Rex Clementine, in The Sunday Iisland, 1 Jan 2017
The year 1992 saw international cricket teams returning to Sri Lanka after a lapse of five years. With Arjuna Ranatunga at the helm as captain and Duleep Mendis as coach, the Sri Lankans were enjoying quite a bit of success as well. There was a first ever Test win over New Zealand in 1992 followed by a Test win over England in 1993. Later that year, the South Africans arrived for a three Test series. There was quite a bit of optimism among local fans as South Africa were returning to international cricket after an isolation of 21 years. Sri Lanka were firm favourites playing at home.
The first Test at Moratuwa went as the hosts expected. Captain Ranatunga’s 132 in the second innings set South Africa an imposing target of 365. Sri Lanka had four sessions to bowl out the South Africans to record their maiden Test win over the Proteas. By stumps on day four, Andrew Hudson and Hansie Cronje had been dismissed. A famous Test win was on the cards.
On the final day, South Africa fought hard, but Sri Lanka kept making inroads. By tea, they were seven down for 199 with only the tail to come. Only one result looked possible at that stage – a huge Sri Lankan win. But 24-year-old Jonty Rhodes, who was quite popular in Sri Lanka by then after his famous run out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the 1992 World Cup, teamed up with little known left-arm spinner Clive Eksteen to earn the Proteas a hard fought draw.
Rhodes hammered a century in just 107 balls, his maiden Test hundred, but it was debutant Eksteen, who turned out to be a thorn in the Sri Lankans’ flesh defending expertly. In the end, he had scored four runs off 98 deliveries! He was public enemy number one that day in Sri Lanka.
“It was a situation where we were two down overnight. The talk was that we will give our best shot to hang in there. I was batting at number nine, Aland Donald and Bret Schultz were ten and 11. I went out to bat after tea and Aravinda was bowling. The first ball he bowled to me I missed it. I thought I had been bowled, but thankfully it bounced and went over the middle stump. I don’t think I missed a ball after that,” Eksteen, who is Cricket South Africa’s Commercial Manager at present told Sunday Island.
The unbroken eighth wicket partnership was worth 52 runs, but more importantly it had saved the game for South Africa. “I remember quite clearly that Jonty would face the first two balls of the over. First ball he would blast for four, next ball single and then I would block the next four deliveries. As we got closer, we said we could do this. We hanged in there. Thankfully we did and we went onto win the series.”
Eksteen had been picked as the second spinner alongside off-spinner Pat Symcox. He was not that effective with the ball, but his batting earned South Africa a famous draw. “Thankfully Murali had not perfected the other one at that stage. Had he had that, I wouldn’t have lasted that much. It was tense. Other than Murali – who was turning big every time – the rest were not turning much. So it was a lot easier against the rest of the bowlers.
It was a missed opportunity for Sri Lanka. They had to wait for seven long years to beat South Africa in a Test match again. The occasion eventually came in 2000 when Sanath Jayasuriya’s side beat Shaun Pollock’s South Africans by an innings in Galle.
In that 1993 tour, after drawing the first Test, South Africa would go onto win the next Test at SSC by an innings and 208 runs. To date that remains Sri Lanka’s second heaviest defeat in Test cricket. South Africa’s key weapon during the series win was a left-arm quick by the name of Bret Schultz, who took 20 wickets in the series. The 22-year-old Schutz was blistering quick and was too much to handle for the Sri Lankans.
“Bret Schultz was superb. He was very quick. He was young, fit and strong. He was able to bowl long spells. Being a left-armer he made it even tougher. As a person he is hell of a friendly guy. But with the ball in hand he is exact the opposite. He caught the Sri Lankan team with little bit unawares. He made the difference in the tour for us.”
Eksteen recalled a funny moment during the second Test. “We speak lot of Afrikaans in the South African team so that other teams couldn’t understand. Kepler was standing at slip and Roshan Mahanama was going across his stumps quite a lot. Kepler sent a message in Afrikaans all the way back to Bret Schultz. He wanted Bret to bowl at leg-stump. Bret was standing at his run-up. He didn’t speak Afrikaans and he shouted in English at Kepler saying, ‘If you need me to bowl at leg-stump, I need a fine-leg’. Roshan then looked at us and was asking why is he giving that away. That was a funny moment. One that all of us had a good laugh about.”
Wessles’ leadership was crucial for South Africa’s success. He had already toured Sri Lanka with Greg Chappell’s Australian team having migrated down under during the years of apartheid. “Kepler had lot of experience. Before we went to Sri Lanka, he knew what exactly to do. The best selection was that of Bret Schultz. A lot of people had heard about Alan Donald, but no one knew about Bret Schultz. Kepler would have played a big role in getting the team he wanted to go to Sri Lanka. Outside his batting and his playing ability, he brought in a lot of experience. His captaincy was outstanding.”
Despite his match saving knock at Moratuwa, Eksteen was not too lucky as he was axed for the second Test at SSC in what turned out to be a green top. South Africa boosted their seam attack and ended up taking a 1-0 lead in the series. “I did have hard feelings, but that’s what it is. No one likes to be dropped. Sport is tough. It really is. The team management does what they think is best for the team and you can’t argue with it when the next Test match is won. You have to move on,” Eksteen said.
Eksteen is pleased to have been part of a great South African team. “It was a superb South African team. We were coming out of isolation but we did have an extremely competitive domestic structure. Those guys set the stage for what has gone on today.”
Now with Cricket South Africa, he sees a brighter future for the sport in his country. “We have got a very good structure in South African cricket. There is passion for the game. School cricket is very good and I see a very good future for our cricket.”