Team confidence runs deep - Smith
Graeme Smith has said South Africa are expecting a "tense Test" in the series decider against India that starts on Sunday. "When the series is on the line, the pressure is on both teams to perform," he said at the pre-match press conference in Cape Town.
India beat South Africa by 87 runs in Durban three days ago to level the three-Test series at 1-all after they were pummelled by an innings and 25 runs in Centurion. Despite a third, consecutive defeat at Kinsgmead, Smith said there is still great self-belief in the South African camp. "As a team the confidence runs deep, it's not just something that erodes after one game. We have played well over a long period of time. It's just about reassessing things, tweaking them and getting it right in this game."
Newlands is also one of South Africa's favourite venues to play at, which makes the adjustment process somewhat easier for them. "Playing here is one of the highlights of our year. The ground is looking magnificent, and the nets are the best I have seen in a very long time." The pitch is not expected to provide as much assistance for the bowlers as the previous two pitches, but Smith still expects it to do a little bit more than in previous years. "We know well it will have a bit more of bounce and carry than some of the other Newlands wickets we have played on."
While conditions have dominated talk ahead of the each of the three Tests in the series, there is an additional element adding to the hype of the third match: sledging. Sparks flew between Smith and Sreesanth during the second Test and Paul Harris claimed that the India bowler made vulgar, personal comments to members of the South African team.
Smith lost his wicket in the second innings shortly after an on-field altercation with Sreesanth that saw Smith wag his bat at the Indian bowler. Although it looked like a rush of blood to the head caused Smith to play a needless shot, he insisted that the he and the rest of the team are capable of dealing with sledging and that they regard it as part of the game. "You get used to it. In my 90 Tests, I don't think I have played many Tests where there hasn't been an aggressive vibe in the field." However, like Harris, he was quick to caution against getting personal. "I think you start bringing people's families into it, it gets a little bit like crossing over the line."
Despite that Smith believes the spirit is good between the two teams. "There is a lot of respect from both teams. It's one individual that has caused a few hassles and maybe crossed the line in certain ways."
MS Dhoni echoed Smith's sentiments about the incident, saying that certain guidelines needed to be followed on the field. "You have always to be on the right side of that line. Of course it's better if every individual is. It's quite difficult to control Sreesanth. Hopefully he will be on the right side this time, and if he's supposed to say something, say something that's not very personal and to the point."
Smith also unleashed one of his sternest critiques of his team's batting after the second test, blaming the team's loss on their first innings performance when they were bundled out for 131. "In Durban we lost our minds a little bit. Hopefully we can gather our strength, the top six especially, for this Test." South Africa do have JP Duminy waiting in the wings, but with Ashwell Prince being the highest run-scorer for South Africa in Durban, it's unlikely that he will be dropped.
It's difficult to see South Africa make any changes in the bowling department, where they have been relatively successful by their own admission. "We have kept India under 250-300 in the four innings," Smith said "and if we can maintain that, and maybe get even tighter, we can keep them under a bit of pressure." While Smith obviously forgot that India managed 459 in the second innings of the first Test, in three of the four innings they have been kept below 250.
With the confidence South Africa claim to have, it's likely they will field the same XI that did duty in the first two Tests. It's an ideal opportunity to assess them in a pressure situation, something South Africa have been accused of not knowing how to handle. Smith is convinced that they are capable of overcoming this time. "It's nothing we haven't seen before. We came here 1-0 down against England last year and played well."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent