South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 4th day December 29, 2010

South Africa's Durban blues

South Africa have lost their last three Test matches in Durban, but their captain Graeme Smith can't seem to figure out why

Once; it can be considered an unhappy accident. Twice; it's starting to look a little suspicious. But three times? It's a problem. The last thing South Africa want is to carry around another unflattering label, but it seems as though they've earned one. The Durban ducks. Sitting ducks that is.

For three consecutive Tests, South Africa have been shot down at Kingsmead. All three times they were undone by the opposition's bowling attack. Two seasons ago, Mitchell Johnson did the damage, last season Graeme Swann and this time an Indian bowling attack, spearheaded by Zaheer Khan. There's just got to be something about Durban that snags the South Africa batsmen, something that suddenly makes a home ground appear totally foreign to men that play on it at least once a year.

Kingsmead has a unique combination of bounce and swing that can't be found at any other venue in South Africa, and perhaps even around the world. It is the bounciest track in the country, has a fair bit of pace, and, with the humidity around, is also a great facilitator of swing. What that means is that, unless the sun has been out in full force for a substantial amount of time, scoring runs is quite a difficult task.

Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, knows this. "It was a wicket that you needed to graft hard on. It was a tough wicket to bat freely on. You really needed to grind things out," he said at the post-match press conference. Every batsman and even most bowlers interviewed before and during this Test match had one word to summarise how anyone should approach batting on this track: patience. VVS Laxman even provided a demonstration during both India's innings of how to approach playing here. South Africa, barring Ashwell Prince's 39 off 108 balls, could not do the same.

They were undone in their first innings by a class act from Zaheer, who doesn't have express pace but is able to move the ball and use variation to his advantage. Harbhajan Singh was always going to be a threat on a bouncy wicket, as those are the pitches he most enjoys, and he was successful in both innings. The biggest surprise for South Africa came from Sreesanth, who removed Smith with a combination of hostile bowling and hostile talking and then dismissed Jacques Kallis with a steeply bouncing ball that he had no choice but to fend to gully.

It proved that it's not just the Indians who struggle to cope with extra bounce; it's the South Africans too. Perhaps it's simply a case of any batsman anywhere in the world being uncomfortable with too much bounce because pitches have become much tamer over the years.

Bounce looked like one of the chief culprits of South Africa's poor batting performance, but Smith was adamant that it's not that factor that has been their nemesis at Durban over the years. "I don't think it's been the pace and bounce in the last few Tests. We've played well at the Wanderers and other places around the world." Smith wouldn't even concede that Zaheer exposed South Africa to be as vulnerable against the moving ball as they thought India would be. All Smith admitted was that movement played a role in last season's poor performance. "There was reverse swing against England."

Smith's firm belief is that South Africa "just haven't played well in Durban." Besides admitting that there was poor shot selection and that "we were a little bit loose at times", he would go no further. "It's as simple as that." But is it?

South Africa came into this Test match bullish after their thrashing of India in Centurion. They were convinced that they had unlocked the key to India's weakness once again - the short ball, a responsive pitch and some riled up seamers. They thought Durban would offer up much of the same. Like India, South Africa had two days off before preparing for the match, but unlike India, they didn't feel as though they would have to answer for themselves and their ranking in world cricket, and so maybe, they didn't need to care as much.

South Africa knew Zaheer would be back, but they didn't seem to adjust to that reality until after his destructive first-innings performance. He is unplayable when he gets things right on his day, but South Africa didn't offer much fight early on. They improved in the second innings, when conditions were better to bat on, but they still played some careless shots. Smith and Co. acknowledged they weren't good enough. Whether they know why they weren't is another question, one that may only be answered the next time they come to Kingsmead.

No doubt, South Africa will go to Cape Town smarting. It's a venue where they have a good record and where the pitch often favours batsmen. It's likely to be hard and flat, although there will be some moisture around that may provide some swing. The more batsman-friendly conditions will give them some comfort, but not too much. The knowledge that India are much better away from home than they were three years ago should keep South Africa on edge.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 9:40 GMT

    Sehwag out of South Africa one- dayers Dec 30, 2010: Virender Sehwag has been rested from the one-day series in South Africa due to a shoulder injury, but he will play in the deciding Test in Cape Town starting Sunday

  • PavanKumar on December 31, 2010, 21:29 GMT

    @ HostileJ: agreed SA is a very good side. But everyone should agree SA has not won any major title and they always loose matches in tight situations and cannot hold any pressure. Be it JK, GS or AB. Name any player in SA. India already proved that they can win title on any soil, any geographic location. Remember the T20 title they won in SA. Dude come out of reality but i too agree after the retirement of the present champs what would be the India's position but that is future but lets talk about the present. It happens to any team and India is no exception. Hope we should all agree to this fact and FACT is a FACT. Happy New Year.

