Expect the unexpected. Very few in cricket may understand these three words better than Omar Henry. For, Henry (62) played in an era where there was virtually no hope of representing South Africa. But when the nation was readmitted to the Test fold in 1992, the left-arm spinner became the first non-white to play for South Africa — at the age of 40.
While on the ‘expect the unexpected’ subject, Henry doesn’t expect the touring Indian team to enjoy the kind of batting success the India ‘A’ team had on a tour to the Rainbow Nation in August when the wickets were more friendly to batsmen.
India won the first ‘A’ Test at Rustenburg by an innings and 13 runs followed by a loss in the second ‘Test’ at Pretoria. However, India won the tri-series one-day competition that also involved Australia.
Current team members Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha were part of that tour. Former South Africa chief selector Henry, now CEO of Boland Cricket Board, spoke to MiD DAY on Saturday night.
On the ODI series being held before the Tests:
It will be good for India because South Africa are not playing one-day cricket that well. India will prefer that because if they do win the one-day series they go into the Test series — the toughest of challenges for a long time — with some momentum. It’s not ideal, but I can see why India opted for that.
On India’s challenge of handling red-hot pace:
They may get bowler-friendly pitches in one-day cricket. India must feel that they can play good one-day cricket now — better than South Africa. There are only two Tests, but they will be very intense Tests. I can tell you now that it will be bowler-pitches. It could be a different kettle of fish this time around as against what the India ‘A’ side experienced when they were out here scoring lots of runs (in August). The pitches were very flat and dry in the beginning of the season. They will be totally different now.
On how he thinks the young batters will cope against Steyn, Morkel and Philander:
It will be testing for them. I am not saying that the pitches will be what they have never experienced before. But I think South Africa will feel playing on bowler-pitches will suit them rather than India. And because it is a two-match series, you will want to win the first one to put your opposition under pressure. It will be very interesting. It will be intense for both teams because it is only a two-match series. India have a very talented side in terms of batting but adjusting to the conditions will be fairly tough.
On the kind of public interest the series will generate in SA:
The public will come out in droves to watch the series for various reasons. One, the politics around the series and there was a lot of media attention to that. Secondly, because India are playing very good one-day cricket, the fans will be very keen to see how South Africa fare against a one-day side of that quality. South Africa is No 1 in Test cricket and they will want to see how their team fares against India.
On playing against Sachin Tendulkar in 1992-93:
I was fortunate to see him in Scotland as a 15-year-old on a club tour. I followed him since then and by the time he came to South Africa, I was one of his fans. As he was nearing his 200-Test landmark, they were showing some highlights of India vs South Africa matches here and I got calls from all over South Africa, reminding me how Tendulkar pulled me for two fours in the Cape Town Test of that series.