India aim to shrug off another slow start

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> India will have to shrug off another slow start to a Test series as they aim to draw level with South Africa in the second Test.

Updated: December 24, 2010 15:20 IST
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India will have to shrug off another slow start to a Test series and adjust to the possibility of another pacemen's paradise as they aim to draw level with South Africa in the second contest between cricket's best teams.

The series-opener in the much-hyped showdown between top-ranked India and No. 2-ranked South Africa was one-sided in favor of the Proteas -- and continued a recent trend for India.

South Africa's innings-and-25-run win at Centurion was the third time in India's last five series that it has lost the opening match. And yet, India is unbeaten in its last nine series.

"Often we don't do well in the first Test," captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said when India arrived in Durban for the second Test, which begins on Sunday. "The first Test often goes badly, but after that we have come back really well in the series."

As well as at Centurion, India also lost first Tests at home against South Africa and Sri Lanka this year, before recovering to save both series. They drew their first two matches against a struggling New Zealand team last month before winning the decider.

"Again, we're off to a bad start, but we are used to it and hopefully we'll fight our way back in the next game," Dhoni added.

After a short break at the Sun City casino resort up in the North West province, India are in the east coast city which is home to a large Indian community and which will give the tourists near-hometown support.

But, if the tourists were gambling on a pitch suited to their game, they will be disappointed by the rain in the lead up to the match -- which could produce another green surface at Durban's Kingsmead and favor the South African quicks.

They may be used to slow starts in their series, but India are yet to cope with the fast, bouncy and swing-friendly surfaces in South Africa that have contributed to their losing all four of their previous Test series in the country.

After winning the toss on a helpful pitch at Centurion, South Africa pace pair Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel set up victory for the home team by taking 14 of the 20 India wickets.

India have never won in Durban, losing the last two of their three Tests, by 328 runs in 1996 and 174 runs in 2006 -- India's last series here. In 1996, India were bowled out for 66 at Kingsmead, their lowest Test score vs South Africa.

Refreshed by their two-day break, India will also be boosted by the return of their own fast bowling spearhead, Zaheer Khan, who has recovered from the hamstring problem that kept him out of the first Test, according to Dhoni.

In Zaheer's absence, India's inexperienced fast-bowling lineup struggled at SuperSport Park, with only Ishant Sharma (2-120) achieving any kind of success. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and 19-year-old debutant Jaidev Unadkat went wicketless in South Africa's 620-4 declared.

The 32-year-old Zaheer, who has 261 wickets in 76 Tests, will improve India's bowling attack and their chances of unsettling South Africa's inform batsmen.

"It's not that when Zaheer plays he always get wickets," Dhoni said. "What is good about him is the amount of experience he has and the way he comes up with new ideas during the course of the game.

"It's difficult to say what would have happened if he had played the first Test, but Zaheer will be back and he is a key player for us."

Zaheer will likely replace Unadkat in India's starting 11, but on other changes to India's lineup Dhoni said "you will have to wait and watch."

South Africa head to the second Test from a near-perfect start to the series - and are unlikely to make any changes.

Leading bowlers Steyn and Morkel took seven wickets each at Centurion, and all five of the Proteas batsmen used in their first innings made big scores.

Openers Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen had half-centuries, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers made powerful centuries and Jacques Kallis recorded a first double century to send India to a heavy defeat, their seventh loss in 13 Tests in South Africa. India have won just one Test in the country, with a draw and two losses at Kingsmead.

"It's obviously a huge advantage for us," said Smith, the South Africa captain. "The pressure is on India, but we have worked hard to be in this position and we've put in all the practice to ensure we are at our best for this Test."

There is reason for some caution from the home team after two losses in their last two games in Durban: By 179 runs to Australia and an innings and 98 runs to England, both last year.

"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves." Smith said. "We've had a great start and obviously want to carry it on and to go 2-0 up would be absolutely fantastic."

Durban has added significance in the history of South Africa-India cricket matches. It is the ground where South Africa played their first-ever home Test, post apartheid, in 1992 - their first-ever Test vs India.

The drawn match, also South Africa's first at home in 22 years, was against an India team containing a 19-year-old Sachin Tendulkar. He's 37 now and classier than ever.

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