From the moment Shikhar Dhawan drove Dale Steyn straight down the ground for a boundary, it was clear that the Proteas were in for a long grind. There was no famed South African bounce that Steyn could get from good length unless he bent his back, and there was no help from the surroundings.
Durban has been hot these days and it got warmer on Thursday — the early morning, despite the breeze coming from the beach next to Kingsmead, hotter than noon at Johannesburg, the high-altitude venue of the first Test.There has been no rain, the curator was expecting for the pitch, and that added to the soaring temperature, and the result was there to see. The already dry wicket was baked to perfection and was to India’s taste.
It was just the kick the India batsmen needed and exactly what the already taxed bowlers were probably fretting over. Luckily, the coin fell in MS Dhoni’s favour, the bowlers tossed themselves in the comfort of the dressing room and the batsmen were ready to make merry.
“It was not the kind of wicket we were expecting,” said Morne Morkel after the match, almost reiterating what his coach Russell Domingo had said a day back. The statement of surprise said a lot about this track since the Kingsmead has already got slow over the years.
Shikhar looked in form. The shots, the flick and drive, came off the left-hander’s blade very well.
But just as he was looking to run away with it, having added 41 for the first wicket, more than what we are used to from the opening combine early on abroad, he fell off a ball that bounced and moved a bit more than expected. It was Morkel who’d undone him and it was clear why the Proteas were so desperate to get him back.
This tour could be the turning point in Vijay’s career. A batsman who has always impressed whenever called upon to do duty as a stop-gap arrangement, he has played within limitations on this tour. There have been no flashy shots and he has been content to see the new ball through.
With Cheteshwar Pujara, it was a similar knock, testing the South Africa bowlers’ patience.
On Thursday, with just the length and width he wanted, Vijay looked fluid, driving Steyn & Co with finesse. Particularly impressive were the two back-to-back cover drives off Vernon Philander, one off the front foot and the second off the back.
The pace off the track and the way the Proteas bowled ensured that they could defend off the front foot. Morkel admitted the South Africans struggled with their line. After bowling a few testing ones, they strayed more or less. And although he said the South Africans would come back, it seems unlikely.
The desperation was written all over Graeme Smith’s face as he tossed the ball to left-arm spinner Robin Peterson before lunch, just like he had done to Imran Tahir in the first Test. It was for the second successive Test Smith was indicating that his pacers were not good enough for the India batsmen.