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Dhoni & Co. hope to extend South Africa’s Durban jinx

Calcutta/Durban: The Wanderers Test is now history. South Africa stopped eight runs short of what could have been an all-time great victory. That was the first Test in Johannesburg, where India were left wondering what really went wrong with all the domination for most of the five days.

They get a chance to settle scores in this series, starting on Boxing Day in Durban.

Test cricket came alive in Johannesburg between the world’s No. 1 team, the hosts, and the No. 2, the visitors. This time out, South Africa would want that straightened out, while they have a small statistical matter to worry about — arresting a dismal Durban run of four straight defeats at Kingsmead.

This is a real head-scratcher for the Proteas, especially since this happens to be one of the country’s premier Test grounds. And they have not won here since beating the West Indies by an innings and 100 runs in January 2008. Australia, England, India and Sri Lanka have all enjoyed handsome triumphs in Durban over the world’s top ranked Test team since 2008.

Vice-captain AB de Villiers can’t fathom this. “I am confused about Durban. I don’t know what to expect,” he told reporters. “I am going to play it like I always play my cricket. I am going to take it one ball at a time and use my experience to adapt as quickly as I can. So will the whole team.”

De Villiers believes it will be a good toss to win, a lively pitch doing the rest for the first part of the Test. And that Morne Morkel has recovered from the ankle sprain is good news. It kept him from bowling for most of the second innings at the Wanderers and will be considered for selection in Durban.

Morkel had a fitness test on Wednesday and batted in the nets at the team’s optional training session. He is likely to play in the Boxing Day match.

“He seems to be okay. I haven’t chatted with the physiotherapist Brandon Jackson again, but just briefly chatting to Morne, he seems to be fine so that’s good news for us,” Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach said.

The No. 5 ranked ODI team handed out a 2-0 defeat to the No. 1 ranked side, a spanking really considering the huge margins of 141 runs and 136 runs in the two completed matches.

Surprisingly, for the hosts, India fought back in the first Test. Putting his hand up first was Virat Kohli who swatted the Proteas’ attack in the first innings at Wanderers, with a brilliant first hundred in this country.

Team India dominated for four days of that match. The No. 1 ranked Test side, though couldn’t be beaten, as they bounced back from near-defeat and rose up to near-victory in the span of three sessions on the last day. Now, it is over to Durban.

India realised early that the ODIs were a lost cause and instead used those games to steel themselves for the challenges ahead. The visitors carry momentum into this second Test, especially with the way they strangled South Africa in that last hour’s play, forcing them to call off their world-record pursuit mere eight runs short of creating history.

If the hosts are to be believed, all they wanted to do was save the Test, and they succeeded. They wanted this chance to win the series, in this last encounter before Team India leave.

For India, the major concern ahead of this Durban Test is the fatigue factor of their bowling attack. Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma did the majority of the work, with Ravichandran Ashwin providing support.

With just three days between the two Tests, are their frontline bowlers fit enough? Will the lone spinner play a more pivotal role now, at Kingsmead?

Durban is the South Africa’s most Indian city — in terms of weather and demographics - and the pitch may end up reflecting that. The surface is expected to be slower than usual and should take turn as the match enters the final two days.

“There is a lot of bounce in this wicket that should keep both the batsmen and the bowlers interested,” said curator Wilson Ngobese.

“Batting in the first hour of the mornings here should be challenging for there is always some moisture in the air to be exploited. Of course spin might come into play as the match progresses, more than what it did at Wanderers.”

South Africa will not like that last sentence. A case in point is Harbhajan Singh’s performance from that 2010-11 victory for India. The Turbanator had struggled in the first Test at Centurion (2/169), only to wreak havoc at Durban with match-winning figures of six for 80.

That might inspire Ashwin, who went wicketless in the two innings at Johannesburg.

South Africa have not lost a series in almost five years. Their last defeat came in February 2009 against Australia. Since then, they have played 13 series, won seven and drawn six. Of those, four of the shared spoils came at home.

TEAMS

India (likely): Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Shami.

South Africa (likely): Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir/Robin Peterson.

Match starts: 2 pm (IST).

Related report: Page 14