Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

South Africa vs India: Connor Williams recalls his only ‘Test’, nowhere in record books or even YouTube now

Baroda stalwart's only international appearance was at Centurion in the unofficial Test in 2001.

SA vs IND: Conor Williams only international matchTwenty-two years on, as India go into another Test series in South Africa, with the first game beginning at SuperSportPark in Centurion on Boxing Day, caught up with Williams to reflect on those times. (Reuters/PTI)

When India and South Africa travelled to Centurion for the final game of their three-Test series in 2001, the mood in the visitors’ dressing room was rather sombre.

After match referee Mike Denness found six Indian players guilty of various offences, including ball-tampering and excessive appealing, during the previous Test in Port Elizabeth, the Sourav Ganguly-led team felt they were being treated unfairly by the former England captain.

However, one player had reason to rejoice. Baroda left-handed opener Connor Williams, aged 28 then, was set to replace the banned Virender Sehwag and become the 240th Indian Test cricketer.


Alas, it was not to be. The Board of Control of Cricket for India (BCCI) sought the removal of Dennees as match referee for the Centurion Test, but the International Cricket Council (ICC) was not willing to concede. Eventually, the Indian board and its South African counterpart decided to go ahead with the match without Denness as former South Africa wicketkeeper Denis Lindsay donned the match referee’s hat. The ICC, in turn, deemed the third Test ‘unofficial’.

Twenty-two years on, as India go into another Test series in South Africa, with the first game beginning at SuperSportPark in Centurion on Boxing Day, caught up with Williams to reflect on those times.

Festive offer

“A day before the game, we heard that the Test would be stripped of official status by the ICC because of some issues. But I was least bothered and went ahead with the mindset that it would be an international match even though there was no cap-giving ceremony before the match,” said Williams, who now coaches the Manipur men’s team on the domestic circuit.

Williams, who came into the Indian team after a solid domestic season in which Baroda won the Ranji Trophy and a century in the subsequent Irani Trophy, said all the senior players backed him and tried to ease his nerves.


“The conditions were vastly different from what we get in India. All our practice games were abandoned due to rain. We were playing on a pitch with a lot of bounce and movement and South Africa had a potent pace attack. Sachin Tendulkar told me about his first Test experience and asked me to spend time at the crease as runs would come naturally.”

Tough initiation

Willams, who opened the innings with Shiv Sunder Das, could not make an impact in his first innings, falling for just five runs, LBW to Lance Klusener.


“Ahead of the second innings, Sachin told me to play with a straighter bat and that helped,” said Williams, who had a gritty knock of 42 off 83 balls against the likes of Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Klusener, Nanti Hayward and Jacques Kallis, even though India suffered defeat by an innings and 73 runs.

As fate would have it, Williams’ career was to end with zero international appearances officially. In the next Test series against England at home, India picked him in the squad but used wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta as Das’ opening partner. Cap No. 240 eventually went to all-rounder Sanjay Bangar. India moved on from Williams in the subsequent series against Zimbabwe and never called him back.

However, Williams, who finished his first-class career in 2011 with 7,942 runs and 19 centuries from 124 matches, has no regrets.

“Getting selected for India from a vast talent pool of players was a huge achievement for me. I think I achieved my dream of representing India. If that match in Centurion had been official, it would have been nicer, but it was not in my control. Many other talented players came on the scene after that and it was difficult to get another chance,” said Williams, who had coached Andhra before his present stint with Manipur.

The only trace of Williams’s Test ‘debut’ was a video put out by cricket video archivist Rob Moody on YouTube. It showed him standing tall, punching the South African quicks square of the wicket, leaning into a few effortless drives and flicking off his pads in his knock consisting of seven fours. However, as copyright infringement led to the removal of Moody’s YouTube channel, even that is lost now.


But not for Williams, who said, “Someone had sent me a downloaded offline copy of that video. I still have it with me.”

That’s something to cherish, even if it’s not an official India cap.

First published on: 25-12-2023 at 21:14 IST
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