Gloves out for Boxing Day Test

Proteas are desperate to get level, but Indians are determined to hang on to their lead, reports Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 02:26 IST

At 7:45 am on Monday, Indian team trainer Gregory King walked into the Elangeni hotel gym and looked at his watch. A couple of minutes later, Sourav Ganguly walked in, a remarkably peaceful looking, leaner and fitter Ganguly as compared to the man of a year ago.

They started chatting as King put Ganguly through an abs/push-ups/weights regimen even while the former Indian skipper asked whether he should do more cardio. “It (cardio) helps you mentally,” said Ganguly, as King patiently explained that it all depended on the situation.

Meanwhile, along with Ganguly’s quite amazing story of going from gutted to glorious in the space of a year, the Indian team will depend a lot on VVS Laxman.

Ganguly’s new focus on everything that helps him get an edge mentally and his seemingly philosophical outlook to life and life beyond cricket will be tested once again in Kingsmead, where India will be looking for a historic series win in the second Test, which begins here on Tuesday.

In both the games India have played since he has arrived here in South Africa (in Potchefstroom and Johannesburg), Ganguly has made vital contributions.

It has been fascinating to watch how he has tackled his personal battles (the mental pressure of scrutiny and the technical pressure in what had become his bane — the short-pitched delivery into the ribs). But it will be most interesting to see how he copes with Kingsmead, which, by every account, is South Africa’s fastest and bounciest track.

Incidentally, the track has a bit of grass but some of what is there will be taken off either later this evening or early on Tuesday.

Indian skipper Rahul Dravid also took note of some small cracks on the pitch (that may become a factor if the sun continues to bake Durban) but said a lot would depend on the weather conditions in general too.

It is unlikely to bake by the way, it rained on Sunday here and has been hot and humid today. And whenever it gets very hot, there is a possibility of rain.

Meanwhile, along with Ganguly’s quite amazing story of going from gutted to glorious in the space of a year, the Indian team will depend a lot on VVS Laxman, who has also looked in good nick, to keep his form going on the kind of surface that he seems to enjoy playing on. India will also hope that Sachin Tendulkar, who has shown only rare glimpses of that touch of old, and Rahul Dravid, who has no doubt been under severe stress as skipper (even if it was somewhat relieved in Wanderers), come into their own.

If these four can fire, then India have a great chance to win this series right here in the place South Africans call “Little India” — because of the number of Indian-origin people in the area.

And if the man who was once called the world’s most destructive Test opener, bar none, Virender Sehwag, can conquer his inner demons and show a rapidly critical world what he is capable of, then more than half the battle can be won.

India, by the way, are sticking with Wasim Jaffer for this game, ahead of Gautam Gambhir.

Dravid made it a point to bat for Jaffer in Monday’s press conference, saying that while he hadn’t had a good tour, it was just a few games ago that he had got a crucial double hundred.

Still, Jaffer will go into this game under tremendous pressure too, so it will be absorbing to watch the several individual battles that will unfold as India fight to win the series.

And what of their opponents? Well, there is no doubting that the Proteas, smarting from the barrage of criticism they have got in the wake of the loss and badly hurt by assorted tiffs within the set-up, have been trying to bond as a unit in the couple of days they have been here.

It is perhaps as much of a PR exercise as an attempt at regaining the spirit of the one-dayers but perhaps it will be just what they need, this spending time together, eating together, speaking for one another.

India expect the South Africans to come at them with everything they’ve got and they will.

Graeme Smith, who will open with AB de Villiers, has a point to prove, as does Herschelle Gibbs (demoted down the order), who, coach Mickey Arthur admitted, was so thankful that he had held his place in the side that he didn’t care where he would bat.

But he would want to prove his point too, as would Smith and the rest, and if they can put the young Indian pacemen, who bowled superbly at the Wanderers off their stride, it could well be advantage South Africa.

After all, their own pacers are vastly experienced and it is unlikely they will have yet another collectively bad game.

We have one enthralling Test coming up!

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 02:10 IST