Newlands sets up delicious decider
January 2-6, Cape Town
Start time 10:30 (08.30 GMT, 02.00 IST)
The Big Picture
The entire series changed in a Durban minute, transferring the momentum India's way after their humiliation in Centurion. The moment that signaled India's ascent was the fall of Jacques Kallis, South Africa's best batsman, in the second innings. Sreesanth's ball reared up from short of length, darted in towards the batsman's throat and flew to gully. A familiar sight to Indians from a previous era, but with one huge twist: it was an Indian bowler who made a classy batsman hop, fend and get out.
South Africa's batsmen were looking good in Durban. Until Ishant Sharma got his fingers to a straight drive to accidentally run Kallis out in the first innings, the Indian attack looked lacklustre. It seemed that Zaheer Khan, much like Kapil Dev in those days, would end up with four or five wickets and the rest would simply leak runs. But the Indian bowlers seized the moment and South Africa collapsed. Twice.
And so the teams head into the Newlands tied at 1-1 and the series at stake. The pitch is supposedly batsman-friendly with spin expected to play a part later. The home batsmen should put up a better fight, while it will be interesting to see how their bowlers fare. Lonwabo Tsotsobe picked up a few key wickets but it seemed like it was a result of Indian batsmen trying to attack him after they saw off the tougher challenges from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. If they don't repeat the same mistakes, the burden of wicket-taking will fall upon Steyn. Will Morkel, whose forte is bounce, be as effective in the decider as he was on friendlier surfaces earlier in the series? Can Paul Harris do more than just a holding job?
Zaheer's presence makes a big difference to India. Sreesanth and Ishant grew under his wing, and India will hope they can learn to fly on their own without Zaheer's presence at mid-off. Gautam Gambhir is expected to return and Virender Sehwag, who threatened to really take off in the second innings in Durban, is due for a big knock. If the surface plays out as the curator thinks it would, the bowlers could be the deciding factor.
Form guide(most recent first)
South Africa: LWDDW
Watch out for...If he survives Zaheer, Graeme Smith's tussle with Sreesanth should be fascinating to watch. In Durban, a riled Smith wagged his tongue and bat at Sreesanth but it backfired spectacularly. While Smith's dismissal may have been coincidental, there is no doubt that Sreesanth found more pace and venom after that verbal battle. Sreesanth might be a boy who refuses to grow up but he has enough skill to outdo the best in the business.
Mark Boucher doesn't play ODIs anymore and has failed with the bat in the first two Tests. He still looks very fit and his keeping hasn't suffered much, but can he lift his batting?
This surface presents Rahul Dravid with an opportunity to improve his poor record in South Africa; he has just one hundred in 20 innings in this country. He will hope to convert his starts into a big one at Newlands.
Pitch and conditions
The curator predicts a pitch with tennis-ball bounce, which will be good for batting - particularly on days two and three - and offer spin on days four and five. When the famed table-top mountain isn't visible to the folks down on the streets, it usually means there will be swing on offer. Rain is predicted for New Year's day, but the sun and the mountain peak should emerge during the match days.
Team newsTheir batsmen might have flopped in the second Test but this South African unit has functioned well for some time now and they are unlikely to change the combination.
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
Gautam Gambhir's return for M Vijay is expected to be the only change in the Indian XI.
India (probable): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 VVS Laxman, 6 Cheteshwar Pujara, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Sreesanth
Stats and trivia
- In Centurion, Sachin Tendulkar became the fifth batsman to pile-up seven or more hundreds in a calendar year. Mohammad Yousuf (nine hundreds in 2006) leads the list, while Viv Richards (1976), Aravinda de Silva (1997), and Ricky Ponting (2006), all hit seven hundreds.
- Gambhir and Sehwag have ten hundred-plus opening partnerships in Tests. If they get one more here, they will surpass Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan for the Indian record. The world record is held by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes (16). Jack Hobbs and Bert Sutcliffe are second with 14.
- Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis have enviable records in Cape Town. For the full lowdown on Newlands' stats, click here.
"Having Zaheer Khan lifts everybody else. He brings another dimension to the attack. He is skillful, and every one bowls around him ... They have caught well, fantastically well. Those three magnificent catches in the first innings swung the game."
Allan Donald on the importance of Zaheer Khan and the improving standards of Indian fielding
"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."
The spoils have been shared in the first two Tests, but Corrie van Zyl believes it is going to be a fresh start in Durban
"Sreesanth is developing into a fantastic Test bowler. The national selectors, team trainer, the bowling coach need to take special care about this boy and keep him match-fit because for the next one year India will be playing away from home."
Sourav Ganguly wants Sreesanth to be nurtured properly
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo