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November 21, 2006
Talking to the media before the Kingsmead game, Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, spoke of "pent-up energy" and how badly the team needed to play to break up the monotony of endless practice sessions. And while expressing the hope that the skies would stay clear on Wednesday, Arthur promised India a real working over with pace on a pitch where South Africa's quick bowlers have excelled in recent times.
"When we go to play in India, we know that we have to be on top of our game against spin," he said, "and I think the Indians playing here have got to be on top of their game against our pace. We are certainly going to attack them with that."
The pitch prepared had a distinct greenish tinge on Tuesday afternoon, and Arthur wasn't too unhappy about that. "It looks a really good wicket," he said. "We're looking for a little bit of bounce and a little bit of pace which is what Durban normally gives us. And it looks exactly like that at the moment. We're very happy with what we see. The nets that we practiced on have been absolutely unbelievable. If the wicket plays like the nets, we will be very happy."
South Africa's batsmen struggled on lively pitches in the recent Champions Trophy in India, being bundled out for 107 by New Zealand and then slumping to 42 for 5 against Pakistan. But Arthur wasn't overly concerned by that. "If you had a look at the Champions Trophy, the wickets we had in India weren't really subcontinental wickets. Most of the teams struggled with their top order. Our top four are really keen to get big runs in the series."
Though India's record in these climes is a dismal one, Arthur was sure that there would be no complacency on the part of his players. "India are a fantastic cricket team," he said. "They have a lot of dangerous players, but we play very well at home. We are ranked number two in the world and I believe we deserve to be number two in the world at the moment because we have played good enough cricket. At home, we are difficult to beat, so I would hate us not to be favourites at home. But we are wary of India."
According to Arthur, India's 37-run defeat in the tour opener against Rest of South Africa at Benoni didn't count for much either. "In a tour game, the intensity is not quite there. India didn't have the likes of Ajit Agarkar, who makes a major difference to the Indian team in bowling at the death, and Harbhajan Singh, who is definitely a guy that you rely on to control the middle. And I think Sehwag makes a huge difference at the top of the order. We don't look into that result at all. India were trying to find their feet in South Africa and like I said, those three guys make a huge difference to their combination."
Another individual that he singled out was Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "He has played fantastically well but I don't think he has been tested outside of the sub-continent," he said. "It is going to be interesting to see him come through it. We have got a game-plan against him and we will certainly test him. I hope he has been practicing against the short ball because we are going to test him with that."
With overcast weather predicted and Kingsmead's reputation being what it is, South Africa were almost certain to go in with an all-pace attack, though it remained to be seen whether Charl Langeveldt or Andrew Hall would get the final slot in the XI. "We are in a fortunate position now, we have created some depth," said Arthur. That was one thing we tried to do over the last year - to give guys the opportunity. It's creating some competition which is nice. It is a healthy position to be in."
And while Robin Peterson was unlikely to play on Wednesday, Arthur said that he certainly had a role in the big picture. "It will be foolish for us not to keep persisting with a spinner," he said. "Robbie is the guy we are backing at the moment. There are going to be times when he is going to play, definitely."
Like Rahul Dravid, Arthur too had seen snatches of Brian Lara's epic innings in Multan. "I tuned and watched him this morning," he said. "He is a world leader, he has been one of the greats of the game and I think he will get a lot more hundreds still before he finishes." And when asked about one of the other greats of the age, Arthur qualified his assessment with a wish. "He [Tendulkar] has always been a favourite. He is the little master. But I hope he doesn't get too many runs this series."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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