x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Dhoni's India eye historic victory

Test cricket's leading teams head play the decider in Cape Town, starting today, and there are signs of bad blood between them.

India have the opportunity to win their first Test series on South African soil as Sachin Tendulkar practises.
India have the opportunity to win their first Test series on South African soil as Sachin Tendulkar practises.
CAPE TOWN // Test cricket's leading teams head for a series-deciding third Test in Cape Town, starting today, and there are signs of bad blood between them.

India powered back into contention in the three-match contest against South Africa - and revived hopes of a historic first series win in the country - with an 87-run victory in the second Test in Durban. They lost the first match by an innings.

India's win at Kingsmead was inspired by good, aggressive fast bowling from Zaheer Khan and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, but Sreesanth's sledging of Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, has now ensured that an already-dramatic decider will be even more fiercely contested.

Smith refused to say after the match what Sreesanth's comments were, but they have been criticised as personal insults by the South Africans and have added some spite to the rivalry between the teams ranked No 1 and No 2 in the Test standings.

And, for the second time in successive series, the teams now face a crunch game at Newlands - Smith's home ground.

When India last toured South Africa, in 2006/07, the teams also played out a decider in Cape Town, which the Proteas won to clinch a fourth successive home series triumph over India.

Then, South Africa rebounded from a first Test defeat to win the next two games in Durban and Cape Town for a come-from-behind 2-1 series win. This time, the momentum is swinging the other way.

The top-ranked India fought back after a heavy loss in Centurion in the opener and the South Africans are now under fire after they were outplayed in the Indians' series-levelling triumph - and their much-praised batting line-up failed. No South African batsman made a half-century in the match, with Ashwell Prince's second-innings 39 not out the best performance.

Smith conceded it was his batsmen - who scored 620 for four declared in the first match - who were at fault for the defeat.

"It's the first time in a long time that our batters have let us down," Smith said. "I thought India created a lot of pressure on us. Credit to India for bouncing back after the first Test. That's why they are the No 1 team in the world and it bodes well for the third match.

"The Newlands Test match is always an incredible Test match to play ... and now that the series is set up at one-all it is going to be even bigger."

The Indians have their sights set on a first series success in five attempts in the country after the Durban win - just the second in 14 Tests in South Africa - rejuvenated the tourists and confirmed their No 1 Test ranking. South Africa could have overtaken India with a 3-0 series win.

After an innings and 25-run loss in the first game, India found a way back with aggressive bowling, which is normally South Africa's strength. Zaheer and Sreesanth and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh led the as India rebounded from being bowled out for 136 in the first innings of the series to bowl out South Africa for 131 and 215 for a third consecutive loss in Durban for the hosts.

However, in a seesaw series, the home team will be boosted by a strong record at Newlands where only the Australians have won a Test since South Africa was readmitted to international cricket, post-apartheid. South Africa last lost a Test at Newlands in 2006 and in 21 matches since 1993 there have been 14 victories, with just three defeats to Australia.

"Our bowling, our batting and our fielding have to be at their best if we want to win the next Test," MS Dhoni, the India captain, said. "It's a big challenge for us ... everyone wants to perform really well."