South Africa's Fanie de Villiers appeals for a wicket during the Sydney Test in 1994
Photo: Getty Images
It is difficult now to remember what a mysterious entity South African cricket was in the early 1990s. After two decades of absence from the (legitimate) international arena, no one was certain how strong cricket was in that country. In the post-apartheid era, the former Springboks side was recreated as the more inclusive Proteas.
Fans with long memories continued to speculate on how dominant Graeme Pollock, Mike Procter and Barry Richards would have been if not for the Gleneagles interruption to their careers. Some nervous Australians suggested that the sport was thriving in the country and South Africa was about to unleash a team of world-beaters. Others speculated that it would take them years to become competitive again.
The ban on South Africa meant that we never got to see fabled paceman Garth Le Roux in action – but come the 1993-94 tour, there were claims that new speedster Allan Donald was even better. The Proteas also had a young batsman, Daryll Cullinan, who good judges were suggesting could be another Pollock, an emerging star in Hansie Cronje, and the hard-headed ex-Australian Test opener Kepler Wessels.
Australia, under the no-nonsense captaincy of Allan Border, had established itself as the toughest team in world cricket, but they hadn't played their fellow Southern Hemisphere powerhouse in a Test since the 4-0 smashing of 1969-70 series. Anticipation was high.
When 'White Lightning' struck
Nothing electrifies crowds like a chance to see first-hand an express fast bowler billed as the quickest in the world. Australian crowds had the opportunity in the mid-70s to see Michael Holding for the first time, and in the 1980s there was Malcolm Marshall. Later on, there would be similar buzz about the eccentric Pakistani Shoaib Akhtar. But in 1993 the man everyone wanted to see was the lean, athletic Donald. 'White Lightning' was a mature cricketer of 27, even though he had only played eight Tests. The Aussies had already faced him in the international arena when he bowled a searing 10 overs in their World Cup clash. His 3/34 would have been even better if his caught behind appeal against Geoff Marsh off his first ball had been (correctly) upheld.
The first glimpse of him in action at the MCG was underwhelming. He took 1/108 in Australia's only innings and failed to extract any help from the damp conditions. Could the tearaway be more myth than menace? He was much more convincing in the second Test with seven wickets and took five good wickets in the third and final Test. While he didn't dominate, he made batsmen uncomfortable and spectators animated. He brought the approved fast bowler's demeanour, curling his lip at batsmen, tattooing the middle portion of the pitch with bouncers, as well as producing the anticipated sizzling speed.
A stunner at the SCG
Donald called it the best Test he ever played in – and he was not the dominant bowler for his side, let alone the match. The second Test in Sydney saw Australia plummet from near-certain victory to devastating defeat. Shane Warne took 12 wickets and enhanced his legend and Donald was brutal, but the improbable figure of Fanie de Villiers won the Test. For a long period of time the Australian side, despite their overall excellence, had a horrible habit of butchering matches in which they were required to chase a fiddly fourth-innings total. The most notorious example was Headingley in 1981, but this SCG match was not far behind.
The home side was in a position of strength for much of the match. South Africa tumbled from 1/91 to all out 169 in the first innings as Warne took seven wickets. In reply the Australians made 292. South Africa overhauled the big deficit in their second innings thanks to a fighting unbeaten 76 by Jonty Rhodes but Australia was heavily favoured to reach the small victory target of 117.
Donald and de Villiers had other ideas. Australia was cruising at 1/51. Then de Villiers took three wickets in five balls and things became jittery. In the first over of the final day with Australia needing 54 to win and six wickets in hand, Border shouldered arms to Donald and saw his off-stump uprooted. Steve Waugh was skittled by a Donald yorker. Craig McDermott smashed a quick-fire 29 but Damien Martyn, the last recognised batsman, crept to six runs in almost two hours. Then, in a famous rush of blood, he holed out to cover – and was not selected for another Test match for more than six years. When Glenn McGrath provided de Villiers with a tame return catch, the visitors had a famous victory by the margin of five runs.
Shane and his bunny
By 1993-94, S.K. Warne was in his pomp, the most dangerous bowler in cricket and one of the most confident competitors in any sport. He loved to get batsmen out, but if he could make them look a bit silly into the bargain that was a definite plus. He found his foil in Cullinan, the wunderkind who had been expected to do so well.
Warne didn't get a chance to torment Cullinan in Melbourne because McDermott dispatched him for a golden duck. In Sydney, Warne bowled him for nine in the first dig and had him LBW for 2 when he dropped one place down the order in the second innings. Both times it was the flipper that did the damage. Cullinan found Warne harder to read than War in Peace in its original language.
In Australia's victory in the Adelaide Test, Cullinan looked mentally shot, making 10 and five for a series average of 5.2. Warne didn't have time to get at him in either innings. However the leggie let it be publicly known that he regarded Cullinan as his 'bunny'. He dismissed the South African four times in Tests and eight times in ODIs and, whether Daryll likes it or not, their names will always be inextricably linked.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
Follow BigPond Sport on Twitter: @bigpondsport