DURBAN // India will have to shrug off their slow start to the 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 favour 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 they have lost the opening match. And yet, India are unbeaten in its last nine series. "Often we don't do well in the first Test," MS Dhoni, the captain, said when India arrived in Durban for the second Test, which begins tomorrow.
"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 favour the South African quicks.
They may be used to slow starts in its series, but India are yet to cope with the fast, bouncy and swing-friendly surfaces in South Africa that have contributed to them 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 was bowled out for 66 at Kingsmead, their lowest Test score against South Africa.
Refreshed by its 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 line-up 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 for four declared.
The 32-year-old Zaheer, who has 261 wickets in 76 Tests, will improve India's bowling attack and its chances of unsettling South Africa's in-form 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.
Zaheer will likely replace Unadkat in India's starting 11, but on other changes to India's line-up Dhoni said "you will have to wait and watch."