It’s not the first time that a visiting team had driven into Kingsmead and walked straight out to the track at the center. Pitch inspections have always been a dominant part of pre-match team activities for tourists at Durban. It was coach Duncan Fletcher who was out first followed by opener Rohit Sharma,who sauntered in,both hands in the pockets. Neither spent too much time in analysing the 22-yard strip. It wasn’t required.
On Saturday,the only way to make out the exact location of the match pitch,were the two stumps placed on either end on the Kingsmead square. For,from a distance,it looked no different than the lush outfield.
“This is the Rainbow Nation after all. The pitch too needs to have some colour,” said curator Winston Ngobese. “Looks exactly like the outfield. I am not going to complain about that,” Dale Steyn added. There was no roller in sight either only a collection of tyres to keep the covers in place,in case the ominous dark clouds hanging over Durban had their say. And with Vernon Philander set to return,it is a welcome that the Indians,beleaguered after the hammering at the Wanderers two days ago,could have done without.
Away from the field,Durban might have been a second-home for visiting Indian teams and though they did win a Test match here during their last tour,they have always received a nasty welcome at Kingsmead. Not only have they never beaten the South Africans here in an ODI,they are also yet to cross the 250-run mark against the hosts. The last time they even crossed 200 here against the Proteas was back in 1997.
India were polished off for 91 and 154 during their last two 50-over outings at Kingsmead,losing on both occasions by heavy margins of 157 runs and 135 runs respectively.
Having said that,it would be harsh to write the Indian batsmen off based on one performance,however disappointing. The target was a stiff one,and this wasn’t Jaipur or Mohali where chasing over 350 just meant keeping your wickets intact and targeting every bowler on the horizon. At Johannesburg,India,and Rohit in particular,also had to contend with one of the most intimidating ODI spells in recent times,courtesy Steyn. It took Dhoni’s customary counter-attacking innings to ensure India avoided the humiliation of being bowled out within 150.
With the second ODI not to be played under lights,Dhoni will not have to worry about the dew factor unlike against the recent series against Australia and the Windies. India’s best chance could still be facing the challenge head-on by batting first and putting runs on the board,and bringing into play South Africa’s susceptibility at chasing totals. As portentous as the pitch might seem,the boundaries at Kingsmead are small and the outfield quick. But the question remains,whether the likes of Rohit,Dhawan and Kohli can survive for long enough to make the most of them.
That also means that the Indian bowling attack will have to get its act together and not throw up freebies to the South Africans like they did on Thursday. The pitch ideally should hold a lot of promise for the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami and it’s very likely that the Indians will look to add some firepower to their arsenal with the inclusion of Umesh Yadav.
Inclement weather ensured that both teams had to be content with practising indoors on the eve of the match. On Sunday,Dhoni & Co will have their tete-a-tete with the Kingsmead special-weather relenting-one where they will have to prove that the marauding world champions are still a dominant force,regardless of the colour of the pitch.
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