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Can India deliver the knock-out punch?

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Published: Wednesday, December 29, 2010, 11:25 [IST]
 
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Can India deliver the knock-out punch?

A tantalising result to the second Test between India and South Africa, at Durban, is on the cards with both sides striving for victory on what is most liklely to be the last day of the match. The hosts need 192 runs to lay claim to the Test and the series, while India require seven more wickets to square the series and set up an exciting final encounter at Cape Town on Jan 2.

One could argue that the momentum in the clash has swung India's way. After all, they showed tremendous resolve on Day 3 to post a lead of over 300. After ensnaring a shaky Chesteshwar Pujara and an under-confident Harbhajan Singh, the South African bowlers thought they were on the verge of wrapping up the innings.

But with India in a precarious position of 148/7, Laxman showed exceptional character to pull India out of a hole. He played as a man who evidently possesses a first class degree in crisis management. And that's not to take away anything from Zaheer Khan either, who put up some awe-inspiring support.

The South Africans were consequently made to sweat as they hurled the kitchen sink at Laxman and Zaheer. The two took India past 150 and beyond even 200, before Zaheer finally caved in for 27, making the score 218/8. In the process, the batting duo had put on a crucial 70 runs for the 8th wicket, wresting back partial control of the match that appeared to be slipping away from them.

Now, the Indian bowlers can best pay tribute to that brave showing from their latter order and especially from Laxman who walked off after notching up a valiant 96, by winning this match. The pace attack along with Bhajji have done the groundwork, by removing the top three Protea's batsman. Now they need to penetrate the solid middle-order to give themselves hope of grabbing victory.

Former Indian captain Kapil Dev shared some insights with the team, saying, "If they can get a couple of wickets before lunch, then the match will be thrown wide open." The pacers will do well to heed the words of this succcessful speedster. Accordingly, Sreesanth, Ishant and Zaheer would have to be right on the money in terms of their accurancy.

After all, Sreesanth received encouragement with his deliveries outside the off-stump which hold their line, by getting rid of the dangerous Amla with one such beauty. None of the pacers can afford to deliver balls even slightly short as the pitch is easing out and becoming less complicated for the batsman to pick runs off.

India has had a stellar year in terms of effecting Test wins abroad. They have beaten Australia, the West Indies, Bangladesh, Zimbabewe, and yes, South Africa as well, in the opponent's own back yard. Their last victory on the soil of the Rainbow Nation, came just four years ago when Sreesanth picked up a Man-of-the-Match haul of 8/99 including a 5-for in the first innings. He should strive to emulate that golden high in this match or at least mimic the same intensity that he generated back then. Zaheer also played his part in that 123-run victory taking 5/111. So these two can create magic when they team up.

Ishant Sharma too has succeeded in unsettling batsman abroad, the brightest example of his exploits being during India's 2007-08 tour of Austraolia during which Aussie captain Ricky Ponting branded him as "dangerous". When the same opponents visited India for Test series in 2008, Ishant was the leading wicket-taker with 15 scalps that earned him the Player of the Series award. So, he too can accomplish much if he puts his mind to it and uses his height to optimum effect.

But the bowler that the South Africans will have to watch out for is Harbhajan Singh. He has struck a strong resurgence in his wicket-taking ability, claiming 4 scalps for just 10 runs in 71.2 overs in the first innings of this match. After sending back opener Alviro Petersen in the second innings, he would have had Jacques Kallis out at leg slip, if Cheteshwar Pujara hadn't dropped the catch.

So all in all, India will have to up their gamer and reclaim the form that has made them champions overseas in the past. The die is cast for a compelling last day of cricket in this enthralling second Test between Test cricket's two top-ranked sides and India would do well to rise to the occasion and reassert their credentials as the World's No. 1 Test team.

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