India in South Africa 2013-14 December 24, 2013

Smith looks to end SA's poor Durban record


For the upcoming Boxing Day Test, the Kingsmead change-rooms will be air-conditioned. Graeme Smith's face relaxed into a smile when he was told the news. "If that's the case, I hope we can spend a lot of time sitting in there," he said.

The South African team has asked for cooling equipment to be fitted into its Durban base for years. It's not an unreasonable request considering this is South Africa's warmest city with heat and humidity combining to give it a sultry tropical feel. Finally, the players are getting what they want.

Smith will hope that extends beyond the dressing room and that his team will walk away with a win from the city that has proved to be their nemesis in recent years. South Africa have lost the last four Tests they've played in Durban, with their last victory coming in January 2008 against West Indies.

Each time, defeat has come in the second match of a series and the previous two occasions, against India and Sri Lanka, have seen South Africa squander their lead. For a change, they approach Durban differently this time. There's all to play for, which may only add to the pressure. Smith, though, sees it as an opportunity.

"We haven't had the best record in Durban over a period of time and we are looking forward to putting that right," he said. "One of the reasons was that we didn't adapt to conditions in time. The surface can change every day. Day two can be difficult to bat instead of day one and overhead conditions can play a role. But then, it can get hot and it can get flat."

The Kingsmead surface had a reputation for being bouncy, but has become slower over the years. It has taken on almost subcontinental-like characteristics, and is expected to remain in that fashion. Two days before the match, the pitch looked unusually brown with a thick grass covering. That will likely be cut off before match day, and those in the know expect the pitch to be a little sluggish early on and predict it will take turn on the last two days.

Again, it may not be the kind of strip on which South Africa feel most at home and they will have to be aware of the challenges that could pose. Playing a spinner is highly advisable, but with Imran Tahir lacking control, they may have to turn to Robin Peterson, who may not be as effective on a surface that could assist turners.

One person who Smith believes will be able to make the tweaks needed to perform well at the ground, is Vernon Philander.

The new No.1 ranked bowler has never played a Test in Durban. He was injured on the one occasion South Africa turned out there since his debut, in December 2011. Then, Marchant de Lange played in his place.

Swing bowlers tend to have success in Durban but Philander, who relies on seam movement and accuracy, has managed to defy those expectations in other places. "Vernon has been the link in the attack that we've missed. Everywhere we've gone he seemed to have stood up and performed," Smith said. "People have wondered whether he would be successful in England, in sub-continent like conditions and he has."

Philander also the all-round ability and attitude which Smith believes will be needed over the next week. "It is great to see his batting has come on as well. Everyone talks about his skill but he has got a real personality, which is great for the team," Smith said. "He is always there in people's faces. He has got the skill to make something happen but he has also got the will."

Heart is the one thing South Africa have lacked in Durban over the last few years and few could put a reason on why that was the case. One theory is that the Kingsmead Test was, more often than not, the Boxing Day Test and that the festive season vibes may have detracted the players from the task at hand.

If that was the case, Smith has made sure it won't happen again by stressing the importance of putting a good performance in this traditional fixture, especially after it was cancelled last year.

"It feels fantastic to be back here. You can feel the buzz. People are looking forward to it. When I started playing for South Africa, the Boxing Day and New Year's Test were marquee. And I guess that's one of the reasons we don't play in Australia over this time," he said. "It's sad that this year we won't have a New Year's Test so this is our last opportunity in a marquee Test to make a big play for our fans."

The other hypothesis is that South Africa came to Durban with so much of an upper hand, that they grew complacent. Against both India and Sri Lanka, they routed the opposition by an innings in the first match and that dominance could have led to carelessness at Kingsmead.

After the Wanderers Test, there is no room for slacking off for either side. Both teams were so close to victory but neither could claim it. South Africa have had only a few days to digest their decision to settle for a draw and Smith said they've dealt with it. "As a team, perspective is important and putting things into context," he said. "I feel we are mentally ready for Boxing Day. Today's training session is an important part of that. It will be high intensity and we will be ready come Boxing Day."

South Africa, according to what Smith said at the Wanderers, settled on the draw because they wanted to give themselves a chance to win the series in Durban. It's a big ask from a team that has not done as well here as it has in other parts of the country, and even the world. The heat is on, but at least the change-rooms will be cool.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • GAURAV on December 26, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    @ vrkp, Mate, If you keep throwing players out in every 4 innings than India will need 120 new players in next 2 years. It is illogical to think that in a single test match all batsmen will score runs. He tried honestly and he is a aggresive player which can only be a asset to team which has so many young solid batsmen in middle order.

  • rkp on December 25, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    Dhawan should be out as he has done nothing great in tests after his great debut and in four innings in SA so far, he has not crossed 20. Plus in most of the times, when he scored well, he had given at least two chances. I say open with Vijay and Ashwin.

    Both plays pace bowling well and since they both from same home town and played together lot over the years they shd be able to communicate well., then pujara,kohli, rohit, rahane, dhoni,jadeja,zaheer,shami and ishant/bhuvi.

    Its going to be a tricky situation with Ushant and bhuvi. Ishant doesn't play well for two test in a row while bhuvi is good for the first ten overseas of the new ball. Also, ishant just bowled 50 overs three days ago and may be tired along with other pacers. This may make dhoni to rest ishant and play a different pacer. Whoever plays and whatever may be the result, as long we play hard and put up a great fight, I'll take it.

  • GAURAV on December 25, 2013, 9:48 GMT

    What is the problem if it is spinning? A number 1 team must win in every conditions. Anyway it is a trash talk. No pitch spins in South Africa. They are killers of spin bowling and hurting the spirit of game.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 8:09 GMT

    If durban supports spin it will be good for india Otherwise SA has an upperhand

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 7:06 GMT

    We deserve to lose after that horrible decision making at Wanderers.

  • Dhairy on December 25, 2013, 6:12 GMT

    Two reason of bad 4th Innings bowling. 1))Bad spin bowling as duminy-tahir both gone for 2-2 wickets each & aswin hadn't take least one. We can believe he hadn't bowled bad but true thing is that he couldn't find a wicket against not so well spin players. # Change him with Jadeja. Better batsman & better bowler according to condition. 2)) Bad use of new ball in both Innings. we produced only 1 wicket between early overs of all 3 new ball.Bad Zaheer who Leaked runs at 4.25/over in 2nd inning & taken only 1 wicket because of bad dicition. #change him with Bhuvi. He always use new ball batter than all others. Try him in atleast 1 away test. He just put out by 1 bad performene in 1st ODI.

  • tanveer on December 25, 2013, 5:40 GMT

    Based on what I read in this article, I am truly surprised why CSA agreed to have a test match here despite SA having a dismal record here. Pitch expected to turn last 2 days means doom and gloom for SA batsmen. Seems like a great Opportunity for India to crush SA and take the series.

  • Umar on December 25, 2013, 3:14 GMT

    If Amla comes good this time, India have no chance. Imran Tahir has no chance against India. Bring in Maclaren.

  • Tanmay on December 25, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    Durban for South Africa is like Wankhede for India...India have lost 4 tests at Wankhede since 2000....the loss against South Africa in the year 2000 followed by Australia in 2001 & with England beating India twice(2006 & 2012)...the Durban wicket comes across as a wicket which helps the opposition more just the Wankhede wicket in Mumbai.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2013, 0:40 GMT

    I bet that India will win and extend SA losing streak in Durban. India should play 2-spinners. Ashwin should stay, Jadeja should come in replacing Sharma, Ishant. He bowls one good spell every 10 innings and retains his place for next 10.

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