Blog by: Rohinee
The first test between South Africa and India came inches short of what would have been a record run-chase thanks to the efforts of Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. South Africa’s decision to play more prudently rather than aggressively may have raised quite a few eyebrows, but their sublime run-chase in the aftermath of Morne Morkel’s crippling injury was nothing short of magnificence.
South Africa would thus look forward to continue this up-swinging momentum at Durban, a ground which hasn’t exactly been kind to them in the past few occasions they have played here. The import of this match grows even deeper in the wake of Jacques Kallis’ announcement from tests after this test series, making it a must-win for the Proteas.
The Durban pitch has been one that has baffled experts and players alike with its transition from a seamer-friendly track to one assisting spinners. Imran Tahir and R. Ashwin will find themselves under the spotlight under these playing conditions with increased expectations; an irony considering that the first test saw these bowlers being mercilessly shredded apart by batsmen at Wanderers.
Aside of these two, both teams will want to utilise their part-time spinning options with a bid to exploit the playing conditions more thoroughly. Of the two teams, despite South Africa’s efforts to draw the first test, the advantage however clearly lies with India.
After the dubious start to their South African tour, their adapting to the conditions has been spot on with names that were required to perform delivering to their potential. For the Indian squad, there has been a perfect blend of experienced stalwarts contributing and guiding the younger generation forward. And there again, while a few players failed to live up to expectations, the disappointments have been greatly limited with even less likelihood of continuance in the second test.
Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma will once again be the favourites as would be Zaheer Khan and MS Dhoni. Giving thorough consideration to the tendency of track to favour spinners, the Indian captain may select all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja over Ajinkya Rahane so as to add more substantiality to the squad.
While the Indian team ponders about resolving this minor selection conundrum, South Africa have slightly bigger problems to grapple with. Graeme Smith will have to reconcile the fact that his team’s crushing defeats in the past five years have come at Durban, in spite of having overall superior team strength.
Dale Steyn’s ineffectuality against the Indians in the first test will be foremost on the South African team’s minds even as they brace themselves about Morne Morkel potentially missing the second test on account of his ankle sprain. Vernon Philander will be instrumental as would be Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy to the South African bowling attack which has borne the brunt of the Indian middle-order. If Morkel does miss the match, it could be the first game-changing moment; even with the Proteas roping in a worthy enough substitute – Kyle Abbott – to replace Morkel.
Both teams’ struggle to develop and maintain partnerships will be a core area that needs to be addressed from both ends. The Indian openers have fallen cheaply as the lower-order has crumbled with-out giving an iota of resistance, piling on the pressure on Pujara and Kohli. For South Africa, barring the flash of audaciousness from Vernon Philander in the first innings and du Plessis and de Villiers in the second, there hasn’t been much reason to cheer about.
Rain being a threat at Kingsmead, the pitch is expected to be a slow turning one with punters predicting a thumping series victory for India. The South Africans’ fighting spirit though remains unquestioned and unchallenged, making a paradox of prediction of the outcome of the match.
Match Prediction: A gruelling four-day test with both sides drawing the series 0-0 and sharing the trophy.