Among many theories that try to explain why December 26 is known as Boxing Day, the most popular is the one about Christmas Box with gifts in them. And it would be just the right day for MS Dhoni and his pampered mates who are showered with freebies every now and then. Guess what, they have got one more: a coffee-brown pitch for the second and final Test starting here on Thursday.
After undergoing another round of ‘shaving’ on match-eve, the strip resembles a sub-continental one. Yes, it will provide swing –– it always does –– but will play largely slow. It’s obvious that the fast bowlers will have to work harder than they did on the fast and bouncy pitch in Johannesburg.
And let’s hope the rain stays away.
That’s not all. Once a Protea bastion, Kingsmead is more like a no-go zone for the hosts. The last four Tests haven’t gone South Africa’s way. In fact, they lost each of those: by 175 runs to Australia in 2009, by an innings and 98 runs to England later that year, by 87 runs to India in 2010 and to Sri Lanka –– yes, you read right –– by 208 runs in 2011. That was the Islanders’ first victory on these shores.
Here’s more: Simon Katich (3/45), Graeme Swann (5/54), Harbhajan Singh (4/10 & 2/70) and Rangana Herath (4/49 & 5/79) played significant roles in these surprising reversals.
After last week’s humdinger at the Wanderers, India couldn’t have asked for a better pitch to force a historic win. Till date, South Africa and Australia are the only countries where we haven’t registered a series win. Five –– even lesser, perhaps –– of application, character and defiance, and Indian fans could be in for a real treat.
In spite of coming up with a brilliant show and ‘winning’ four out of the five days in Johannesburg, India just about stopped Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers from doing the unthinkable. They will have to do all things right all over again. And that is: bat first, frustrate Dale Steyn by leaving the ball, attack the spinners, score runs, put their batsmen under relentless pressure, take the lead, bowl well, bat well again and hope to wreak havoc on Day Five.
But most importantly, they must play an extra spinner. For that, Dhoni will have to drop either a batsman or one of the pacers. That would be neither desirable nor possible. The least he can do is replace an out-of-sorts R Ashwin with Ravindra Jadeja or, for that matter, Pragyan Ojha. Having said that, Jadeja has been batting in the nets; Ashwin hasn’t. Also, Duncan Fletcher asked Rohit Sharma to bowl off-spin for well over half-an-hour during the nets on Tuesday. India will make do with one frontline spinner and part-timers like Sharma, Virat Kohli and M Vijay. Of course, their returns will be directly proportional to their effectiveness.
Morne Morkel, who suffered twisted his ankle in terrible fashion on Day Four of the first Test, is recovering. He even batted in the nets on Wednesday. South Africa expect him to pass the fitness test on Thursday morning. But in case he doesn’t, they have Kyle Abbott, a big and burl right-armer who picked up nine wickets in his only Test!
Whoever wins, this Test match will be remembered as the 166thand last Jacques Kallis’s illustrious career. By far the greatest all-rounder of the modern era and, for many, the greatest cricketer of all time, he will be the cynosure of all eyes. How about a Kallis classic but an Indian win? That would make everybody happy. It’s Boxing Day, after all.