South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban December 25, 2013

History beckons at the brown mamba

On their last two South Africa tours, India fell short of series wins after coming into the decider all square. Will it be different this time?

India have been here before. On both their previous two Test trips to South Africa, they played one great Test and went into the last one with the series level. Once they did it against all odds, once they were expected to when they sent possibly their best touring party to South Africa. In the decider on both occasions, it was the third innings that denied them. At Newlands in 2006-07, after a stunning win in the Wanderers Test, they batted poorly in the third innings to squander a 41-run first-innings lead. Again at Newlands in 2010-11, they fought hard to take a two-run lead, then had South Africa 130 for 6, but ran out of gas and into Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.

There must be something about Newlands: South Africa have not lost a Test there in more than six years; they have played 11 there in that period. This time, though, there is no Cape Town. This time it is Durban where India will try to win the series. Durban, South Africa's worst Test venue in recent years. Worst not just at home. Anywhere. They have lost to Sri Lanka, India, England and Australia in their last four matches at Kingsmead. The reason is not hard to find to fathom. The pitch here is slower. The green mamba is almost a myth now. When too much grass is left, it can become a lottery.

There isn't much grass here this time. It looks brown and dry. South Africa aren't going to display public annoyance, but they are not cock-a-hoop about it. "It looks pretty dry, which is probably not what we were expecting with the amount of rain they've had around," South Africa's coach Russell Domingo said. "I know the nature of the pitch has changed over the last five or six years so we were thinking it would be a bit slower than what we've become accustomed to over the last ten years so it's going to be a hard Test match. It's not going to be a short 180-all-out game. It's going to be another tough Test under conditions which probably won't be of major benefit for us."

India will like to believe they are starting on an even footing, but they have to recover fast from the last Test, both physically and emotionally. Their fast bowlers worked a lot in Johannesburg, and they have had one day less to recover than South Africa's quicks. Emotionally they have to get over a game the likes of which they haven't experienced before. From being no-hopers before the first day to being favourites by the end of the fourth to hanging on for dear lives on the fifth, India were on quite a ride. After all they threw at South Africa, surely they must be wondering what it will take to beat them at home.

It will take similar intensity. If India fall behind early in the match, they might not have enough emotional strength to mount another comeback. They have had only three days to try to put behind them the high-octane last day at the Wanderers. They have rested on one of those three days, two in the case of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. On the other two days, an interesting development has been the increase in the role played by Ravindra Jadeja in the nets. He has been bowling more, and batting for longer. Two days before the match, he even bowled seam-up with the bowling coach Joe Dawes watching. This might not be much more than a flirtation with the idea of playing him or just being prepared in case one of the bowlers doesn't recover in time after Johannesburg.

The fruit has been worth the price paid in Johannesburg. Nobody is talking of scarred and scared batsmen anymore. The opposition are talking about the Indian bowlers' skills. The last time India came to play a Test in Durban they were the hardest-working people in the city on Christmas day. This time, too, Durban remained as sleepy as it does on Christmas day, but South Africa worked just as hard as India in the nets, especially Jacques Kallis, who has decided to retire after this game. Morne Morkel is racing against time to recover from his ankle injury and make it to Kingsmead. It's not just their poor recent record here that is making South Africa wary; it's also India's performance at the Wanderers.

India have already exceeded expectations on this tour, but this is not the time for them to take stock of that. They can take pride in having told South Africa that it will take nothing but their best to win this home series. A step further, though, will cap a remarkable year for them.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sri on December 26, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    @tom120 Wrong I remember the Nagpur 'green pitch' in 2004 against Aussies. Ganguly refused to play in that match as the curator did not present him the pitch he wanted which ultimately resulted in Aussies first series win over the last 40 years.

  • Dummy4 on December 26, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    Drop Ishant and bring Ozha in the team.

  • Raghu on December 26, 2013, 5:21 GMT

    In home conditions for India, pace bowlers role is very limited and spin works 65-75% bowling and picking almost 7-8 wickets per innings. So 2( seam ) + 2 ( spin ) and spinning all-rounder in the form Jadeja constitutes a great home team.

    There are plenty of limitations in resources when India play test matches overseas outside Asia. India is short of medium pace bowler who can strengthen bowling line up and has the confidence of team management in batting skills. Moreover, batsmen struggle in these conditions rigid them to play with 7 specialist batsmen. Not every match you gonna win/fight with 4 bowlers and especially considering the ironical role of seamer and spinner in these conditions to sub continent ones.

