Dhoni men eye final flourish

Jan. 1: Die Kaapse dokter is the local name for the strong, persistent and dry south-easterly wind that blows on the South African coast from spring to late summer. The wind coupled with the hot sun that bakes down in the months of December and January gives the conditions in and around Newlands a slightly more Indian feel to it.

Right now, with the Test series tantalisingly poised at 1-1, Mahendra Singh Dhoni would love that piece of trivia. Going into the third and final Test against South Africa beginning on Sunday, India are on the cusp of greatness and would be keeping a beady eye on anything they could use to their advantage and go back home with their first series success in five attempts in the country.

India are coming off a memorable win in the Boxing Day Test in conditions most alien to them, having more or less weathered criticism of their No.1 ranking. The Indian batsmen, led by VVS Laxman, managed to battle the conditions for a longer time than their South African counterparts, playing for 136 overs against Dale Steyn and Co. as against 110 by the opposition.

Pacers from both sides struck, but the Indians, spearheaded by Zaheer Khan were just a tad bit earlier on the trigger. Causing a batting side like South Africa to collapse, based on their current form, is an envious feat. And the Indian bowlers did it twice.

The players have instilled an unmistakable buoyancy in their body language. And offie Harbhajan Singh’s haul in South Africa’s first innings just enforces it.

But wins can sometimes brush under the carpet, key areas that haven’t been fully polished. Take away the match-turning 70-run stand between V.V.S. Laxman and Zaheer and suddenly the 87-run difference between the two teams in Durban doesn’t seem so huge. The Proteas were also pegged back by two dodgy leg before decisions, against AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher — both off Zaheer in the second innings.

“Back in India we always say that game can change dramatically on the fourth and fifth days. Here, it’s any time on any day. Four wickets fall in one session and it’s all over for you,” Dhoni said on Saturday. “That’s why more than momentum, it’s being aware of slipping that plays a more crucial role in South Africa.”

The Newlands’ conditions, more than momentum, is what Dhoni would be focusing on. Unlike in Durban, the pitch here is brown in colour and is expected to undergo another haircut before the start of play. The Indian players, who had a long look at it on Saturday, will relish it more than the home team as it is expected to last all five days and provide assistance to spin.

India will also a field a full-strength team for the first time on the tour with regular opener Gautam Gambhir returning from injury and replacing Murali Vijay at the top. This is without doubt India’s best opportunity to rectify their unimpressive Test record in South Africa and send across a message to the cricket world.

Over the past few years, India have managed to create ripples with Test wins in these two countries, but an away series win against the two cricketing powerhouses has consistently eluded them.

Over the next five days, they have a chance to create a big splash. Possibly big enough to be heard Down Under, where a barely-recognisable Australian outfit is repeatedly being pounded by the Englishmen.

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