In a country where Mahatma Gandhi led a protest march against discriminatory laws in 1913, a hundred years later another bunch of Indians have started their own brand of resistance.

Thanks to their stirring performance in the first Test at Johannesburg’s Wanderers Stadium, M.S. Dhoni’s men are no longer the under-dogs, they are opponents who demand appreciation.

The way the vocabulary has changed in press conferences, organised by the South African players and coaching staff over the last 10 days, is proof of the visitor growing in eminence. From ‘softened and scarred’ to ‘respect,’ the host’s verbal nuggets about India have changed dramatically.

But India needs to stay on that road of tough cricket despite the all pervading warm Christmas spirit ahead of the Boxing Day Test — the second and final of the series — commencing at the Kingsmead Stadium here on Thursday.

South Arica meanwhile has to contend with added emotion as the great Jacques Kallis has stated that this will be his last Test while he pursues the ambition of playing in the 2015 World Cup at Australia and New Zealand.

The last two months have been the one for farewells — Sachin Tendulkar, Graeme Swann and now Kallis.

India eases into a venue where it lost an ODI by 134 runs a fortnight back but a lot has changed since then and it helps that the last time Dhoni’s men played a Test here (December, 2010), they relished an 87-run victory primarily caused by the exploits of V.V.S. Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and S. Sreesanth.

From the heroes then, Zaheer is still around and in the first Test, the Indian spearhead gave everything he had, be it when the Proteas were struggling in the first innings or when they were fighting back in their second outing at the crease.

Speedsters dominate

As a combined force, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami bowled 160 overs and that was 79.20 per cent of the deliveries that India hurled at the host.

The faster the Indian speedsters recover for the concluding clash, the better it would be for Dhoni to implement his strategies. R. Ashwin too wouldn’t mind turning his arm over as the surface is known to offer some assistance to spin.

India’s batting may have rode on Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara at the Wanderers but a few others too played their parts (Ajinkya Rahane in the first innings and Murali Vijay in the second) while Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan missed out. The Indians would take heart from the way in which they countered Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander besides hammering Imran Tahir.

At the other end, the home team has been guarded about its injured speedster Morne Morkel, whose absence subtly helped the visitor in its second innings during the first Test.

The host has lost its last four Tests here and Graeme Smith’s men are itching to change that dubious record.

The runs that A.B. de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Alviro Petersen scored in the first Test, offer a barricade against the Indians.

As always, the Smith-Zaheer combat would be interesting while the fans will root equally for local heroes Hashim Amla and Kallis, who after this game won’t turn up in cricketing whites for South Africa.

India will hope to wrest the match and the series, a first in its tours down here while South Africa is keen to gift a victory-wrapped send-off to Kallis.

The smell of a rugged contest is in the air while the skies might turn damp too as a few spells of rain have been forecast.

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, R. Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Wriddhiman Saha and Ambati Rayudu.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, A.B. de Villiers, J-P. Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Rory Kleinveldt, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Thami Tsolekile and Kyle Abbott.

Umpires: Rod Tucker and Steve Davis; Third umpire: Adrian Holdstock; Match referee: Andy Pycroft.

Match starts at 2 p.m. IST.

More In: Cricket | Sport