South Africa take confidence from Perth chase
If South Africa succeed in making the 303 they need against India in Durban, it will be only the third time in their history that they would have chased a target over 280 in a Test match at home. The two previous occasions were a dead rubber against Australia in 2002, and a match against England all the way back in 1906. The memories of Perth 2008, where they were involved in the second-highest successful chase in Test history will be spurring them on as they attempt to earn a series win over the world's No.1 ranked Test side.
Paul Harris recalled the situation in Australia a little over two years ago, when South Africa had to chase 414 at the WACA. "We look back to the Test match we played in Perth and AB [de Villiers] was in overnight with Jacques [Kallis]," Harris said. "This is quite a similar situation. We've done it before and there's no reason why we can't do it again."
Self-belief was the one element that South Africa were determined to use in their second innings, especially because it failed them in their first. That was evident when captain Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen strode to the crease in search of 303, a target that was 40 runs more than the ideal 260 de Villiers identified on Monday. Smith ripped his bunny-ears off in emphatic fashion and tore into his nemesis, Zaheer Khan, who he eliminated from the attack after just three overs.
As Smith made progress against Zaheer, the India bowlers didn't seem to know what to do and ended up serving him some tasty deliveries on leg. He looked certain to continue in an attacking vein before he was riled up by Sreesanth, who first hit him on the hand and then shared a few words. That seemed to cause a rush of blood and a needless shot from Smith.
As soon as he went, the tone of the game changed. Harris said that tended to happen when Smith departed. "For the team, it's a big dismissal whenever Graeme gets out. He is a key performer, he averages 50+ in test cricket, and he's our captain. After his dismissal the runs dried up a bit."
Smith departed just before tea and when Hashim Amla came back after the break with Petersen, someone had pressed the pause button on the South Africa innings.
Petersen was undone by extra bounce from Harbhajan Singh and Amla played a poor shot as his record at his home venue remained miserable. With those three quick wickets, South Africa's psyche had been damaged and Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers approached the situation tentatively. Kallis is known for starting slowly and may blossom on Wednesday morning, while de Villiers will need to a bit of thinking about how he is going to approach Harbhajan, who gave him some problems late in the day.
Harbhajan, who South Africa struggled to cope with in their first outing, will be a key man in the second, particularly because of the bounce on offer. The bounce was the reason Harris singled out for the success bowlers have had in the Test so far, and he said it would help Harbhajan as well. "There's been a bit of swing floating around, but it hasn't done much off the deck. We expected it to bounce but not as much as it has. That's the reason batsmen have played a few more shots than they necessarily had to. There is a bit of turn, but it's more bounce. Harbhajan used it well in the first innings."
Both the batsmen at the crease enjoy playing their shots and Harris stressed the importance of staying patient in order to get value for shots. "The wicket has quickened up a bit, which is helping strokeplay, and it's got a bit better than it was." There will still be something in it for the bowlers, especially with the overcast conditions and light rain that has been forecast, but for South Africa, it will be essential not to get bogged down into making the wrong shot selection, something that has dominated the dismissals in this match.
More than a test of ability, batting on the Kingsmead pitch is going to be a test of mental strength and it is already evident that South Africa have their mindset pinned on positivity. With the three highest partnerships of the match all scored on day three, they will be aware that conditions are getting easier and partnerships are becoming easier to build. "All we need is one partnership really and we'll have the game in the bag. We need to work hard in the morning session for that."
South Africa have been criticised for wilting under pressure in major ODI tournaments, but Harris feels that, in Test cricket, their record of performing in tight situations, such as Perth, will see them through. "Whenever we've had crunch situations in Test cricket, 99% of the time we have come out on top." It may not be accurate, but it's a firm statement of how South Africa want to make sure the tag beginning with the letters "ch" does not get pinned to them in Test cricket as well.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent