On his day, Javagal Srinath could be quick. He ran in well, could hit the deck and work up some serious pace. But then again, early on in his career, he seemed to be one-dimensional. He would go wide at the bowling crease and dart the ball back into the right-hander. It was his usual mode of operation for the first few years.

After 21 Tests, his career average was 36.19 (57 wickets). It wasn’t great and given his talent, many thought it should be better.

Then, in November 1996, the South Africans came calling. Now, this was a solid team. With Hansie Cronje as skipper, SA had found their feet in international cricket quickly. Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hudson were the openers, Daryll Cullinan came in at three with Cronje, Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson to follow. The bowling led by Allan Donald wasn’t weak either. Pat Symcox and Paul Adams were the spinners while Fanie de Villiers could be pretty useful in the subcontinent too.

The venue for the first Test was Motera in Ahmedabad and it wasn’t the typical dead track we have come to associate with the venue. Rather, this was a crumbly surface that was never easy to bat on.

India-South Africa - first five Test matches

Match sequence Winner Margin Ground Match Date
SA v India drawn - Durban Nov 13-17, 1992
SA v India drawn - Johannesburg Nov 26-30, 1992
SA v India South Africa 9 wickets Port Elizabeth Dec 26-29, 1992
SA v India drawn - Cape Town Jan 2-6, 1993
India vs SA  India 64 runs Ahmedabad Nov 20-23, 1996

After electing to bat first, India were bowled out for 223 runs in the first innings, with captain Sachin Tendulkar being the highest scorer with 42. Allan Donald was the pick of the bowlers for South Africa, producing a spell of 4/37 in 27 overs.

In reply, South Africa got to 244, a lead of 21 runs, thanks largely to a 67 by Fanie de Villiers lower down the order. Sunil Joshi took 4/43 in 24 overs for India to keep them in the game. As is the norm, Indian spinners did bulk of the bowling.

The third innings was going to be crucial for the hosts. They needed to get enough runs on board to challenge the visitors. But things didn’t exactly go to plan. They were reduced to 7/124 before VVS Laxman (51)and Anil Kumble (30 not out) got together to take the score to 180 before the former was dismissed. The innings was over soon after. India were bowled out for 190.

It wasn’t going to be easy but the low total meant that one big partnership could be the difference. But India got the best possible start thanks to Srinath, who picked up the wickets of opener Andrew Hudson and No 3 Daryll Cullinan off back-to-back deliveries to reduce South Africa to 0/2.

But after that setback, South Africa rebuilt their innings to reach 96/4. Cronje was batting well and Richardson had decided he was going to block everything. India needed a breakthrough and Srinath was on hand to provide it.

He got Richardson (7 off 26 balls) and then sparked a collapse so significant that the Proteas lost their next five wickets for just nine runs.

It also led to India winning their first-ever Test against South Africa.

For the first time in his career, Srinath took a five-wicket haul. He ended up with innings figures of 11.5-4-21-6.

Srinath's career - before & after Ahmedabad

Inns Wkts BBI Ave SR 5-fors
Before Ahmedabad 1996 37 57 4/33 36.19 81.7 0
From Ahmedabad 1996 84 179 8/86 28.67 58.3 10
Overall career 121 236 8/86 30.49 64.0 10


But perhaps, more importantly, it started his career off on an upward trajectory. His Strike Rate, which was more than 80 before that match started for almost his entire career, dropped down to below 75 after that match and stayed there.

“Srinath triggered a revolution in Indian pace bowling. Even in most unhelpful conditions,he always responded to the team’s needs with unflinching zeal. Sri’s strength was his hunger to perform under adverse conditions,” VVS Laxman had said recently.

As he started getting older, he started working on the delivery that held its line as well and that made him vastly more difficult to counter. As many Indian cricket followers would tell you, this was the Test where Srinath truly took off.

And when it came to bowling against the Proteas, Srinath was almost always up for it.

Srinath's record by opponents

Grouping Inns Wkts BBI Ave SR 5
v South Africa 25 64 6/21 24.48 51.7 4
v New Zealand 15 33 6/45 27.69 63.6 2
v Zimbabwe 16 30 5/60 28.70 66.1 1
v Australia 21 30 4/130 42.33 80.9 0
v West Indies 18 25 4/48 40.88 89.0 0
v England 9 17 4/73 38.47 78.7 0
v Pakistan 6 17 8/86 20.64 35.6 2
v Sri Lanka 9 17 5/114 28.88 53.4 1
v Bangladesh 2 3 3/19 22.00 66.0 0

Here are some highlights from the fourth innings: