I was part of the first Proteas touring squad to Sri Lanka in 1993. It was a ground-breaking tour, with us having only recently been re-established in international cricket and them in the midst of a brutal civil war.
When we arrived, we saw sandbags littered on every corner. At the time, there was plenty of scepticism about South Africans because we hadn’t travelled around the world owing to the sanctions imposed on our country during the apartheid regime. It was one of our first sojourns to the subcontinent since readmission.
As a collective, we embraced the five-week trip to Sri Lanka with real excitement. We stayed on the beachfront, very much where the Proteas are residing today, and took in all the sights and sounds. Etched in the memory is the thrill of riding in tuk-tuks during peak hour traffic!
Sri Lanka is a great place to tour and boasts a large Catholic population from bygone years. There is also a strong Portuguese influence in a country, which I hold very dear to my heart. Under the leadership of Kepler Wessels, we managed to clinch the historic three-Test series 1-0 and got the better of a Sri Lankan side led by Arjuna Ranatunga.
On a personal front, I enjoyed a particularly successful Test series. I took four wickets, was the eighth-highest run scorer with 149 runs and hit a highest score of 50. When we drew the first Test in Moratuwa, I was batting with Jonty Rhodes as he brought up his century.
An interesting piece of trivia is that I was batting on the other end when two of the top five Proteas’ run-scorers got their tons against Sri Lanka.
We saved the first Test match and, in the second, Brett Schultz claimed nine scalps and we triumphed in Colombo by an innings and 208 runs.
Like South Africa have done for the first Test in Galle, we utilised two spinners in Clive Eksteen and myself. Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has picked Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi as his twin spin attack. It will be interesting to see if the South African spinners will perform over the course of the series because they are playing against opponents that play against spin pretty well.
The pace of the pitch is always slower on the sub-continent and conditions are hot and humid. On the fast bowling front, it’s great to see Dale Steyn mark his comeback in this match. He is now only two wickets away from heading up South Africa’s most-wickets list in Tests. I had no doubt he would come back into world cricket post-injury. Test cricket demands one vitally important ingredient in every single player, whether it’s a batsmen or a bowler. It’s the value called patience, and Steyn was extremely patient during his recovery process.
Steyn is a seasoned campaigner and his greatest strength lies in the fact that he is a genuine wicket-taker. The Phalaborwa Express possesses the ability to change the game in the space of an over.
Over the course of his 14-year Test career, Steyn has been able to knock over quality players, almost at will, and easily clean up a tail. Any fast bowler that intends to prosper on the international stage needs to be feared by the opposition and, by all accounts, the 35-year-old still is a feared figure.
Moreover, in the twilight of his international career, he knows exactly what his role is and does it well. With the retirement of Morné Morkel, Steyn is the senior statesman in the Proteas bowling set-up and can play a crucial role. Kagiso Rabada, who claimed four wickets in the first innings against Sri Lanka, is the young gun firing on all cylinders, but Steyn still packs a mean punch.
(Article first appeared on SA Cricket Magazine website)