'We've got confidence in our opening pair' - Dravid
After the unexpected victory at the Wanderers, India head into this Durban Test full of confidence, but Rahul Dravid was all too aware that there could be no hint of complacency given South Africa's formidable record at Kingsmead. Having announced the 12 for the game, he spoke at length on keeping faith in the opening combination and the decision to send Irfan Pathan back home.
"We're under no illusion that South Africa are going to come hard at us," he said, before India had one final tune-up in hot and humid conditions. "Obviously they're very disappointed with what happened in Jo'burg. We've just got to play good cricket like we've shown we can, fight really hard and do the basics well. If we accomplish the targets that we've set ourselves in batting, bowling, then it's going to be a good Test match. In critical situations, we played some good cricket, whether it was with the bat or the ball. There's no sense of complacency."
While South Africa arrived in Durban only on Saturday, the Indians played an unscheduled tour game against a KwaZulu-Natal Invitation XI, with the batsmen getting more time in the middle and Munaf Patel an opportunity to prove his fitness ahead of the Test match. "It looks a good wicket," said Dravid, after having scrutinised the dark-brown strip prepared at Kingsmead. "It's got some small cracks. It'll be interesting to see how it unfolds. A lot depends on the weather. If there's a lot of sunshine and heat over the next few days, then it [the cracks] may become a factor on the fourth and fifth day. But if it's like Jo'burg - drizzle and rain with a lot of moisture in the air - then it might not be a factor."
Munaf's inclusion is a calculated gamble, given that his last international outing was at this very ground more than a month ago. "He pulled through well after the eight overs he bowled the day before yesterday," said Dravid. "He came and practiced yesterday and bowled a few overs. We'll take a decision tomorrow morning based on how he feels, how confident he is, and whether he can last the course of the Test match." The decision could also be influenced by what happened to Dale Steyn at the Wanderers, with the recurrence of a quadriceps strain forcing him off after just 10.1 overs.
With India having struggled to get half-decent starts on the tour, several questions focussed on the retention of Wasim Jaffer, whose eight innings on this tour have produced just 30 runs. "Wasim is a proven performer for us," said Dravid, after Gautam Gambhir was left out of the 12. "Only three or four matches back, he got a double-hundred for us in difficult conditions in Antigua. He's not had the best of tours, but his recent Test record is very good.
"He's got runs behind him in domestic cricket and we have to give him as many opportunities as we can. He's working really hard in the nets, and seems pretty keen and focused. I think this will probably be the match which will turn it around, turn his series around. I won't give up on Wasim that quickly."
Asked what factors had been considered while picking the 12, Dravid said: "We have a lot of faith and confidence in Wasim and Viru [Sehwag], and we hope that they'll give us the sort of starts that we know they can. Getting off to a good start in the first 25 or 30 overs against this Kookaburra ball is quite critical. If we can get through that period with minimum damage, then we have the kind of middle order that can really put pressure."
Like Jaffer, Sehwag too has found runs hard to come by on the tour, and his Test record over the past year hasn't been anything like as imposing as it was earlier. Dravid, though, was certain that he too would come good when it mattered most. "Viru did well in the West Indies, especially in one or two innings. He made a difference to the series, and has a proven Test record.
"You obviously hope that he can get more runs because he makes a big difference to the game if he scores, in terms of the impact he has at the top of the order. He hasn't done as badly in Test cricket as people make out or believe. We've got confidence in our opening pair. They did a good job for us in the West Indies. You also have to consider that the conditions weren't exactly conducive to batting in the last game. Their openers struggled as well."
Graeme Smith, going through such a wretched run of late, certainly won't dispute that.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo