Christmas may gift India a chance to lick their wounds ahead of Kingsmead Test

2010-12-22 00:00

REFLECTING on the run and record fest at Centurion and the determined fightback by Australia at the Waca reminds us why Test cricket is still the ultimate contest.

The top four Test teams in world cricket battling it out and jostling for position have provided us with many memorable moments to savour.

In Perth, Australia have swung the momentum of the whole Ashes their way by levelling the series, while at Centurion, South Africa have dealt India a devastating blow from which they may well not recover.

In competitive series such as these, casualties on the losing side are inevitable. In the England camp, cracks that were concealed by two convincing Test performances have begun to show.

England arrived in Perth as a confident well-drilled unit, enjoying and buoyed up by each other’s success.

They move on to Melbourne considerably less self-assured with some of their players lacking form and unsure of their place in the team.

Celebration after Adelaide has been replaced with introspection and contemplation as England prepare for the all-important fourth Test in Melbourne. The form and batting position of Paul Collingwood, who has averaged just 15 in the series has been called into question.

Not even the highest wicket-taker in the Ashes series, Steven Finn, has escaped scrutiny. Though he has 14 wickets to his name in just three Tests, post-Perth doubts have emerged over his strength and fitness.

India were exposed and found wanting in the first Test match despite Tendulkar’s majestic milestone and resistance from Gambhir, Dravid and a potentially destructive Dhoni. Suresh Raina promised much but disappointed, as did VVS Laxman, even though he has a great batting record in South Africa.

India were hurt and humbled by some penetrative Protea bowling in admittedly favourable conditions. Spare a thought for Indian bowling coach Eric Simons who somehow has to muster his depleted bowling ­arsenal. Without a fit Zaheer Khan, his attack looks innocuous and devoid of firepower.

India have much to do to turn the three-Test series around and to prove to the world that they are worthy of their number one Test ranking.

The Christmas break may give them a chance to lick their wounds, but they will be well aware thaton Boxing Day a Kingsmead wicket renowned for its extra bounce awaits. Kingsmead curator Wilson Ngobese, accustomed to preparing wickets with a generous amount of grass covering, is unlikely to change his approach for the next Test.

One thing in India’s favour will be the fact that they can rely on considerable support from the Durban spectators — and they will need it!

South Africa are fired up and focused on wrapping up the Test series in 2010. Should they succeed they will inch ever closer to the top Test spot occupied by India — for now.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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