Second Test preview: South Africa v India


While last week's empathic draw in Johannesburg served as a reminder that Test cricket can be as strange as it is interesting, the fact that new world number one Vernon Philander has yet to play a Test match in Durban can be viewed as mind-blowing, to say the least.

While last week's empathic draw in Johannesburg served as a reminder that Test cricket can be as strange as it is interesting, the fact that new world number one Vernon Philander has yet to play a Test match in Durban can be viewed as mind-blowing, to say the least.

Philander should finally get that opportunity when South Africa host India in a series decider at Kingsmead, which gets underway on Boxing Day and chances are that he may even bowl the first over on a track known for the unprecedented assistance it provides to seam bowlers.

The 28-year-old missed out on the chance to have a crack on 'the green mamba' when he sustained a knee injury in training following a phenomenal 10-wicket haul in 2011 against Sri Lanka in Centurion. Instead he watched as Marchant de Lange made a dream debut on the unpredictable Durban track where he returned seven first-innings wickets.

It would therefore not come as a surprise if Philander has a field day in Durban as his reputation for getting lateral movement on lively wickets is at the heart of his new status as the world's best Test bowler.

And with the threat of rain interrupting play, getting a result may very well depend on the mood he is in. Tough as it is likely to be for both sets of batsmen, India will take confidence in the fact that they were hardly the bewildered figures everyone thought they would be at the Wanderers, where the ball often flew past the bat at speeds they would not have experienced in the sub-continent.

They managed to deal with Dale Steyn, who picked up one wicket in that match, and will again look to openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan to survive those crucial opening overs. The pair will, however, be required to set up far greater platforms than they did during the first Test.

Of course, it'll be the retiring Jacques Kallis' last Test too. The veteran all-rounder's prolific career has been entirely documented. Whether you believe he is the greatest ever or not is inconsequential. Fans and foes alike, though, will trust this final fixture will be marked by a telling performance by the talisman.

While both batsmen did well to see off the new ball, neither managed to capitalise on the starts as they left the responsibility of posting a solid total at the door of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.

On the bowling front, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan are likely to share Philander's excitement to get their hands on the cherry in Durban, although Ravichandran Ashwin's role could mean the difference between success and failure. Ashwin was always going to struggle in Johannesburg where the track only starts turning late on the fifth day, while in Durban the incoming tide often brings with it a cluster of wickets.

With batting conditions likely to leave most of the top-order men with sleepless nights, the Proteas may opt to include Robin Peterson ahead of Imran Tahir who failed to find his groove in the last outing. Peterson is far more competent with the willow and is more than capable to hold up his end.

As for the injured Morne Morkel's absence, Kyle Abbott, who took nine wickets on debut has been drafted in as a replacement and is likely to start when considering his form in the domestic arena. When considering the boardroom shenanigans that preceded this tour, another draw might be the fairest way for this series to end.

<b>Key Men</b><br>His stock delivery is aimed at that fourth stump, angling away from the right-handers, while most top-order batsmen would be proud of the leading left-elbow he sports when stroking a bad ball through the covers. His name is <b>Vernon Philander</b> and Kingsmead could become his favourite hunting ground.

Every team needs a rock at number four – especially when batting conditions are as difficult as they are likely to be near the beach. <b>Virat Kohli</b> might also have a mental edge over most of the men he is likely to face in the series, while it would not be the first time that a part-time bowler makes a huge difference in Durban.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2013: First Test: Match drawn in Johannesburg<br>2010: Third Test: Match drawn in Cape Town<br>2010: Second Test: India won by 87 runs in Durban<br>2010: First Test: South Africa won by an innings and 25 runs in Centurion<br>2010: Second Test: India won by an innings and 125 runs in Kolkata

<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>South Africa:</i>Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott.

<i>India:</i>Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (captain, wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma.

<b>Dates:</b> 26 to 30 December<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:30-12:30 (08:30-10:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 (11:10-13:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:30-17:30 (13:30-15:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Rod Tucker and Steve Davis<br><b>Third umpire:</b> Adrian Holdstock<br><b>Match referee:</b> Andy Pycroft

<b>Michael Mentz</b>