Conditions key as India seek Durban resurgence
Match FactsDecember 26-30, Durban
Start time 10:00 (08:00 GMT, 13:30 IST)
Pitch and conditions
This is perhaps the greenest track this Indian team might have ever played on. MS Dhoni reckons that Vadodara's IPCL track in his first year of first-class cricket was greener. It is thick grass with deep roots, but it's not just the greenness. Under the grass there is a crack around the good length area, just outside the off stump for a right-hand batsman batting from the dressing-room end. Moreover, the overhead conditions are a legend of mythical stature here. If the breeze blows from the north-east, from the sea towards land, it means clear weather and a good time for batting. If it blows towards the sea, it brings clouds, and hell for batsmen. The forecast is for overcast conditions, and it drizzled steadily for a half-hour today. You can't really say, as you could in Centurion, that the toss is a crucial thing.
The Big PictureStrike one in Centurion. Strike two in Durban? South Africa would like to think so. They will hope that the sun doesn't come out and make the pitch unfriendly to seamers. Hashim Amla, the local lad, believes that the pitch will have bounce, but will be great for batting if the sun is out. "I'm not sure how the Test wicket is going to play, but on a good day, when the wicket's flat, it's a fantastic place to play."
Durban's pace and bounce shouldn't worry the Indians as much as when it gets combined with the seam movement. When the ball moves around at pace, their techniques gets exposed. In Morne Morkel, South Africa have a bowler who can test the Indians with bounce - it was in Durban that Mitchell Johnson broke Graeme Smith's fingers with a snorter - and in Dale Steyn, they have the man who can harass them with pace and movement. So much will come down to how the surface plays. The selection headache revolves around the third seamer: Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Wayne Parnell? In his brief career, Tsotsobe has proven to be a steady operator while Parnell has shown, on occasions, the prowess to bowl fiery spells. Indians, traditionally, have struggled against such left-arm seamers. Will South Africa bite the bullet?
For India, it's another acid test. The batsmen's approach in the second innings of the first Test was successful but by then the pitch had lost its sting. Can they do it when the pitch has some spice in it? So much, yet again, depends on Virender Sehwag if India are to do well in the first innings. He has the skill and the mental tenacity to deal with pace and bounce. Though VVS Laxman didn't sparkle in the first Test, he was at relative ease till his dismissals, but the same can't be said of Suresh Raina. Will the Indians give him one more chance "to surprise himself" or will they draft in Cheteshwar Pujara? Zaheer Khan returns to alleviate their bowling woes and India will hope that Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth have learnt from the mistakes of the first Test.
Form guide(most recent first)
South Africa: WDDWD
Watch out for...
Zaheer Khan v Graeme Smith: In 20 innings, Zaheer has taken out Smith nine times (four each in Tests and ODIs and once in T20s). Zaheer has been always good against left-hand batsmen with his ability to punctuate his incoming deliveries with the one that holds the line or even moves away, and he has been exceptionally good against Smith. Often, Smith has been caught at the crease, either pushing outside the line or stabbing inside it.
Dale Steyn v Rahul Dravid: Dravid's judgement of his off stump's location is no longer what it used to be. Often, he has been pushing at deliveries that he would have not touched in the past. It's not an aggressive move to score runs either: his back leg stays rooted to the leg stump line and the front leg keeps dragging him well outside off. Steyn's pacy away-seamers will tempt Dravid to waft outside off, but will he overcome the instinct to feel for them?
South Africa have no fitness issues and only have to decide between Tsotsobe and Parnell, with the former likely to retain his spot.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alviro Petersen, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Ashwell Prince, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Paul Harris, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe / Wayne Parnell
Zaheer is set to replace Jaidev Unadkat for India. It is to be seen whether they retain Raina or bring in Pujara. India will sweat over the fitness of Gautam Gambhir as well, who was hit on the left hand in the first Test and the injury seems to have gotten worse.
India (probable): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Cheteshwar Pujara / Suresh Raina, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Sreesanth
Stats and trivia
- Rahul Dravid averages just 33 in Tests in South Africa and has just one hundred from 18 innings. Click here for a comprehensive stats analysis on the teams' performances in Durban.
- Since Smith took over as captain, South Africa have won only three of the seven Tests played at Kingsmead, two of them against the lowly-ranked West Indies. The third was in 2006 against India and was ten minutes away from being drawn.
"We don't consider one Test match more important than the others. By doing that, you can put additional pressure on yourself. We believe in taking care of small things so we respect every Test, and not in taking any extra pressure."
The series may be on the line, but MS Dhoni is taking it as just another game
"There's a lot of talk about momentum, and it's important, but it's just there until the next game. We are approaching this game as starting fresh again, having the confidence of the previous win."
South Africa may have dominated the first Test, but Corrie van Zyl believes it going to be a fresh start in Durban
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo