India wary of a fightback

RISING HOPES: Rahul Dravid would be hoping to seal India's first series win in South Africa.

RISING HOPES: Rahul Dravid would be hoping to seal India's first series win in South Africa.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AP

S. Dinakar

Durban: India will be wary of lowering its guard as it seeks to deliver a knockout blow in the Boxing Day Test starting on Tuesday.

The second Test at Kingsmead will be as much about offence as defence, against a wounded opponent seeking revenge. India leads 1-0 and could close out the Castle series here.

It was in Durban 14 years ago that India and South Africa faced off in a Test for the first time; the match also marked South Africa's Test return after years of isolation.

India drew that Test, but suffered an embarrassing defeat here in the 1996-97 season. Recent one-dayers at Kingsmead have not been pleasant either.

But then, the past may mean nothing against present form. After the turnaround at the Wanderers, India has the wind and the momentum in its favour.

Dravid realises what to expect from South Africa on a surface with a fair sprinkling of grass. "We know what they are capable of. We will not be complacent."

Pace and bounce

The pitch should offer pace and bounce. The conditions in this stadium, close to the Indian Ocean, should encourage movement. The stiff breeze, blowing across the ground, gathers speed in the late afternoon.

Wind could influence swing. However, bowling against the gust will not be easy. India will have to pick a paceman for the hard job.

The weather has cleared and the teams held practice sessions under bright sunshine. The forecast for the days ahead is promising.

India could choose to bat if it wins the toss unless there is a dense cloud cover. Dravid said, "there are small cracks on the surface, and they could open up if the sun beats down hard." In such a scenario, Anil Kumble could turn a destroyer.

Lone change

There is just a lone change in the Indian 12 from the last Test; off-spinner Harbhajan Singh makes way for paceman Munaf Patel.

This also means opener Wasim Jaffer gets to keep his spot. Gautam Gambhir, who impressed in the practice game, could have provided a left-handed option to India at the top of the order.

Dravid, however, felt it would not be right to dump Jaffer after just one Test in South Africa. "He batted exceedingly well on the West Indian tour. After that he has played just a Test here." India requires starts in this crunch game.

Munaf could take V.R.V. Singh's place. The lanky paceman has recovered well from an ankle strain. "He pulled up well after the practice match and yesterday's net session. He is definitely in with a chance." Selection panel chief Dilip Vengsarkar said, "Munaf is match-fit." Much depends on how the paceman feels on Tuesday morning.

The South Africans have a couple of selection issues to resolve. The team along with its captain and coach are under pressure to perform. "It is a part of the territory, I suppose," said coach Mickey Arthur.

With its top order under-performing, the coach revealed that Abraham de Villiers will move up to partner skipper Graeme Smith. This would make it a right-left combination.

Herschelle Gibbs will be moved down the order. Said Arthur, "Despite the shuffle, we would pick the same six batsmen."

Steyn ruled out

The coach also ruled injured paceman Dale Steyn out of the Test "He is only 80 per cent fit and we cannot take a chance again." Either paceman Morne Morkel or all-rounder Andrew Hall could receive a look-in.

"We have had discussions after the first Test and the bowlers are aware of the length and the areas to bowl," said Arthur.

The visiting batsmen face a test of character. There should be plenty of support for India in this port city.

The teams (from):

India: R. Dravid (captain), W. Jaffer, V. Sehwag, S. Tendulkar, V.V.S. Laxman, S. Ganguly, M.S. Dhoni, A. Kumble, Z. Khan, S. Sreesanth, M. Patel, V.R.V. Singh. Coach: G. Chappell.

South Africa: G. Smith (captain), A. de Villiers, H. Amla, J. Kallis, H. Gibbs, A. Prince, M. Boucher, S. Pollock, A. Hall, A. Nel, M. Ntini, M. Morkel, P. Harris. Coach: M. Arthur.

Umpires: M. Benson & A. Rauf. Third umpire: I. Howell. Match Referee: R. Mahanama.

Match begins at 1.30 p.m. (IST).

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