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Dry pitch in Durban raises Indian hopes of series win

india Updated: Dec 26, 2013 01:34 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times
Graeme Smith

It's Christmas and it seems that Graeme Smith had some plans for it. In a hired Volkswagen van, Smith drove Allan Donald and two others out of Kingsmead just after practice leaving others behind for the team bus to ferry. Jacques Kallis wasn't with the South Africa skipper, and that perhaps was symbolic about the news that was to follow a bit later.

From now on, Smith & Co will have to live without Kallis being part of the think-tank and perhaps the sense of occasion may get a bit testing come the Boxing Day.

South Africans haven't had too many greats retiring because of their ban from international cricket due to apartheid and to see a legend like Kallis go, will be something new to this generation. To begin with, they can probably borrow a few tips from this bunch of Indians who've seen legends take a bow in a cluster. The dry and brown pitch, not to South Africa's expectations, will be an added pressure.

Pitch surprise
Coach Russell Domingo was quite surprised. He said it was very dry and not what the South Africans had expected. In short, the Indians can't be called ambitious for thinking of their first-ever series win in South Africa.

But then, if anyone can summon up reserves of experience, bury the sense of occasion and surprises the track can throw up, it will be the world's most successful all-rounder. Kallis has wickets a few less than Zaheer Khan and runs a few less than Sachin Tendulkar, India's best bowler and batsman at least in recent times.

Coach Domingo warded off some added pressure due to South Africa's poor record at the Kingsmead saying that none of the hosts' four successive losses here had him at the helm. So he came here with no baggage.

Opposition worry
The Indians were in full strength on Wednesday with Zaheer and Ishant Sharma well-recovered after Tuesday's rest and everyone in good spirits. For South Africa, the problems have just been mounting. Kallis's retirement has paled the worries that the Proteas had over Morne Morkel.

The right-arm paceman, who was expected to be out for 7-10 days, has recovered remarkably and is available for selection. He has been bowling on the wicket adjacent to the main strip and also batted for a long time on Wednesday. Domingo said he was happy with the development. They still have to take a call on whether to play Imran Tahir or not. This being a turning track, they may have to include him again.

Both Tahir and his Indian rival R Ashwin didn't perform and the focus will again be on them on a wicket where spinners have decided the last three Tests. Cheteshwar Pujara defended Ashwin saying Faf du Plessis was uncomfortable and Ashwin was unlucky. But then an international bowler is too good to get unlucky twice. If he gets unlucky here too, it may be another long haul for the pacemen.