A stalemate-jinxed venue for England
The Centurion match was the second consecutive Test series opener England managed to salvage from the jaws of defeat. On the previous occasion, the Cardiff thriller was followed by a fluent win at Lord's that set the tone for an Ashes triumph. This time however, the odds of England following up the Houdini-act with victory are not favourable, going by their stats in Durban, the venue for the second Test. In three attempts, England are yet to win a Test here since South Africa's readmission to Test cricket. Each one of those Tests ended in a draw, making Durban the only South African venue where England has tasted neither victory nor defeat during this period.
|St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth||3||1||0||2|
|SuperSport Park, Centurion||4||1||0||3|
|Newlands, Cape Town||3||0||3||0|
Keeping with the trend seen around the world, the pitch at Kingsmead has lost its venom over the years and become a good batting track. Back in 1996, the South African fast bowlers shot out India for 100 and 66 in the two innings. Things have changed since, and in this decade batsmen have found the going much easier, averaging nearly six runs more than they did in the nineties.
Graeme Smith was a grumpy man after Centurion, and with good reason. While Centurion was the hosts' best ground in terms of win-loss ratio, Durban is where South Africa have played out most draws since their re-entry into the Test fold - six in all, including the three against England.
|Newlands, Cape Town||20||14||3||3||4.66|
|St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth||11||4||4||3||1.00|
|SuperSport Park, Centurion||15||11||1||3||11.00|
While the 1995 Test was washed out by rain, the two that followed were hard-fought draws where one side had to dig deep and produce something special with their backs against the wall. In the 1999-2000 season, the hosts found their go-to man in Gary Kirsten, who batted nearly 15 hours to save the match after being asked to follow on. Five years later, the pedigree and mental resilience of three left-handed English batsmen in the second innings almost gave them victory despite being shot out for under 150 in the first innings. Only one of those three is in the current squad - Andrew Strauss will look to draw from that experience and guide his batsmen, none of whom have featured in a Durban Test.
The hosts, on the other hand, have enjoyed batting at Kingsmead. Jacques Kallis tops the charts with over 1000 runs, including four centuries. AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince have also done well, whereas Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla will want to improve on their records here.
|AB de Villiers||9||408||58.28||1||3|
South Africa have decided to retain Makhaya Ntini, irrespective of Dale Steyn's availability, and with good reason. Among current bowlers, Ntini has the best record in Durban with 43 wickets at a shade over 25. Steyn himself has had reasonable success here and the hosts will hope that his hamstring recovers in time for the match.
Spinners from both sides exerted a telling influence in Centurion and should expect to do the same in Durban. Spin has been every bit as successful as pace at this venue since 1992.
Durban is in fact the best South African venue for spin in terms of average runs conceded per wicket. If Graeme Swann and Paul Harris are to make a decisive contribution in this series, this is the place where they are most likely to do so.
|Newlands, Cape Town||38||3568||86||41.48|
|SuperSport Park, Centurion||27||1844||42||43.90|
|The Wanderers, Johannesburg||27||1389||32||43.40|
|St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth||15||868||24||36.16|
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at Cricinfo