Durban - Boxing Day Tests at Kingsmead haven’t been kind to South Africa in the recent past and the Proteas, with momentum going their way after the epic draw at the Wanderers, would want to erase the bad memories they have of this ground when they meet India in the second Sunfoil Test, starting on Thursday.
Four losses in the past five visits - their only win came against a weak West Indies outfit - lays bare the fact that the Proteas believe they cannot win at this famous Test venue. Their losses came against Australia (March 2009), England (December 2009), India (December 2010) and Sri Lanka (December 2011).
With the Wanderers encounter contested on hi-octane, high emotions and sapping energies, the battle for supremacy in this final Test could depend a lot on the fitness levels of key players in both teams.
Zaheer Khan, who has a wicked knack of bowling those toe-crunching yorkers and his swingers, was worked to the bone in the first Test - 35 overs in the final innings - while Ishant Sharma bowled his heart out during the 29 overs while Mohammad Shami trundled in 28 overs. That’s a huge workload and there could be question marks over their ability to rise again.
The South Africans - on the other hand - do not have that problem but will have to handle their emotions, which rose to unbelievable levels when they came eight runs short of the winning target to eventually earn a creditable draw.
There were a couple of South Africans who produced quality innings - Alviro Petersen and Faf du Plessis - to save their Test careers. Before the Adelaide Test against Australia more than a year ago, Du Plessis did not believe he could bat four sessions.
Now he’s done it for a second time and believes his effort at the Wanderers was far more challenging and tougher because of seam movement.
“I’m very satisfied that we pulled it through,” said Du Plessis, who scored 134 in a record 205 for the fifth wicket with AB de Villiers (103).
“A lot of people had written us off at the start of the day. The character and pride of this team pulled us through again.”
“Before Adelaide I didn’t believe I could bat for four sessions. The innings in Adelaide was special, but this was much more challenging. The wicket was much tougher. In Adelaide there was not much seam movement.”
Du Plessis has once again entrenched himself in the Test team and will be looking for more of the same at Kingsmead, along with the other South African batsmen.
India’s star, Virat Kohli, who is undeniable one of the world’s most attractive young batmen around and a credit to his country - he scored a century and fell four short of a second in the Wanderers Test - is still the man to watch in Durban.
Though he said that India were jolted as South Africa accelerated towards the winning target, India had their wits about them as the match progressed.
“Everyone was pretty shocked, honestly,” said Kohli, who was Man of the Match at the Wanderers.
“We didn’t think they would stop going for the score, because with eight runs an over and with Vernon Philander striking the ball pretty well, they had a chance.
“We had our plans and that was going for the wickets, but to see them not going for that score was pretty surprising for all of us.”
With Kohli in fine form and Cheteshwar Pujara, who also scored a big hundred, showing great leadership qualities as batsmen in the key areas, India are certainly on par with the Proteas in this final encounter, starting on Thursday.
Meanwhile the Kingsmead track that has been chosen for the match has been used just once this season - for a Momentum Cup game.
It is, according to curator Wilson Ngobese, a nice, hard track which will have a bit of grass on it but he adds it will be a fair pitch for both teams.
Ngobese, who chose the No 4 strip, added that application of skills would be the key to success over the five days.
Ngobese: “It will be a good Test wicket. It will have something for everyone in it. There will be a nice bounce and carry. It will help the quick bowlers and there will be something in it for the spinners as well.
“To make runs, the batsman will need to apply themselves. That’s why I say it will be a good, fair and the usual track on offer at Kingsmead for the two teams.”
The weather in Durban has been good over the past week, with the sun beating down and the forecast for the five days of the Test is partly cloudy but there’s a chance of rain each day. The other factor is that once the sun has goes down over Berea, so does the light at Kingsmead - and each day of a Test loses valuable time.
No matter what, there could be another battle for supremacy - as was seen at the Wanderers in the past week.
What a pity the boards - Cricket South Africa and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (both control freaks) - have reduced and ruined what could have been a superb series of four Test matches into a two-match contest between the two best teams in world cricket ... and all because of a personality clash.
While the No 1 and No 2 teams play out a two-match Test contest, England and Australia will meet for the ninth time this year at the MCG, with a 10th game scheduled for Sydney in the New Year.
South Africa have, in the meantime, managed to play just two Tests at home since the last - against Pakistan in February. And if you add the two in the UAE, it makes four in total - just not good enough if you are No 1 in the world.
The Proteas at Kingsmead - The last five tests:
January 10-12, 2008
West Indies 139 (SM Pollock 4-35) and 317 (MN Samuels 105, DJ Bravo 75; DW Steyn 6-72)
South Africa 556-4* (GC Smith 147, HM Amla 69, JH Kallis 74, AG Prince 123*, AB de Villiers 103*)
South Africa won by an innings and 100 runs
March 6-10, 2009
Australia 352 (PJ Hughes 115, SM Katich 108, MEK Hussey 50) and 331-5* (PJ Hughes 160, RT Ponting 81)
South Africa 138 (J-P Duminy 73*) and 370 (JH Kallis 93, AB de Villiers 84)
Australia won by 175 runs
December 26-30, 2009
South Africa 343 (GC Smith 75, JH Kallis 75, AB de Villiers 50; GP Swann 4-110) and 133 (GP Swann 5-54, SCJ Broad 4-43)
England 574-9* (AJ Strauss 54, AN Cook 118, PD Collingwood 91, IR Bell 140, MJ Prior 60)
England won by an innings and 98 runs
December 26-29, 2010
India 205 (DW Steyn 6-50) and 228 (VVS Laxman 96)
South Africa 131 (Harbhajan Singh 4-10) and 215
India won by 87 runs
December 26-29, 2011
Sri Lanka 338 (TT Samaraweera 102, LD Chandimal 58; M de Lange 7-81) and 279 (KC Sangakkara 108, LD Chandimal 54; DW Steyn 5-73)
South Africa 168 (HM Amla 54; UWMBCA Welagedara 5-52, HMRKB Herath 4-49) and 241 (HM Amla 51, AB de Villiers 69; HMRKB Herath 5-79)
Sri Lanka won by 208 runs