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By Gaurav Joshi
Nearly two decades ago, Durban was perceived as South African cricket’s fortress akin to Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) Ground. The memories of Indian batting line-up being blown away twice in a Test match in 1996 for 100 and 66 respectively, are engraved in many Indian fans memories.
There are striking resemblances between the two teams back then and now. In the 1996 Test match played at Durban, the core of the Indian batting line-up was playing in South Africa for the first time. South African bowling line-up had a familiar look about it, like what we see nowadays, a bowler with express pace in Allan Donald, a probing seamer in Shaun Pollock and a fine all-rounder in Brian McMillan. However, there has been one significant change. From 1996 to 2006, Durban was a happy hunting ground for South Africa, but over the last five years, it has been a graveyard.
From the time South Africa was re-admitted into international cricket in 1992 up till 2007, they had only lost in Durban twice. The pace and the bounce extracted by the fast bowlers in Durban have often unsettled amongst some of the finest batsmen, but in the last five years, it has been the spinners that have suddenly had an impact and the home team has suffered.
South African have lost their last four Test matches and on each occasion, spinners have made a vital contribution in at least one of the innings.
It was Australia that started to penetrate the Durban fortress in 2009. While Mitchell Johnson wreaked havoc in the first innings, Australian part-time spinners, Marcus North and Simon Katich picked up four wickets between them in the second innings to bowl Australia to victory. Later in 2009, it was Graeme Swann who spun England to an innings victory. In 2010, Harbhajan Singh’s four wickets in the first innings allowed India to sustain a healthy 80-run lead which eventually led to a remarkable win.
Then finally in 2011 against all the odds and after a former South African captain stated a South African B team was capable of toppling the Sri Lankan team, they humiliated the hosts. Once again it was a spinner that did the damage. Rangana Herath’s match figures of nine for 128 turned out to be the best figures taken by a spinner at Kingsmead.
Despite the green tinge to the wicket, India should be aware the Durban pitch is no longer a competitor to WACA and the pitch has changed in its characteristics dramatically. Even during the One-Day International (ODI) series against India, it slowed up as the game progressed. The South African flag has not flown high on the Durban fortress for some years now and with pitch likely to assist Ravichandran Ashwin, a massive opportunity awaits for India to keep the South African flag off the Durban fort.
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)
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