South Africa v India, 2nd test, Durban December 25, 2006

I pray Smith scores - Arthur

PTI



'It's really tough on Graeme. He is fighting a lot of batting demons but he is a strong character and a quality player, someone who is going to be around a long time' - Mickey Arthur © Getty Images

Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, said the repeated failures of his top order batsmen was putting pressure on the rest of the players and it was time that they started firing again.

"One thing which has consistently troubled us since the Champions Trophy is the bad start we are getting from number 1, 2 and 3. We need solid starts and once that clicks we would be where we need to be as a unit," said Arthur on the eve of the second cricket Test against India.

That straightaway puts the onus on the likes of Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith who are struggling for form at the moment. "It's really tough on Graeme. He is fighting a lot of batting demons but he is a strong character and a quality player, someone who is going to be around a long time. For the good of South African cricket, I pray he scores and the pressure is off his shoulder."

As for Gibbs, Arthur did some plain-talking on the position on which the attacking right-hander would be batting. "In this Test, AB de Villiers would open and Gibbs would drop down the order. Gibbs is fine, he knows he is under serious pressure and he needs to deliver. He would be happy wherever we can get him in the batting order so he is happy to take it at the moment.

"All things being equal, our top six will have a chance to redeem themselves and get rid of the criticism they are getting."

As for his bowling unit, Arthur did not seem to have any worries despite the slow recovery of fast bowler Dale Steyn who now looks doubtful for the second Test. "As a bowling unit, we are where we wanted it. Our four or five guys are at the top of their game. We have had an in-depth debriefing and they know what is expected of them. We have worked on line and lengths."

Arthur himself is under flak for the poor Test record under his coaching stint - 3 wins out of 12 Tests - but he said the "pressure goes with the territory". "These days there is always a great deal of attention on coach and captain. Now it is Fletcher [of England] and a week before last it was Greg Chappell. It goes with the territory and when you take up the job you expect it.

"There is little doubt there is huge pressure on the side. For the first time in a while we face ourselves on the backfoot. But this is the situation when the character of the side would come out. I know we have great character in our dressing room."

As Arthur hinted, players like Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, the left-arm spinner, and Andrew Hall, the allrounder, could all be up for selection for the crucial tie.