South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban December 25, 2010

India ready for Kingsmead Test


Christmas is in the air in Durban. If you haven't been to a Boxing Day Test - and this correspondent hadn't - you might find it almost surreal. Test cricket brings its own vibe with it; an anticipation and intensity that appears to be missing, at least on the surface. There is Christmas, there are "The Holidays", and then there is the New Year. It is a time to relax, a time to enjoy, a time to take stock, and a time to look forward.

Make no mistake about it, though: in less than 24 hours India's biggest Test of the year will start, and perhaps this particular unit's biggest too. It has been a year of success where they have held on to their No.1 ranking for 360 days, but they will know how seriously that tag will be taken if they find themselves 2-0 down on seaming tracks in a country that has forever been their nemesis.

It was only yesterday, on a hot, humid, sapping day that MS Dhoni said - while walking out of the nets - that he was reminded of Chennai. However, just one look at the pitch is enough to tell you that the difference in playing conditions in Chennai and Durban is as wide as the Indian Ocean that separates the two cities. The pitch here is lush green - Gary Kirsten said that from the change room it looked the same colour as the outfield, and the overhead conditions - forecast to be cloudy for the duration of this Test - are sure to help swing and seam. For a city full of people of Indian origin, Kingsmead is a foreign island. Forget the six sixes that Yuvraj Singh hit here in an over in the World Twenty20. In Test cricket, India don't even average half as much per wicket as Yuvraj managed in one T20 over. In five all-out innings here, they have managed 862 runs.

Even in isolation, the conditions are going to present a supreme challenge to the batsmen who lasted 38.4 overs on a damp pitch in Centurion; in the context of the series, the challenge becomes huge. That said, there is nothing to suggest they can't pass this test. Everyone knows these are better batsmen than a score of 136 all out on a testing pitch suggests. Coach Kirsten has said they needed, and still need, to apply themselves better on these kinds of surfaces. Preparation might have suffered for the first Test because of the absence of a warm-up game, but they have worked hard for this one.

Out has gone the policy of having light training sessions on the eve of the game. On Christmas day, the Indian team was the group of hardest-working people in Durban. Zaheer Khan, a huge addition to the side, was the only man to opt out of the session, and this team has - with good results - let Zaheer prepare on his own for big matches. However, as if a reminder was needed that they are up against it, Gautam Gambhir's injured left hand has worsened and M Vijay might well have to pad up on short notice once again.

On the surface, though, keeping in with the festive spirit, India are not making this sound like it is their time of reckoning. It is understandable, too, for they don't want to put any undue pressure on themselves. "Every game is big for us," Dhoni said on the eve of the game. "As I always say, being No.1 or when you are on course to becoming No.1, every game is important. Irrespective of where you are playing in a particular series. Whether you are playing in the subcontinent or outside. 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."

When Dhoni was asked to look back at the last year, he again chose to focus on the details - the tailenders contributing more runs than they used to; the part-time bowlers chipping in with wickets. It all points to an admirable fighting spirit that this team prides itself on. Saving matches after a poor first innings, coming back from behind to win Tests, coming back from behind to level series, managing without a few key players.

It is that spirit that they will collectively be dialling for, but the rest of the world will also be questioning their skills to do well in all conditions. Not that they have proven otherwise in the past, but this - before the series started - seemed their best chance to do so. If they can't summon up the spirit and the skills over the next five days, the last three weeks of the year will have more to say about the team than the first 49.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrea Francesco on December 26, 2010, 14:27 GMT

    SA have a higher win ration for the last three years than any other team. India keep going on about how they are number 1 but they fact is that SA has a better record than India. Plus more importantly SA have won in England, Australia and drawn a test in Pakistan. We have drawn the last two series in India, SA have won more tests in India yet India have only ever won 1 test against SA in SA. India are a good team but they do not deserve to be number 1. The toss was fortunate for SA in the last test but you still have to bowl well and bat well for the rest of the test which SA did. All these insults that some Indian fans are throwing SA way is a joke. Our bowlers are in the top 10, we have two batsmen in the top 10, we have the world's best all rounder. We have one of the best wicketkeepers in the world. This was always going to be a hard test series for India because their record in SA has been dismal. Not just because of one test but because of history!

