India seek batting improvement in decider

Cape Town, January 1:

India will be seeking an improvement in their top order batting in the series-deciding third and final Test against South Africa starting at Newlands on Tuesday.

“The top order batting can be a lot better,” said Indian captain Rahul Dravid after his team lost the second Test by 174 runs in Durban on Saturday. India have yet to make a solid start in the series. Virender Sehwag has made only 45 runs in four innings and is under particular pressure. Fellow opener Wasim Jaffer showed signs of form in Durban, scoring 26 and 28, but Dravid, batting at number three, has managed only 49 runs in four outings.

Dravid pointed out that both teams had struggled to make good starts on pitches which have given the bowlers some help. Sachin Tendulkar, who made his only Test half-century of 2006 in the first innings in Durban, made a thrilling 169 on his previous Test appearance at Newlands ten years ago and will hope to get 2007 off to a good start.

With the series locked at 1-1, both teams could make changes. Jacques Kallis missed the Durban Test because of back pain and is expected to return to action in his home town. Left-arm spinner Paul Harris will almost certainly make his debut on a ground where slow bowling is usually a factor.

India could also make a change to their bowling, with fast bowler Munaf Patel or off-spinner Harbhajan Singh likely to be considered ahead of VRV Singh. The fitness of Indian wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will also be checked ahead of the Test. Dhoni suffered bruising to his right middle finger while keeping wicket in Durban and took a painful blow on the same hand while batting. Dhoni was India’s most successful batsman in the second innings in Durban and earned praise from Dravid for the way he has adapted to South African conditions.

South Africa have won ten of 16 Tests at Newlands since the country returned to international cricket in 1991. The only visiting team to taste success at the famous ground in the shadow of Table Mountain has been Australia. South African captain Graeme Smith said the win in the second Test had been a major boost to his team but warned that there would be no over-confidence. “We’ve always performed well going into Newlands in back-to-back Tests. But our feet are firmly on the ground. We know what we have to do. It all starts all over again.”