Durban: Battered into submission in the first Test despite Sachin Tendulkar’s batting heroics, world number one India will aim to reclaim their bruised pride and level the series against a rampaging South Africa in the second cricket Test starting here on Sunday.
The visitors are smarting from an innings and 25 runs defeat in Centurion, where their famed line-up capitulated so badly in the first innings that it became impossible to salvage the match in the second essay despite Tendulkar’s historic 50th Test ton.
In their previous Tests at the ground, India managed a draw in 1992-93 but lost by 328 runs in 1996-97, and by 174 runs in 2006-07.
However, going into on Sunday’s game, the omens have been good so far with pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, who sat out in Centurion due to a hamstring strain, back to full fitness for the must-win match of the three-Test series.
Add to this, South Africa’s not-so-impressive recent record in Kingsmead. Graeme Smith’s men have suffered a couple of massive defeats at the venue in recent times (by 175 runs to Australia in 2008-09 and an innings and 98 runs against England last year).
But that would hardly make a difference after the toss of coin on Sunday morning, something that Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is not that good at.
The curator has promised a fair track which would have as much for the bowlers as for the batsmen and that should be music to Indian ears considering that the visiting batsmen seemed to have no clue on how to deal with short-pitched stuff on the Centurion pitch.
The batting did come good in the second innings of that highly forgettable match for the Indians but the form of a few remains a concern.
One among them is Suresh Raina, who has scored 32, 3, 20, 3, 1 and 5 in his last six Test innings, and he could well lose his pace in the side to the young Cheteshwar Pujara.
But the big guns such as Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and Dhoni himself showed they were in good touch at least in the second innings of the Centurion Test.
Their contribution would be crucial against the quality pace attack of the South Africans. The tear away pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel decimated the Indian batting in the first innings and though
they came in for some hammering in the second innings, they had done their job well enough much earlier to ensure a South African win.
The Indians would obviously be bolstered by the return of Zaheer but the ineffectiveness of Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth would be a worry since the tracks here demand that visiting teams have a good pace attack.
“Zaheer is a key player,” said Dhoni, stressing on the pacer’s importance in the squad.
“With all the experience he has, he always comes up with new plans and changes his plans during the course of a game,” he added.
On the batting front, the South Africans are no less despite the combined experience and accumulated runs of the Indians far exceeding theirs.
Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis make for a top-order that any bowling line-up would find difficult to contain and given India’s rather weak attack, it would once again be tough for the visitors to take 20 South African wickets.
Their top ranking is not exactly at stake but India’s reputation certainly is and it would take quite an effort to keep that intact against a hostile opponent, which has also kept up the pressure with some bantering off the field.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher, Dale Steyn, Paul Harris, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren, JP Duminy, Wayne Parnell.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, Umesh Yadav, Jaidev Unadkat, Pragyan Ojha.
Umpires: Steve Davis (AUS), Asad Rauf (PAK)
TV umpire: Johan Cloete (RSA)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).