and we knew if we started well it could give us a psychological advantage for the rest of the series.
Afterwards there was definitely some rowdiness in the dressing room. The victory bonded us together as a team. We knew it was no easy feat to beat South Africa at home and we knew we had a win against a top quality team.
But then we settled back into the mindset we have struggled to get out of for so many years. Gayle got injured in the second Test and that really changed things. Psychologically, we were not prepared for that. We were batting one short – we were 10 against 11. Dwayne Bravo had to take over and we really battled. That’s where things went downhill. We never recovered.
For this match, I am optimistic but also realistic. We have an inexperienced side in all aspects – batting, bowling and even in leadership because Denesh Ramdin is still feeling his way into the captaincy.
The other problem we have is that some of our players are technically limited and don’t have the same kind of experience as the South Africans. Look at Stiaan van Zyl as an example. He made his Test debut after playing 96 first-class games so he understands his own game inside-out. Our players have not had that kind of experience. Our infrastructure does not allow players to develop in that way. It’s a combination of things that we need from good coaching to exposure to international conditions. We need our A team to be playing consistently against strong opposition.
I would like to see fight and sustained intensity. Beating South Africa will be really difficult. It’s asking a lot but we must not roll over and be better than we were in the game before.
As told to Firdose Moonda