    Place the best possible six batsmen and 4 seam bowlers. Leave that remaining spot for Ashwin/ Jadeja. Best possible winning XI but puts more responsibility on batting group.

    XI: Vijay, Shikar, Pujara, Virat, Rohit, Dhoni, Ashwin/Jadeja, Zaheer, Ishant, Shami, Umesh

  • Rahul on December 26, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    I wont be very surprised if MSD goes with Jadeja instead of unfortunate Rahane. Considering the work load 3 Indian quick's had in the last test and Ashwin having an ordinary test MSD would like to have Jadeja's services at hand. Jadeja can easily give MSD 15-20 tight overs and may come into the scenario in the 2nd innings. MSD understands his bowling resources and he would like to have Jadejas multidimensional skills over Rahane looking at the dry and brown pitch. Also there is a lot of talk about Indian bowlers not recovering in time but another interesting aspect is will SAF batsmen recover from the last tests emotional exhaustion, booing from the spectators and added pressure of giving fitting farewell to the arguably greatest sportsmen SAF has ever produced.

  • M on December 26, 2013, 3:16 GMT

    India does not possess the ability to fight back when on the back foot. I have seen how they crumble under pressure or wait for the declaration once the opponent gets a foot in. Add to this the fact that only kohli and pujara have so far fired with the bat, plus the fact that dhoni is not as dependable as he once was, and SA only have to focus on two key wickets, and the rest will follow. Then when they bat, as long as their top order avoids collapse, they will score big because their middle order will easily consolidate a solid start against the listless Indian bowlers.

  • Suren on December 26, 2013, 3:11 GMT

    Going by the nature of the pitch in Durban, Jaddu should be brought into the playing X1 either in place of Rohit / Rahane.

  • parjanya on December 26, 2013, 2:35 GMT

    The way Jadeja has bowled on helpful wickets back in India should make him a serious contender for a spot.The question is where do you fit him ? India needs 5 bowlers to bowl the opposition out,and with Zaheer and Shami both being able to reverse the ball on dry surfaces,and Ashwin supposedly a must,The fall guy has to be Ishant Sharma since the batting cannot be compromised.It will be tough on Ishant if that happens,but it must be noted that on slower wickets lacking bounce,Ishant does not have a great record.The other option is to drop Rohit sharma and retain the three pacers with Jadeja and Aashwin for spin,since the latter are decent bats anyway.

  • parvesh on December 25, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    well said espn cricinfo. We have failed on the 2 previous tours to win. The bowlers are tired no matter what anybody says. Drop rohit or rahane because we need a spinner who can bowl. The thing i like about jado is he bowls his heart out for the team. India's no5 or no6 never bowl. I also like the idea of rahane opening instead of dhawan. Dhoni forget favourites and play who is playing better in south africa conditions at the moment. Show us fans, india is a team and not individuals. The way u batted in the 1st and 2nd innings was special. I just had a problem with the end of the 1st innings, correct that and u will be more succesful abroad. Come on india over 1.5 billion fans are behind u around the world. This is wot us indian fans hav been waiting for in tests. Make it 3rd time lucky. Jai hind

  • yash on December 25, 2013, 23:30 GMT

    @tom120: India has also won test matches at Headingley, WACA, n Wanderers apart from Durban(that Durban wicket was a green top). Fast pitches makes Indian bowling potent too. But yes, Indian pitches are usually in favor of home bowlers, but every cricketing country does that-Australia, England, or South Africa are no exception. Because of issues with the local cricket board and the BCCI, Australia got a green seaming wicket with carry in Nagpur in 2004 and they won their first series in India after a long while. The pitches for India's home series against Newzeland in 2012 too seamed around a bit, though not even close to the degree of seam on the aforementioned Nagpur wicket. Durban wicket getting slower has to do with T-20 cricket being played there n it has been slow for some years now. It's not always possible to make the wicket as per the demand of the home team. A wicket in which a match will be over in 8 sessions will not attract the TV channels for sure.

  • Rob on December 25, 2013, 21:34 GMT

    tom120 on (December 25, 2013, 17:42 GMT) It is not about being stupid it is a concession SA had to make before the BCCI agreed for the 'series' to take place, 2 is not enough to be classed as a series.

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