It has been anything but a merry Christmas for India, the eve of the second test starting in Kingsmead on Sunday. To start with, South Africa gift-wrapped a well-carpeted wicket and then Gautam Gambhir has left them downcast after suffering a swollen left hand, putting a big question mark on his availability for the must-win match.
Notwithstanding the continual chatter of the curator that he would roll out a sporting track, it reminded India captain, MS Dhoni, of the greenest wicket he has played on. "It looks quite green, but the greenest I have played on was in my debut first-class season in Baroda. It's still not that green," he chuckled. The look of the wicket clearly shows South Africa want to nail the series in Durban itself, where India, apart from the pace and bounce, will also battle their wretched record. They were disgraced here in 1996 when South Africa bowled them out for 66 and 100, and though they managed to avoid humiliation in 2006-07, the result was the same.
What must have emboldened South Africa to roll out an overtly green track is how India batsmen played at Centurion. While they caved in without much resistance when the ball seamed around, they put up their biggest total in South Africa in the second innings when the wicket had eased out.
Whatever the reason, it's quite clear the India batsmen have their task cut out. They will need to show far more courage and application in handling Dale Steyn and company on this track that's unlikely to flatten out, unlike Centurion.
While almost all the India batsman showed signs of adjusting to the conditions in the second innings in Centurion, Suresh Raina looked in as much discomfort as in the first innings. So, he looks sure to make way for Cheteshwar Pujara, who appears to have a more compact technique to adapt to the demanding conditions.
While the batting line-up looks settled and solid, it's the question mark on Gambhir's availability that's a cause of concern. Murali Vijay will come in if the left-hander is ruled out.
South Africa, too, don't enjoy a great record in Kingsmead. They have lost their last two matches here, one to Australia in 2008 and the other to England last year. Australia pacer Mitchell Johnson left them battered and bruised. India don't have that firepower but it would still be more potent with the return of Zaheer Khan. Although he's coming back from injury and is short of match practice, he should be more than handy on this helpful track. If he fires, the hosts might rue their decision to roll out a green track.