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December 29, 2006
While the weather forecasts remained a worry, Mark Boucher, South Africa's wicketkeeper, was confident that his team had the bowling arsenal to dismiss India inside two sessions on Saturday and wrap up this Kingsmead Test to square the series. Having reduced India to 38 for 2 by the time play was called off, South Africa are fully aware that a big wicket or two is all that separates them from some measure of redemption for the debacle at the Wanderers.
"We're very confident of bowling them out in two sessions," said Boucher. The guy who we thought could take the attack to us - we got Viru [Sehwag] out. Then we got the batsman who we thought could bat time - Rahul [Dravid]. We probably need to focus on getting two more tomorrow morning and hopefully, the rest can just fall around them."
There was no doubt in Boucher's mind who the danger man had been as India started their pursuit of 354. "Judging by past performances, there was one guy who could have taken the attack to us and that was Viru," he said. "We've still got a lot of respect for quite a few of their batters but believe that we can run the show."
Sehwag's travails in the series have pushed him to the very brink, but Boucher certainly wasn't about to write him off as a spent force. "He's got lots of runs in the subcontinent," he said. "He's probably struggling with the bounce in South Africa. The new ball tends to move around a bit here, and there have been a lot of opening batsmen who have been found out in this country.
"He got a good ball today. He's a good player, with a great eye, and will only get stronger in these conditions the more he plays here. But he's still new to them." The others he was wary of were the experienced hands. When asked which wickets would be most prized on Saturday morning, Boucher said: "Obviously Sachin [Tendulkar]. And the other is the guy in form at the moment - VVS [Laxman].
Boucher was also confident that the ground conditions would come to the aid of the home side. "The bounce is slow, which means it's a lot drier than usual," he said. "With a bit of wind and the sun coming out, the cracks are going to open up and there's definitely going to be up-and-down movement."
According to him, South Africa hadn't had a specific target in mind when they resumed on the fourth morning 152 runs ahead. "We thought that 320 would be enough, but Polly [Shaun Pollock] came and knocked a few and we ended up getting 350. We wanted an hour before tea to have a go at them and we got that. We probably got a bit more than we expected, and that was a bonus."
While admitting that a positive mindset and late-order partnerships had contributed greatly to the team's strong position, Boucher also said that there was enough in the pitch to keep bowlers interested. "Yesterday morning, we picked up five wickets. This morning, they picked up six. There's definitely something in the wicket for the bowlers in the morning, and the Indians bowled well. Full credit to them."
Given that bad light, or the umpiring interpretation of it, has seen play end early on all four days, Boucher wasn't too optimistic about getting the full complement of overs on Saturday. "Judging by the conditions, we won't get 90 overs tomorrow," he said. "But if we can get 60 or 70, that will be great."
The bad-light threshold for the game was fixed on the opening evening, when South Africa's batsmen accepted the offer to go off, but Boucher insisted that there were no regrets. "Ashwell Prince was cramping, and he had to make a call," he said. "It was a good call because we ended up putting on quite a few runs for the last two wickets. If the umpires decide that's the standard they're going to set, then they're going to do it no matter what we say."
Boucher was also certain that India wouldn't make a concerted bid of victory, given that they're 1-0 up in the series. "They can't score five an over, so they will probably go on the defensive," he said. "That could play in our hands."
India's recent catalogue of final-day disasters gives them plenty of reason to hope.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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Plays of the day from the IPL match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians in Abu Dhabi