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India's Kingsmead Test record a daunting harbinger

Trevor Chesterfield

Updated: December 22, 2010, 10:19 AM IST
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Ask Gary Kirsten what he remembers about playing his only Test against India at Kingsmead in Durban and he would no doubt rather talk about another game. That would be the last one of the 20th Century where he scored 275 against England. It was his tenth century at this level and an innings that saved a Test and a series.

In that 1996 Boxing Day game against India, Kirsten recorded an unspectacular two in each innings: although the Hansie Cronje led side went on to win that game by 328 runs. These days, Boxing Day is known locally as the Day of Goodwill. Not that there was too much of that spread over the three days the match lasted.

Indians do not enjoy being reminded how in 1996/97 they lost by 328 runs; Allan Donald's match figures of nine for 54 making for interesting reading as well. Mention the second innings total of 66 and many Indians are likely to aim an assegai at your back, explaining how they do not approve of such reminders.

Yet it is such figures as these, painful as they are, after the Centurion defeat by an innings and 25 runs, which go some way to making up a tradition in trying to build it into an icon event. Truth of the matter, Kingsmead has not been kind to India. Three defeats and a draw (including the Friendship Series of 1992/93) in four visits explains how the record is heavily loaded in favour of South Africa.

Heavy atmosphere and a holiday season always helps bring an audience. Kingsmead though is not the spectator friendly venue or environment you get at Centurion, but the Indian population helps swell the support for the tourists and that is a good sign.

This time though, Kirsten will want to bury the memories of his own efforts of 14 summers earlier at Kingsmead in an effort to bolster bruised ego after India's crashlanding at Centurion. It is a bitter pill to swallow. So much hope, so much disappointment and few roti crumbs of comfort to digest. Not even the Sachin Tendulkar 50th Test century landmark was going to plug a team's sinking hopes.

Before looking ahead to Durban, trying to explain to non-South Africans (and even Asians) the inspiring emotion behind such a Test series with India has much to do with the shaky relationship between the two nations down the years. There was much political imbroglio during the post Mahatma Gandhi and apartheid era, yet it is now all but a footnote. A paragraph in the history of the two nations divided by the Indian Ocean in danger of being forgotten.

After all, is it not at Pietermaritzburg, after being callously thrown off the train by a mindless official that gave birth to, and inspired Gandhi to carry out his Satyagraha campaign? It was an act that challenged the order of the Raj establishment, altering Indian's political landscape as well as inspiring Nelson Mandela's own insurrection against inhuman legislative laws.

It explains the underlying reasons how such history has created its own traditions, fraught as these are through past political machinations that led to inspirational hope. In time it will eventually create a Test series that will involve such motivating performances as the Tendulkar 50th century; the Jacque Kallis first double century after 15 years and the bowling performances that have gone before.

Last time India played a Test at this venue, six of the current touring side were present and six of the South African side with Tendulkar a veteran of the five tours and seven visits if the 2003 World Cup and the 2009 Champions Trophy are part of that package. It was a Test where Rahul Dravid's side faced a target of 354 to clinch the series after the historic win at The Wanderers.

India fell short by 174 runs after being dismissed for 179 in 55.1 overs, Tendulkar falling fifth ball of the last morning with Makhaya Ntini cleaning up the innings to end the game with match figures of 8/90; not as compelling as were Donald's figures of nine for 54 a decade earlier. While talk is all about Zaheer Khan's return, it was Shanthakumaran Sreesanth's eight for 188 last time in Durban who was India's top bowler in that game. Both bowlers are available this time.

Four years ago it was Morne Morkel who made his debut while the tormentor Dale Steyn was yet to be recalled to the side and AB de Villiers was starting his career.

How history will treat this second Test of the series depends on the bowling strengths and success of both sides. The left-arm fast bowler Wayne Parnell has been recalled; possible replacement for the other left-arm quick, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and JP Duminy is in the mix as well, although why is a matter of conjecture.

South Africa's team has become more professional under the guidance of Corrie van Zyl. From the old school of though and discipline, and a former fast bowler of note in his day, he is a no-nonsense sort. It has been this discipline which began to establish itself on the tour of India earlier this year where he had to take over the role from Mickey Arthur, whose vision of the way forward was not quite in keeping with the often transformation thinking within the political conclave running the board of directors of Cricket South Africa.

Van Zyl's style of management was also seen in the United Arab Emirates where the ODI series was won, but flat pitches created problems for the bowlers. They were always going to defy a result. It explains Pakistan's negative 'home philosophy'. From this the South African bowlers are highly motivated to win the Tests against what is on paper a powerful batting side.

Apart from the inability of India's bowlers to make an impression at Centurion, it should be recalled they also struggled at times against an underpowered New Zealand side the batting too is out of sync. Suresh Raina, so assured in his debut series in Sri Lanka was showing embarrassingly faux skills at Centurion and a technique that questioned his ability. It means that Cheteshwar Pujara can get a recall.

India, so assured with Test series wins over Australia and New Zealand, hyped as No1, are showing signs of confusion in the ranks. South Africa's disciplined aggressiveness at Centurion has shaken their confidence and left many questions to be answered. Raina failed to take on the responsibility in either innings at Centurion and it is why Pujara is the most likely replacement with Zaheer taking over from the 19-year-old Jaidev Unadkat.

History suggests that India's record at Kingsmead is unlikely to change. What it needs is a major turn around in the team's bowling resources and strengths. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has expressed doubts at its ability to take 20 wickets, and this is the crux of India's tour dilemma.

First Published: December 22, 2010, 10:19 AM IST

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