It was a surreal experience to be in Kingsmead on Christmas day. Holiday spirit has gripped the entire nation, but the venue was abuzz with activity – cricketers were sharpening their skills at nets, ground staff was doing last-hour preparations on the pitch and the outfield.
Everything seemed to be in order – even eerily perfect. But it somehow failed to give the real picture, camouflaging the aftereffects of the intense drama that played out at the Wanderers.
Yes, both India and South Africa have asserted that they have recovered sufficiently from that emotional and physical rollercoaster and are ready for the second Test, starting on Thursday, in every possible way, despite the short break between the matches.
It’s naïve to expect Tests of such intensity often; the competitive quotient of the second Test depends on how much more effort these teams can produce over the next five days. Let’s take a look at some of the almost bionic efforts players from both sides put together.
Zaheer Khan bowled 60.3 overs at Johannesburg. It was his first Test in nearly a year, and he’s 35. He just stretched his body and mind to the extents that he did never before. Ishant Sharma bowled 54 overs – and the strapping pacer never let the intensity drop even by a globule over the course of that match.
Mohammad Shami, playing his third match, sent down 46 overs, supporting his seniors admirably, and often posing threats to the home batsmen. For South Africa, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander too weren’t far behind, bowling 56 and 55 overs respectively. Even considering the fact that pacers have been expected to do bulk of the work in South African pitches, those are unusual figures.
Batsmen were not too far behind. Cheteshwar Pujara spent 506 minutes at the crease, while Virat Kohli consumed five more minutes than Pujara. These batsmen have played only a handful of Test matches, but showed maturity that might have stirred even the soulless.
What then about Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers? They blocked the Indian bowlers for almost the entire fifth day – batting out 395 and 239 minutes and ensuring that South Africa would not lose the Test.
So, that question pops up again. How much more they can stretch themselves here? Durban is an even tougher place, especially if you are a pace bowler. The Kingsmead is no longer the dreaded ‘Green Mamba’ that it once was. Of course, a sprinkling of green can be spotted on the 22-yard strip, but the ever-changing Kwazulu Natal weather makes it an unpredictable surface.
That said, spinners, who were taken out of the equation by the Wanderers pitch, might feel a bit more welcomed as their tribe has done well here over the years. Since 2009, South Africa have lost all four Test matches here to England, India, Australia and Sri Lanka. In three of those matches, spinners Graeme Swann, Harbhajan Singh and Rangana Herath played massive roles in tourists’ win.
India have got a quality tweaker in R Ashwin in their ranks. He may not have wickets to show for the effort he put in, particularly in the second innings, but here he could be a different force. Considering the capricious nature of the track and weather, India may also think of giving a chance to Ravindra Jadeja, perhaps, in place of Ajinkya Rahane.
Rahane made a handy 47 down the order besides effecting two crucial run outs of Graeme Smith and Du Plessis at Johannesburg, but Jadeja could be an ideal foil for Ashwin on the Kingsmead pitch, and the Saurashtra man is a more than capable lower order batsman and superb fielder.
South Africa still have not decided over Morne Morkel, who sprained his ankle in the first Test, and they have drafted in Kyle Abbott, who took seven wickets on his debut against Pakistan early this year at Centurion, as cover. But the home side will be more worried about the inconsistent record of their frontline batsmen here barring Jacques Kallis.
Skipper Smith has made 536 runs from 19 innings at 31.52, while Hashim Amla is yet to impress at his home venue, garnering just 276 runs from 13 innings at 21.23. AB de Villiers has scored 587 runs from 15 innings at 45.15, but it’s veteran Kallis who tops the list with 1151 runs from 26 innings at 47.95 with four hundreds.
In that sense, India have a better immediate memory at this venue, having won here in December 2010 and now, they have a brilliant chance to win their first series in the Rainbow Nation. South Africa would love to set a modest record here straight and preserve their good overall record at home.
So, time for another engaging clash?