“I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon," said Clive Rice. © Getty Images

“I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon,” said Clive Rice. © Getty Images

After leading South Africa on a three-match ODI tour of India in late 1991, the first official cricket the country had played in more than 21 years, Clive Rice was moved to say: “I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon.” Within a few months, the South Africans had left India behind, surging to the semifinals in their first appearance at a World Cup. But for the 42-year-old Rice, his best years lost to apartheid-era isolation, there would be no opportunity to grace the big stage.

People were still talking of the absurd rain rule and their defeat to England in the Sydney semifinal when the South Africans journeyed to the Caribbean for their next giant leap. Despite a Test history that went back to the 19thcentury, they had only ever played matches against England, Australia and New Zealand. The first Test of their return from the cold would see new frontiers and colour barriers breached, with a match against West Indies.

The cricket fan of today might find the idea of West Indies being a competitive Test side fanciful. After all, for much of the new millennium, they have been stuck at No.8 in the rankings. But in April 1992, a quarter century ago, they were still very much the top dogs. Vivian Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Gordon Greenidge and Jeff Dujon – two of them candidates for any World XI, and the other two in the fray for an all-time West Indies XI – had moved on, leaving Richie Richardson in charge.

As for South Africa, it had been so long since the skills of Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor had demolished Australia that they didn’t even seem to know which format they were playing. There were some bizarre selections, to put it mildly.

Mark Rushmere, Adrian Kuiper and Tertius Bosch, who passed away on Valentine’s Day in 2000, would not play another Test, while Richard Snell (five) and Meyrick Pringle (four) would also not be part of the long-term plans. Kepler Wessels, who captained the team after having represented Australia in 24 matches in the 1980s, and Peter Kirsten were well into their 30s, and would play 16 and 12 Tests before making way for a new generation.

Of the XI that played at the Kensington Oval, only Andrew Hudson, Hansie Cronje, Dave Richardson and Allan Donald would be around for the long haul, during a decade when their progress was in stark contrast to West Indies’ regression. But all that lay in the future, as Wessels won the toss – and perhaps intimidated by the prospect of facing Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson – decided to bowl.

There was no telecast of the game in India, high definition quality or otherwise, and few had even imagined ball-by-ball updates on the nascent Internet. It’s hard to explain to those that can’t relate to it the anticipation and excitement with which you tuned into the radio updates. Having switched on expecting to hear details of who had hit the winning runs, you listened awestruck instead to the minutiae of yet another West Indian demolition job.

By stumps, his team were batting anyway. The unheralded Bosch had dismissed the promising Brian Lara, and Snell had seen off the rest of the top order as West Indies folded for 262. South Africa’s response was built on the granite plinth that Hudson constructed over 519 minutes. He made 163, and Wessels an uncharacteristically strokeful and brisk 59 as the visitors took a handy lead of 83.

But to win matches, especially against West Indies sides of that era, you needed lashings of luck too. South Africa didn’t have any, certainly not on ‘moving day’, when West Indies lost seven second-innings wickets before the lead was even 100. “At the end of the third day they were 184 for seven, and the tourists appeared to be on the brink of a famous victory,” said the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

“Even to get there, West Indies had had two pieces of extreme good fortune. Haynes played the second ball of the innings, from Donald, on to his off stump without dislodging a bail. Later Lara, who had just reached his maiden Test fifty trod on his off stump going back to Bosch. The incident was clear in television replays, but he was reprieved as neither umpire had seen it.”

Eventually set 201 for victory, after Wessels’ failure to have a sweeper cover saw Jimmy Adams flail away for an unbeaten 79 with the tail for company, South Africa left the ground on the penultimate day handily placed at 122 for 2. In the years since, several of the players have denied that there were premature celebrations and carousing.

But with the pitch showing signs of variable bounce, it’s doubtful whether even a cup of cocoa and being under the covers at 9pm would have helped. With an assortment of cutters, Walsh took 4 for 8 in 11 overs the next morning, leaving Ambrose to do his Grim Reaper act against the tail. South Africa lost their last eight for 25.

There was no telecast of the game in India, high definition quality or otherwise, and few had even imagined ball-by-ball updates on the nascent Internet. It’s hard to explain to those that can’t relate to it the anticipation and excitement with which you tuned into the radio updates. Having switched on expecting to hear details of who had hit the winning runs, you listened awestruck instead to the minutiae of yet another West Indian demolition job.

The two countries have played another 27 Tests since, with West Indies winning two and losing 18. What might have been the premier rivalry of the late 1970s and 1980s is now a contest hardly anyone wants to see. But for five days in Barbados – most local fans stayed away in protest at the non-selection of Anderson Cummins – 25 years ago, the two sides combined to give us one of the great Test matches.