Will India defy the odds at Durban?

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Published: Saturday, December 25, 2010, 11:38 [IST]
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Will India defy the odds at Durban?

Going into the second Test encounter of the tour, there's no denying India have their backs to the wall. To begin with, the visitors have begun the series on a utterly demoralising note, with a few individual performances standing out amid a lacklustre team effort. Secondly, the pace bowlers are under severe pressure and will have to regroup and rethink their strategies in order to be more incisive. Meanwile, the batting line-up has to contend with another green and bouncy track which they are evidently not accustomed to. The damp weather of the past few days might have a bearing on the quality of the pitch as well. Finally, India is up against a side that is apparently in the prime of form and raring to go all out for another victory.

One of the gravest concerns for India is the wishy-washy middle order. VVS Laxman who has been touted as the most successful Indian Test batsman in South African conditions, with a robust average of over 41, has far from lived up to expectations. After he collapsed with the rest of the pack on Day 1 of the first Test at Centurion, it was hoped he would pull up his socks and deliver in the second innings. But even though, Tendulkar and Dravid had wrested back some of the initiative by the time he arrived at the crease, Laxman gifted his wicket away. He will have to make his presence count this time around if India is to entertain any hopes of overpowering the Proteas.

Meanwhile, the No. 6 spot has turned a source of much worry for the tourists with Suresh Raina consistently disappointing in that position over the last several games. He now has scores of 32, 3, 20, 3, 1 and 5 in his last six Test innings. In light of the grim situation, a desperate management is seriously considering swapping him for back-up batsman Cheteshwar Pujara. Both players have been provided ample time in batting sessions as options for a final-day modification to the line-up have been left wide open.

Raina, unfortunately, finds himself at square one where his performance in the Rainbow Nation is concerned. The manner in which he got out at Centurion last week and the way he was dismissed in Nov 2006 at Durban when India collapsed in an ODI against the hosts, is eerily similar. On both occasions he poked outside the offstump to bouncy deliveries while keeping his feet pinned to the ground and in the process picked up fatal edges to a slip fieldsman.

But surely, a batsman of his calibre and experience is capable of better. After all,he is one of the few batters in the world to notch up centuries in all three formats of the game, while also completing a highly-prosperous Champions League in South Africa itself this year. One will have to wait and see if he gets a chance to play out his poor run and strike form in Durban.

Where the bowling is concerned, India will be biting its nails in anticipation of the showing from it bolstered up attack. Zaheer has pulled himself out of injury to rejoin his fellow pacemen and will hopefully lead them at Durban. But he isn't the deadly weapon he used to be. His pace has depreciated, his swing has reduced and his ability to off or leg-cut the ball has also diminished while his bowling average and strike rate have dipped in recent years.

Sreesanth too appears to have lost the midus touch that showed face during his last tour of South Africa. Back then, his prowess at maintaining a stable seem while giving his deliveries a rip, ensured that he took 8 wickets in the first Test that India won, and a top-tally of 18 in the series.

Meanwhile, Ishant Sharma was more fortunate than deserving when he picked up his two wickets at Centurion. He will have to make maximum use of his 6"5' frame to extract whatever bounce is on offer. All the bowlers, including Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina, will have to at least ensure that the opposition doesn't score at nearly 5 an over again!

South Africa, on the other hand, have everything going for them. The top order is in blistering form with three out of five batsman that figured in their side's sole innings, going on to make big centuries. The openers provided them the ultimate platform by wearing off the shine of the new ball and picking substantial runs along the way. India will have to nip their extravagant plans in the bud if the tourists are to have any hope of bowling out the hosts.

The new-ball bowling pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have shown that they are terribly potent. India will have to counter their strategies of bounce and pace, while playing with a deft combination of caution and aggression.

All in all, a scintillating clash is on the cards at Durban. India have to come back hard at the opposition and they have to do it from early on. The hosts are no doubt, riding high on the crushing last victory and will be going all out for another win. India will have to hope that the weather stays moderately favorable and that too much dampness doesn't spell their downfall again.


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