  • Siddharth on December 26, 2010, 9:34 GMT

    South Africa are without a doubt a very good cricketing team, yet they they somehow lack the ability to claim the mantle of a great cricketing nation. Consistently over the last few years, South Africa have remained in that number two slot on the icc rankings, yet they lack the mental fortitude (and not talent) to be number 1. While the fortunes of other teams have waxed and waned, SA hold onto the number two slot, and in fact have made it their own. This implies a high degree complacency on the part of South African cricket and South African cricketers. There is a certain lack of a killer instinct to the proteas' approach to the game that limits their ability to gain the top spot, unlike Australia in the past and now India. Compliance for their position in the game will eventually lead to a degradation in their performance unlike India which has renewed their stocks and gained that desperation that Australia consistently showed when they held the top mantle.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2010, 8:46 GMT

    if SA bowlers are so good then,they should be able to take wickets on flat tracks also. but in past they have failed misarably..a good bowler takes wickets on any track.. As they say INDIANS are flat trac bullies,well not true,but SA bowlers only prosper only in helping conditions................

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2010, 7:20 GMT

    @ All IND Fans. Even IND win the toss they can not avoid the defeat,may be they can avoid Innings defeat but not certain defeat.That the truth.Forget IND's first innings.But SA scored 620/4 and IND 459/10.SA can Bowled IND out, but IND can not (at least half of the side).That is the differance. So far SA won 3times in IND by an Innigs.But IND only once even in IND.But never in SA. Further with Zaheer IND strugle to win against low NZ (that too in IND).Then how IND can win with him in SA?....Even then can he take all 20 wkts alone?....SA won matches in IND when not only Zaheer playing but also while kumble playing.Don't give childist excuses instead accept the defeat gracefully like a gentleman.

  • Senthil on December 26, 2010, 7:14 GMT

    Please let us not make it sound like India has some disease if our batsmen cannot play well on bouncy pitches. Who can play well against India's spin bowlers on India's dust bowls? Australia just got bundled out for 98 in Australia! So, they cannot play quality bowling either? Most pitches in the world aren't bouncy unfriendly pitches anymore. We want our batsmen to be free scoring demons on every wicket, but if they have some failures on bouncy wickets or lateral movement conditions, we should not worry so much about it. This is a conspiracy to make Indians celebrate less. What nonsense! We want to have maximum fun with our team's cricket, and if the BCCI decides to make everything conducive for India winning most of the games, I am all for it. This is a sport, not some kind of religious penance, where one has to be perfect. It is more important to have fun, and if having fun can get us to #1, so be it. The others aren't worth much with or without their "professionalism"!

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2010, 7:01 GMT

    Woah woah woah!! SA has lost 2 home series in the past two years.. They have won in England and Australia against whom they lost at home.. Why have them at a pedestal??

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2010, 6:37 GMT

    India's no 1 status is just a joke. India's batting looked out of sorts on a bouncy pitch. Raina is not ready for test cricket. Gambhir is consistent only in sub-continent and against ordinary bowling. Laxman can save India only on slow and knee level bounce tracks. Now don't say India have performed well in Australia. Compare the kind of wickets prepared now for ashes and the wickets prepared when we toured Australia. Consistency means winning against oppositions outside home every time (not once in a while and creating hype). Come on India...Change!!!

  • Mudhasir on December 26, 2010, 5:23 GMT

    We cant blame Indians that they are not able to cope up with bounce.Its BCCI who should fix more away matches for India than at home.They have made the Indians an unplayable team of bounce.

  • Tony on December 26, 2010, 5:15 GMT

    I wonder what Dhoni will say if he actually wins a toss and puts SA in to bat on a track that assists his bowlers, then finds his team facing a score of 450+. My estimate of the difference between SA bowling first and India bowling first is about 250 runs.

  • Vidyadhar on December 26, 2010, 2:39 GMT

    There is a constant pessimism regarding the India team. Why blame the technique when most every batsman struggles against seaming swinging ball especially when the ball coming at them at 140+ K. It was true of Australia recently and England also in the last test. Accept it was a hard game played wel. The next contest may be be more even.

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