| Pathan during the team’s practice in Durban on Monday. (AP)
Durban, Dec. 25: The past has come to the rescue of deposed vice-captain Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer, both of whom will continue to open, but Irfan Pathan is being sent home (“in his best interest”) to rediscover bowling form.
“I’m not giving up so soon on Jaffer, who got 212 on an Antigua wicket which wasn’t easy. He has not had the best of tours (30 runs in eight innings), but we’ve got to give as many opportunities as we can. This probably is the match for him to turn it around,” said Rahul Dravid.
Speaking on the eve of the second (and penultimate) Castle Test, the Team India captain added: “I have a lot of confidence in Jaffer and Veeru, who is a proven performer. I hope for more runs from him. Expect him to make an impact. Both didn’t do well in the first Test, but let’s face it, the Wanderers wicket wasn’t easy.”
Persisting with Jaffer has surprised a few, one being South African coach Mickey Arthur.
“We’d been planning for Jaffer or Gautam Gambhir to partner Sehwag. I’m a bit surprised,” he told The Telegraph.
The Indians don’t have a great record at pacy and bouncy Kingsmead (bowled out for 100 and 66 a decade ago), but last week’s 123-run victory in the first Test has lifted confidence like never before in recent memory.
“The boys are very keen. It’s exciting to be 1-0 up, but we realise the South Africans are going to come hard at us.
“We’ve got to play good cricket and accomplish targets. There’s no complacency and, at the Wanderers, there were guys who put their hand up in critical moments,” Dravid said.
The pressure is on Sreesanth to deliver again. Also on former captain Sourav Ganguly, who scored an unbeaten 111 in his last appearance at the ground — the 2003 World Cup semi-final versus Kenya.
He has made a character-oozing comeback, but was quick to remind there’s “plenty of cricket” left in the series.
The South Africans, of course, are only too aware of the challenge ahead. “It’s huge. It’s the first time in a long while that we’re on the backfoot (at home). It’s time to show character,” said Arthur.
“The trend is to gun for the captain and coach. Look at Duncan Fletcher and, till last week, Greg Chappell. It (criticism) goes with the territory and one has to take responsibility. However, the South African media hasn’t shown respect for our abilities,” he added, obviously upset with the heavy flak.
A couple of days ago, Graeme Smith had described the attack (in print and on TV) as “crap”.
According to Arthur, the captain is actually “fighting a lot of mental demons” and needs space.
Smith had scores of 1, 0, 0 and 79 in the ODIs. In the first Test, he managed 5 and 10.
While the Indians have named Munaf Patel in the XII — eventually, the fear of his breaking down may well see him in the dressing room — speedster Dale Steyn is “80 per cent fit” and unlikely to keep his place. Morne Morkel should come in.
Given that the somewhat fickle weather hasn’t exactly interfered with the preparations, the wicket ought to play true.
“All we want is pace and bounce, not seam movement (as at the Wanderers). Kingsmead is expected to give that,” said Arthur.
Dravid felt the wicket looks “good”.