Saturday, January 1, 2011

Newlands sets up delicious decider

The entire series changed in a Durban minute, transferring the momentum India's way after their humiliation in Centurion. The moment that signaled India's ascent was the fall of Jacques Kallis, South Africa's best batsman, in the second innings. Sreesanth's ball reared up from short of length, darted in towards the batsman's throat and flew to gully. A familiar sight to Indians from a previous era, but with one huge twist: it was an Indian bowler who made a classy batsman hop, fend and get out.
South Africa's batsmen were looking good in Durban. Until Ishant Sharma got his fingers to a straight drive to accidentally run Kallis out in the first innings, the Indian attack looked lacklustre. It seemed that Zaheer Khan, much like Kapil Dev in those days, would end up with four or five wickets and the rest would simply leak runs. But the Indian bowlers seized the moment and South Africa collapsed. Twice.
And so the teams head into the Newlands tied at 1-1 and the series at stake. The pitch is supposedly batsman-friendly with spin expected to play a part later. The home batsmen should put up a better fight, while it will be interesting to see how their bowlers fare. Lonwabo Tsotsobe picked up a few key wickets but it seemed like it was a result of Indian batsmen trying to attack him after they saw off the tougher challenges from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. If they don't repeat the same mistakes, the burden of wicket-taking will fall upon Steyn. Will Morkel, whose forte is bounce, be as effective in the decider as he was on friendlier surfaces earlier in the series? Can Paul Harris do more than just a holding job?
Zaheer's presence makes a big difference to India. Sreesanth and Ishant grew under his wing, and India will hope they can learn to fly on their own without Zaheer's presence at mid-off. Gautam Gambhir is expected to return and Virender Sehwag, who threatened to really take off in the second innings in Durban, is due for a big knock. If the surface plays out as the curator thinks it would, the bowlers could be the deciding factor.

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