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Since 1st March, 1999
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Indians have to survive first session
- I don’t think declaration was delayed, says former SA captain Kepler Wessels
Sreesanth celebrates with teammates after dismissing Ashwell Prince for a duck on Day IV of second Test in Durban on Friday. (Reuters)

Durban: The debate over whether Graeme Smith should’ve declared half-an-hour earlier will continue, but he needed to respect Team India’s batting. Some, of course, may question whether such esteem had to be shown.

Set a target of 354 — 14 more than the highest achieved by any team in South Africa — the Indians were struggling on 38 for two when poor light again forced an early end, this time to Day IV of the second Castle Test. A shade over 60 overs were bowled, a marginal improvement on the last two days.

The wicket is still playing well (“it’s fair enough” remarked Mahendra Singh Dhoni), but the South Africans are going to go flat out to make it 1-1 ahead of the Cape Town Test. On paper, the Indians have the calibre to save the Test but, eventually, the weather can frustrate Smith more.

According to the forecast, there’s a 60 per cent chance of rain in the Kingsmead area.

“As a South African, I’m confident we need just 50 overs to bowl India out... Initially, we’d been looking to set a target of 320, but got runs at the end which came as a bonus” is what former captain Mark Boucher said.

“We’ve already got two big wickets — (Virender Sehwag) Veeru, who could’ve taken the attack to us and Rahul Dravid, who could buy time... Tomorrow, we’ll be targeting Sachin (Tendulkar) and the in-form V.V.S. Laxman,” he added.

Smith’s declaration came at the fall of Morne Morkel’s wicket (265 for eight), not long before tea. The Indians did well in the extended first session, which has been helping the bowlers appreciably, but faltered after lunch.

Shaun Pollock and Andrew Hall added 70 for the seventh-wicket and, then, Durban’s favourite son and debutant Morkel put on 52 for the eighth. Pollock remained unbeaten on 63, an innings which knocked one possibility — an Indian win — out of the frame.

Dhoni, though, preferred not to rule out anything. “It’s evenly poised... Depends on how we’re placed at tea, but it’s a fact that no team has scored even 300 on a single day in this series... The weather is also a factor... If we have wickets in hand (at tea), then we could go for the runs... We’re going to be positive...”

The Team India wicketkeeper isn’t, obviously, thinking of the fatal collapses in Karachi and Mumbai (against England) earlier this year.

Dhoni has a “badly bruised” right middle finger, but maintained he was “fit" to bat. “I’ve been taking a few hits, but it hasn’t broken... That’s the good thing...” He regretted getting out in the manner he did on Thursday. “If I cut out the cover drive I’ll be in a position to score more for the team...”

To an extent, Dhoni defended yet another failure to get off to a decent start (“the Kookaburra does things when new” and that the lack of a solid launch was “part and parcel” of the game), but Sehwag seems to have lost it in the mind.

Not only are the former vice-captain’s feet not moving, his confidence has hit rock bottom. It’s time his agony was put to an end; it’s time the thinktank looked towards one Gautam Gambhir.

Dravid could consider himself unlucky, for it appears the Makhaya Ntini delivery didn’t make contact with the bat. The noise, it seems, came from the bat hitting the pad. Asad Rauf, however, felt otherwise and upheld the appeal for a catch by Boucher.

Ntini had taken out Sehwag as well.

Wasim Jaffer has, for a change, looked good and with him is Sachin Tendulkar, under whose captaincy he made his Test debut (versus South Africa) nearly seven years ago.

Earlier, Smith compiled a half-century — first of the series — and that’s bound to lift his confidence. Among the Indians, the bindaas Sreesanth returned the best figures, four for 79, to total a handsome 16 wickets from two Tests.

He’s a frontrunner for the MoS award.

Looking ahead, former South African captain Kepler Wessels told The Telegraph: “The weather stays the biggest factor, but the first session is again going to be an extended one... We’re favourites and, personally, I don’t think the declaration was delayed...”

All eyes, then, on session No.1 which starts at 1.00 pm (IST).

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