THE present day South Africa, now being free of its darkest period when apartheid ruled the country forbidding mixed sports, mixed education and mixed marriages, is well on its way to greater things in terms of political, social and sports development including cricket.
The country was colonised in the middle of 17th century AD by the Dutch East India Company which ceded to Britain in 1814 and from there onwards it saw the start of the game of cricket although traces of the game dates back even earlier.
The policy of apartheid which was introduced by their National party lasting over fifty years kept the non-whites segregated in every strata, be it education, businesses or sports.
Thanks to the African National Congress (ANC) and its legendary leaders including Nelson Mandela whose struggle eventually stopped the indiscriminate massacre of the blacks in Soweto and other townships ending the abhorring system in 1991and normalising life making it more conducive for people of every race and creed.
South Africa in their dark days played cricket and other sports only against white teams like Australia, England and New Zealand. Being one of the three founding members of the ICC they played their first two Tests against England, losing both the Tests with their first loss at Port Elizabeth in 1889.
England’s captain was Charles Aubrey Smith who later became a Hollywood star.
However, things had never been normal for South Africa with the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspending the country in 1970 after their prime minister refused to accept an England team containing the cape-coloured all-rounder Basil D’Oliviera who in South Africa was classified as a non-white.
South Africa that year had annihilated the Australians at home under Dr Ali Bacher beating them 4-0 in the Test series. Nonetheless, that really hit them hard on the head as they went into oblivion and isolation from every walk of life for 21 years before the system of racial discrimination was abolished and the first black president Nelson Mandela freed from prison after 27 years replaced a white leader De Klerk.
Having reinstated by the ICC they played their first ODI against India at Calcutta (Kolkata now) in 1991 and their first World Cup in 1992 and first Test after coming back against the West Indies at Barbados the same year.
Their entry into the World Cup was sensational despite being unable to make it to the final for poor rain rules besides remaining the ‘chokers’ in the shorter version of the game, a title the mention of which always embarrasses them. They also lost the Barbados Test by 52 runs.
Nonetheless, from Clive Rice, Kepler Wessels to Hansie Cronje and now under Graeme Smith the Proteas have been a cricketing force and enjoy a place as a top ranking Test team since August 2012.
South Africa have so far played 377 Tests with 36.33 per cent success rate winning 137 of them with their captain Graeme Smith being the only in history to have led his country in over hundred Tests and is also a successful batsman who after an ankle injury is staging a comeback.
With men like Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, the best modern day all-rounder, and A.B. de Villiers on his side as batsmen and with the bowlers of quality like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander at his disposal, Smith appears to be in the driving seat.
Pakistan played their inaugural Test in 1952, sixty-three years later than South Africa did but both have enjoyed their good and bad moments over the years and both are proud nations aiming to reach the top in every sphere of life.
The ICC announced its final plan for a Test Championship on Saturday with only four top ranking teams being able to qualify for a $10m prize purse in England in 2017.
Misbah’s men with an eye on that will obviously be focusing on making amends and performing better than what they did recently against South Africa and Zimbabwe to improve their ranking.