India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni faces one of the biggest challenges of his career when his team take on South Africa in the second Test which starts at Kingsmead today.
Since being appointed captain of India in 2008, Dhoni has enjoyed almost uninterrupted success at Test level, with his team unbeaten in nine series and rising to No. 1 in the International Cricket Council rankings.
Former No. 1 side Australia have been beaten twice, while England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand have also tasted defeat. But all those series have been in India.
India have gained away series wins against New Zealand and Bangladesh but both opponents are a long way from being regarded as heavyweights. A series in Sri Lanka was shared and India also shared the honors in a home series against South Africa.
Critics have pointed out that India have reached the top of the cricketing pile without having played away against the likes of Australia, England — or South Africa, their current opponents. India go into the second Test smarting after a defeat by an innings and 25 runs in the first Test at Centurion where South Africa lost only four wickets during the match.
After the match Dhoni said India took heart from a fighting performance in the second innings, when they scored 459 runs and extended the match into the fifth day.
But Dhoni admitted India’s first innings batting and the side’s bowling were below par.
Dhoni was due to hold his pre-match captain’s press conference yesterday when most South Africans were celebrating Christmas Day. But coach Gary Kirsten, a former batting star for South Africa, said on Thursday that India had prepared well — despite criticism that they took two days off after the first Test.
Kirsten said he backed India’s ability to be able to take 20 wickets, especially with the bowling attack strengthened by the return of left-arm fast bowler Zaheer Khan, who missed the first Test because of a hamstring injury.
“We have shown in the last three years that we have the ability to get 20 Test wickets in any conditions. It’s up to us to prove to everyone that we can do that,” he said.
Kirsten said application was the key for the batsmen. “I felt we were 100 runs short [in the first innings] in the last Test and we have got to apply ourselves. The preparation has been very good. The guys are working as hard as they have ever worked.”
Kirsten said it was important that at least one of the top six batsmen scored heavily to enable India to post a first innings total in excess of 400.