Proteas upbeat ahead of second Test

South Africa are confident of burying India’s spin threat yet again with a determined batting performance in the second Test starting in Ahmedabad on Thursday.

The visitors kept the spin duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh at bay in the drawn opening Test in Chennai as they posted 540 in the first innings and 331-5 in the second, gaining a psychological boost in the process.

Visiting teams often come a cropper against spin on low, slow turning tracks in India, but South Africa have shown they have the batsmen to deliver in these conditions, a point already conceded by home captain Kumble.

Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and leg-spinner Kumble have been a formidable pair at home for a long time, but failed to keep pressure on the South African batsmen in hot and humid conditions in Chennai despite sharing 11 wickets.

South Africa have been doing remarkably well in the subcontinent in recent months, having won Test series in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“I think we have played spin well this season in Pakistan, Bangladesh and here. We have generally proved we can play it well. I am very happy with the way the top six have performed,” said South Africa captain Graeme Smith.

Neil McKenzie (94 and 155 not out) and Hashim Amla (159 and 81) exposed India’s pace-spin combination on a docile track in Chennai, ensuring their side go into the second Test with heads held high.

Former India all-rounder Ravi Shastri said the hosts would need to work harder to keep the South African batsmen under pressure in the remaining two matches in Ahmedabad and Kanpur, where pitches are traditionally slow.

“This South African team would be difficult to overcome,” said Shastri.
“However benign the pitch might have been at Chennai, there is little doubt India have tough guests at home.

“India’s strength is spin and the visitors have batsmen who are up for it. The Proteas made formidable scores in both innings without Jacques Kallis (13 and 19) coming to party. It’s an ominous sign.”

With curator Dhiraj Prasana promising a “sporting” track, India expect their bowlers to fire in a bid to seize the initiative in the three-Test series. The final match starts in Kanpur on April 11.

Meanwhile, India were on Wednesday sweating over the fitness of Kumble.

Kumble, the third highest wicket-taker in Test cricket, suffered a groin strain in the first Test and did not take the field in the final two sessions.

“We just have to wait. We’ll take a final call tomorrow [Thursday] morning,” Kumble told a news conference.

India are already without batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar, ruled out of the match after aggravating a groin injury in the previous game. He was replaced with Mohammad Kaif, returning to the side after more than a year.

That India’s batting flourished without Tendulkar’s contribution (0) at Chennai was mainly due to Virender Sehwag, who hit the fastest triple-century in Tests, and Rahul Dravid, who scored a hundred to join the 10 000-run club.

India managed to gain a lead after posting 627 following heroics from Sehwag and Dravid, but their remaining batsmen were found wanting against an inspired South African pace attack, led by Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn.—AFP, Reuters

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