With everything even-Stevens in the 2010-11 Test series between India and South Africa, the stage is set for a scintillating finale at Cape Town, beginning Sunday, Jan 2, 2011. After getting trounced in the first Test at Centurion, India found their groove and turned the tables on the hosts in the second encounter. In so doing, the tourists have demonstrated that they have the wherewithal to match the Proteas shot for shot and wicket for wicket. India have yanked back the momentum and will be going into the decider at Cape Town with their zest at a high.
However, New Lands is unlikely to see the wicket-fests of the previous two matches. That's because dissimilar to the pitches at Centurion and Durban, which proved very responsive to pace bowling, Cape Town's wicket is harder and more conducive for batsman. The curator claims that the wicket won't crumble and will remain consistently playable through the five days. Incidentally, It has the highest average score, 338.2, for any ground in the country. So spectators can expect a high-scoring clash between the world's two top sides.
"I would love to get the same bounce as grounds like SuperSport Park and the Wanderers," Evan Flint, the curator, said. "The type of bounce we get is different. It's more of a tennis-ball bounce. I would like to create a surface that South Africa can get a good result on, but I've just got to do the best I can, and hopefully South Africa can play to their strengths."
And South Africa will certainly have to play to their strengths in both the batting and bowling departments. The paceman have ofcourse, been consistently incisive in the series thus far with Dale Steyn topping the wickets chart at 15 scalps with a staggering average of 16.60 and Morne Morkel following him, with 12 wickets at 19.08. However, the batsman have slumped from their high in the first match to notching up two ordinary totals at Durban. Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and A B de Villiers went from being centurions at Centurion to scoring 119 runs between the three of them in the second Test.
India's top and middle order could also do with an improvement. Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag have especially fallen below expectation with four mediocre innings. More substance must come from higher up the order so that the latter batsmen don't have to bat out of their skin in order to target a win. Of course, now that VVS Laxman has apparently hit his stride, he will figure as a key man behind India's chances at New Lands. Meanwhile, the Indian quicks will once again have to complement each other with able support from Bhajji as well. They will have to be extremely accurate on a strip that evidentally won't suit them.
South Africa have history on their side at Cape Town. They have come out victorious in 14 of 21 Tests at this venue and beat India by five wickets the last time the two teams clashed at this neck of the woods. In that face-off which took place exactly three years ago, India got off to a commanding start, scoring a first-innings total of 414 with a century from opener Wasim Jaffer and half-centuries from Karthik, Dravid and Ganguly en route. India even restricted the hosts to 373, with Anil Kumble depriving Graeme Smith of a century and finishing with figures of 4/117.
But then the tide turned dramatically as South Africa subjected the tourists to a deplorable second innings, shooting them out for 169 with Steyn grabbing 4 wickets for 30. The hosts had set up a fairly easy victory from there as the top order quelled the Indian attack to chase down the modest target of 211. Thus, the Proteas took the match and the series 2-1, leaving the vanquished Indians to scratch their heads in bemusement.
One significant difference in the lead-up to that encounter at Cape Town was that South Africa had won the Boxing Day test after losing the first match. This time however, it's the other way around with India having wrested the momentum prior to the final clash. India again find themselves on the threshold of creating history. They need to pull through this challenge as the same unit that claimed victory at Durban. A glowing new chapter for India abroad is in the offing as the final, final frontier awaits.