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Proteas under pressure ahead of Durban Test

Published: Tuesday, December 26, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Durban:South Africa are under pressure ahead of the second Test against India starting at Kingsmead today.

They suffered a shock 123-run defeat in the opening encounter of the three-match series in Johannesburg.

India, meanwhile, go into the match high on confidence after what was acclaimed as one of their best Test wins in recent years.

The spotlight is firmly on South African captain Graeme Smith and coach Mickey Arthur. Although both have been appointed until after the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, there is growing criticism of their performances.

One South African newspaper this week called for Arthur to be sacked after a dismal run of results in Test matches.

Since Arthur was appointed in May 2005 South Africa have won seven and lost 11 Tests. They have won three series - against Zimbabwe, West Indies and New Zealand, none of which count among cricket's superpowers - and lost five.

Smith's form has dipped since the heights of 2003 when he pounded two double centuries against England and hit 1,198 runs in the calendar year at an average of 63.05.

Since the start of the 2005/06 season, Smith has made only 453 runs in nine Tests at an average of just 26.64. He has made no centuries and only two half-centuries, both in one match against New Zealand at the end of last season.

In a radio interview selection convenor Haroon Lorgat said there had been no discussion yet about dropping Smith but admitted that the captain's batting was a concern.

Lorgat has also been criticised for naming a squad for all three Tests despite the poor form of some of the batsmen and for deciding that most of the players should rest ahead of the first Test instead of playing in domestic matches.

Smith looked woefully out of touch when he was dismissed for five and 10 in the first Test against India but reacted tetchily when he was asked about the cheap dismissals of the top three in the South African batting order, who made a combined 32 in six innings in Johannesburg.

"Both teams struggled with their top order," he said. "In the last year we have had wickets with bounce which have been difficult to bat on up front."

Indian openers Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer also failed in Johannesburg and both teams may change their opening combinations.

AB de Villiers is likely to open with Smith, with Herschelle Gibbs dropping down the order, while Gautan Gambhir made a challenge for Jaffer's place in the Indian team when he scored 79 against an admittedly weak invitation XI in a two-day practice match for the tourists in Durban. Jaffer, with a top score of 10 in five innings on tour, was out for two.

Gambhir played in a two-match series against South Africa in India in November 2004 and made 96 in the first Test in Kanpur, sharing an opening partnership of 218 with Sehwag.

South Africa went into the first Test as strong favourites with their pace attack expected to be too strong for India's batsmen.

Instead, it was the Indian new ball pair of man of the match Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan who made the biggest impact on the outcome, making better use of the conditions.

Kingsmead is usually a seam-friendly ground. In 1996/97 India were blown away for 100 and 66, with Allan Donald claiming match figures of nine for 54. This time, though, there will be some trepidation about leaving too much grass on the pitch after the way Sreesanth and Khan bowled at the Wanderers.

India seem likely to strengthen their pace attack, with Munaf Patel, recovered from injury, set to replace VRV Singh, who was not impressive in Johannesburg.

South Africa, meanwhile, are likely to wait until Sunday before deciding on the fitness of fast bowler Dale Steyn, who left the field with a thigh strain in the first innings in Johannesburg and did not bowl again in the match.

Squads:

South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince, Herschelle Gibbs, Mark Boucher (wk), Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn, Andrew Hall, Jacques Rudolph and Paul Harris. Morne Morkel (On standby).

India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Gautan Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, Irfan Pathan, Dinesh Karthik and Harbhajan Singh.

Umpires: Mark Benson (Eng), Asad Rauf (Pak) and TV umpire: Ian Howell (RSA).

Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SL).

AFP

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