  • Jackie on December 31, 2010, 7:50 GMT

    @Farooq Ronnie C Shumba:brilliant comment.fully agree!I'm sorry to say this but India seem to be the only team in the world benefitting from NOT using UDRS.I wonder why..Secondly,for all u guys that say SA/Aus cant play on bouncy wickets but India can,u guys need to wake up.Yes,in the last week 2 results didnt go the way of SA & Aus but that is not because the wickets were bouncy (MCG is not anything out of the ordinary).I'd give the credit to good bowling (if anything).India cant play on bouncy tracks,period.thats been proven over and over.1 test doesnt change that.I mean its not like they scored 600 or anything.If it wasnt for laxman and a few decisions going India's way SA would have wrapped this test by lunch time day 5.My prediction for Cape Town is SA to win.Bhajji,Steyn,Khan and Harris will be the pick of the bowlers.Biff & JK will make runs for SA.They love newlands!Dravid will be the pick for India...maybe sehwag as well.It will be a great game to watch..but SA must take it!

  • arnav on December 30, 2010, 16:32 GMT

    I hope ang guess India win emphatically at Capetown.. All the best deserve..Don't care about the comments made by some amateures.. let it go...

  • Vincent on December 30, 2010, 15:43 GMT


  • Pablo on December 30, 2010, 12:58 GMT

    I find most fan comments here - Indian and otherwise- fairly depressing. Instead of focusing on and enjoying the cricket, they spend most of the time moronically trying to insult others and most of them seem to have very little grasp of the game or the mindset players who play the game. We have just seen a great test match in Durban, and we should really be talking about the perfect pitch and conditions that tested the players to their limits - PROPER TEST MATCH CRICKET FOR WHICH THERE CAN BE NO SUBSTITUTES. We should try and enjoy and learn from this, and not spend our time abusing the opposition captain or fans. BTW, I hope the Indian selectors stop their insane experiment with Raina and make Pujara a permanent fixture in the side.

  • Manesh on December 30, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    ha ha ha wher is diri ? his - Good for nothing team lost in a bowling pitch to a school team bowling attack (as per him)

  • S.rao on December 30, 2010, 10:41 GMT

    Clinical performance by India.The rumour mill says that a green pitch is now unlikely in the last test.Totally outplayed the South africans on this one.Go India.

  • Jackie on December 30, 2010, 10:08 GMT

    @AvidCricFan:have to agree with you.India is a wonderful side with some wonderful players,but I fear (for India's sake) the day Dravid,SRT,VVS and Zak retires.India will (perhaps) be at nr.1 for a little while,but after that Eng and SA will be top of the charts.SA's team is VERY inexperienced compared to India.its not an excuse..hell..SA thumped India by an inns at Centurion..but SA will soon have the most formiddable side in the world.Smith,Petersen,Amla,DeVilliers, Duminy, Ingram,Miller,Steyn,Morkel,Parnell,Tsotsobe,Mclaren are all between 25 and 29 and then guys like Rilee Rossouw,Faf Du plessis,Dean Elgar,Davey Jacobs,CJ De villiers (to name a few) havent even seen test cricket!We dont mind losing to India now.we respect them cos they have some of the best cricketers the world has ever seen and a wonderful side to go with that..but beware..Biff and the boys will be up there very VERY soon!Dont write off Eng either..great side and very well balanced!a force to be reckoned with!!

  • Dilshaad on December 30, 2010, 10:05 GMT

    Fortunes favours the brave & India win by luck. Actually India did not take wickets but the Proteas gave away the wickets, for e.g. Smith's & Amla's two lose shots. When the bowler is Sreesant itself everyone can imagine that the batsmen must have given away their wickets cause Sreesant is not at all a player who should be playing at int'l level. Perhaps the Proteas must have purposely lost the match in order to boost the Indian team so that they can have a challenging contest in the final test. INDIA LOSING THE FINAL TEST IS FOR SURE! CHEERS!

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