Stage is set for gripping finale to Test series

The tide is an integral part of Kingsmead folklore and South Africa and India arrived in Cape Town for the start of today’s decisive Test with a very real feeling that the tide may well have turned in the 18-year history of visits to this country by the Asians.

South Africa had gone to Durban confident that they could repeat their overwhelming victory at Centurion with the same aggressive ­approach: Hostile fast bowling on a bouncy pitch that would have the Indian batsmen quivering in their creases as the ball was stuck up their noses; attacking batsmen ­piling on the runs against a ­powderpuff attack.

But in a real turn-up for the books it was South Africa’s ­batsmen who failed to handle the conditions as India’s skilful bowlers and the exceptionally gifted ­batsman, Vangipurappu Laxman, set up a deserved victory.

Legend has it that when the tide is coming in in Durban, wickets fall in clumps at Kingsmead.

India held the upper hand in the second Test from the moment South Africa crashed from 67 for three to 131 all out after lunch on the second day.
The tide was indeed coming in for much of the collapse.

Laxman’s marvellous innings of 96 then set up India’s second win in 14 Tests in South Africa and the prospect of a suitably exciting conclusion at Newlands to a series between cricket’s top two nations.

India’s powerful top six suddenly seem to have the firepower to score big on South African pitches.

The attack, with the return of the talismanic Zaheer Khan, has some bite, particularly if the mercurial Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh contribute as they did on the final day when they played in Durban.

Sreesanth versus Graeme Smith round two will be a contest to relish, with the South African captain needing to atone for the rash shot he played against the combustible paceman that started his team’s troubles in the second innings.

India, their confidence buoyed, will be looking to Rahul Dravid to finally make his mark on a Newlands pitch that should be far better suited to batting than those for the first two Tests.

Virender Sehwag scored 63 in the second innings at Centurion, but there is a lingering suspicion that the devastating stroke player has not really hit his straps yet either.

Gautam Gambhir should also be fit again. And with Sachin Tendulkar, Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni all having runs behind their names in this series, there is a clear warning that the Indian batting line-up is one that South Africa’s attack cannot take lightly.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe made some important breakthroughs in Durban and has surely done enough to retain his place for the decider.

But it is the form and consistency of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel that really determine the effectiveness of the South African attack.

The match-winning 70-run eighth-wicket stand between Laxman and Zaheer in India’s second innings in Durban showed that when the two new-ball bowlers are not quite in the zone the opposition can prosper.

Whatever happens, the third Test will be a fitting finale to what has been a gripping and unpredictable series thus far.

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