India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day February 17, 2010

India aim for one final push

S Aga

VVS Laxman apart, this is the same Indian side that lost by an innings inside four days in Nagpur a week ago. After four days in Kolkata, they are just seven wickets away from a series-equalling victory that would silence many of those that have questioned their position at the top of the Test-match tree. This has been no designer dustbowl, and India didn't even have the advantage of batting first. Despite that, the wicket of Jacques Kallis in what turned out to be the penultimate over of the day's play has given them an outstanding chance of closing out the match, provided the inclement weather that allowed only 34.1 overs on Wednesday stays away.

"It was handy getting Kallis out before the bad light," said Gary Kirsten, India's coach. "They've got some good players all the way through. Amit [Mishra] bowled really well today. So did Harbhajan [Singh]. With the two of them bowling really well, and with Ishant [Sharma] and Zaheer [Khan] adding in as well, we are in a good position. It obviously depends on how many overs are available to us tomorrow."

Instead of starting at 8:57am as scheduled, play got underway only at 10:30 on Wednesday morning. "When we arrived, we could have got play in," Kirsten said, when asked about the time lost. "It was disappointing not to be on the field. That's the way it is. We can't fight the weather. It would have been handy to have 50 overs today. We've just got to get on with it and use the time available to us."

Had it not been for the bowlers' run-ups being soft underfoot because of inadequate cover overnight, play could have resumed earlier, but Kirsten refused to be drawn into any controversy. "It was disappointing not to have had more time this morning" was as much as he would say. "We were off the field for an hour-and-a-half this morning. But that's not for me to take up. Just the way it is."

With Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy having struggled to find form in recent times, the biggest obstacle in India's path will be Hashim Amla, who already has 416 runs for the series. "He's a quality player and he's played really good cricket this series," Kirsten said. "It's up to us to make sure we bowl well. There are lots of players in the South African team, as there are in the Indian side, who will punish you if you give them too many chances or let them off the hook."

The only slight worry for the Indians was the fitness of Zaheer, who went off the field a couple of times in the afternoon. "He's got a bit of tightness in his quadricep," Kirsten said. "He came off the field just to get some ice on it. But it's just precautionary at the moment. We'll see how it goes tomorrow."

For the moment, Kirsten is quite content with the manner in which the team has fought back after the pasting in Nagpur. "We didn't become the No.1 ranked team for nothing," he said. "We've got guys that are breaking records in world cricket. We're very proud of our performances. We had a wobble in the last Test, and we have had a lot of injuries as well. And we bounced back here. The guys have shown for a while now, in the last 18 months, that when their backs are against the wall, they can bounce back. Not only the batsmen, but the bowlers as well."

Paddy Upton, Kirsten's deputy, arranged a couple of motivational talks from Mike Horn, the South African explorer who now lives in Switzerland. "He's someone that was fantastic to listen to," Kirsten said. "And the timing did work well. He's a busy man, and he's sailing around the world for environmental awareness. He just happened to be in this area at the time. The guys really enjoyed it. It was inspirational stuff."

With clearer skies expected tomorrow, India will need one big push to reach their destination. For the coach who has helped turn things around, it's a matter of playing the big moments well and playing with pride. "It's amazing how Test cricket works," Kirsten said. "Funny things happen. South Africa were 220 for one and we were able to turn it around. One thing this team has done really well is build pressure for a period of time and then make it count. We know in a two-Test series, one session can make the difference. It happened with South Africa in Nagpur and it happened with us here."

On Thursday morning, the rallying cry might well be: Once more, with feeling.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rooboy on February 18, 2010, 4:56 GMT

    It's a real pity this is the last test of the series ... the contest deserves to be decided over 5 or at least 3 Tests. Surely a few more tests between two of the heavyweight test nations would be preferable to clogging up the calendar with so many meaningless one dayers and games involving bangladesh, even more so since this decides the no.1 spot.

  • MiddleStump on February 18, 2010, 3:35 GMT

    At my age, I can be excused for my poor memory. But all the guys who think Dhoni is a great captain seem to have forgotten the Guwahati one dayer just a few months back. His ineptitude as captain was there for all to see. And yes, I am still waiting to hear why he batted till 643, wasting a few minutes for a drinks break and declaring 5 overs later which only added 25 meaningless runs and allowed Zaheer 5 balls to get wickets! Even as Ravi Shastri on TV was describing the bad weather in nearby Orissa. If India wins, it is in spite of these idiotic decisions. And yes, Kirsten and the "brains trust" have to share the blame as well. If India wins of course all these probing questions will be forgotten. Look out if the match is drawn.

  • dummy4fb on February 18, 2010, 3:12 GMT

    lets not think about declaration time or yesterdays bad weather now... India should just focus bowling in the right area with aggression and rest will assure India's supremacy in world of Test Cricket...

  • victortrumpet on February 18, 2010, 3:09 GMT

    India will fall just short owing to a declaration that came one hundred runs too late. De Villiers and Duminy will win the final day. This then will give South Africa the number one Test ranking, a position which in the fullness of time, they will eventually cede to the Australians.

  • ramjays on February 18, 2010, 2:57 GMT

    I do agree that captaincy of Dhoni could have been better, of course for a different reason. He should have continued batting till about 30 minutes to one hour on 4th day to enable him the privilege of requesting the heavy roller in the morning which would have helped breaking the pitch. This would have helped our spinners still better and may be at the end of the day,even with the curtailed overs, v might have got more than three SA wickets.

  • Niel1983 on February 18, 2010, 2:31 GMT

    Declaration time was fine... no one can plan for bad weather... and India still had 2 full days,, when dhoni declared... but i would really like to see Dhoni attack more... His field setting for the spinners is not attacking.... he needs to put in more close in fielders...

  • hopeless_selection on February 18, 2010, 1:48 GMT

    Smith's performance as batsman and captain has once again shown he's in over his head. After having an almost unassailable position after the first two sessions of this test match, not-with-standing another failure in his batting, the SA skipper has not been able to wrestle any control of the test match or the series - virtually giving it away to India. Frankly, a team that wants to hold the number 1 position must be able to come back from a situation like the one that SA are in now - and not rely on the weather to save a test match.

    This reminds me of Australia's last tour of South Africa, when Smith lost total control of the test series and wasn't able to wrestle control back from the Aussies - losing on home soil. And this is after winning in Australia.

    Smith's unimaginative captaincy has relied solely on inspirational individual performances from others to get him out of hot water - Amla's sensational batting in this series, and Duminy's breakout performance in Australia.

  • sree78 on February 18, 2010, 1:19 GMT

    If India can pull of an innings victory here, hats off to the team! They totally deserve the spot up there at teh top - there are not many teams that can bounce back from an innings defeat to an innings victory!

  • jacobs54 on February 17, 2010, 23:45 GMT

    If Srisanth was selected instead of Ishant, he might've created pressure on the first day itself with Khan.Maybe it's Kirstein's tactics, to keep Srisanth out to give his homeland an edge.I donno why Ishant has a place in the Indian team.We all know he's one of Dhoni's best pals.God save India....

  • dummy4fb on February 17, 2010, 23:43 GMT

    Hopefully Harbhajan/Amit/Sehwag/Tendulkar does the trick with Zaheer and Ishant pitching in

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