Despite having taken a morale boosting first innings lead at Kanpur, South African skipper Graeme Smith says India still start as favourites in the second Test beginning at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Smith, who became South Africa's youngest skipper when he took over the reins of the side as a 22-year-old in 2003, opines it would be "something massive" if his young side manages to pull off a win and clinch the two-Test series.
"We had a solid game. We are proud at the way we played in Kanpur. It is disappointing that there was no result. But India are an experienced side and they start as favourites," Smith told reporters in Kolkata.
"It will be a massive thing if we pull off a win," added the young skipper.
Smith said his team hoped to perform better at Eden and force a result and that the players were mentally prepared to play on a turning track.
"India's world class spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh did not get as much turn as they would have liked. But we expect the Eden pitch to turn a little more. We are expecting the worst. I hope my boys handle the spinners well," said Smith, who has a 50-plus batting average in 27 Tests.
Smith, who seemed to have done his homework well on the likely conditions at the Eden Gardens, said that he was aware of the dew factor in the morning hours which would aid seamers. The Johannesberg-born player, adjudged Wisden's Cricketer of the Year in 2004, felt his side, being relatively young in age, would be under less pressure.
"Being a young side there will be less pressure on us. But we demand from each other the highest level of performance," he said.
When reminded him that the South Africans had registered a thumping 329 run win in their previous match at the Eden eight years ago, Smith said, "We have to get fresh ideas and understand what to expect at Eden. We need to prepare a game plan which will have depth." Smith, however, urged his teammates not to take things easy after the good performance at Kanpur.
"Players tend to relax after such a match. They need to keep up the competitive spirit and the hunger for victory," he said.
Describing the prospects of turning out at Eden as 'a very special occasion', Smith said his cricketers were all keyed up to give their best and promised to play good cricket.
The South African skipper lavishly praised newly promoted opener Andrew Hall, who struck a patient 163, and debutant Zander de Bruyn, who scored 83 in the first innings at Kanpur.
"Hall was gutsy and and passionate. And the risk of playing him as opener paid off. Scoring 160 plus is a fabulous performance. Bruyn is also a gutsy customer," he said.
Smith also expressed satisfaction with the performance of his seamers, saying their proficiency in extracting reverse swing served the side well. "But at the same time, I must say that we dropped some catches early in the Indian innings. In a nutshell, we need to improve on both our positives and negatives." The South African skipper said the week-long practice session in spin-friendly conditions at Pretoria ahead of the tour had benefitted his team.
On the transitional phase South African cricket was now passing through, Smith said "We have lost a few cricketers to age. Players like Allan Donald, Jonty Rhodes do not come easily. They have to be groomed. But if we can beat India in India and then get past England we will again be rated as good beaters."
Smith also contended that his side would not have any psychological edge because of the travails of his Indian counterpart Saurav Ganguly, who faced ICC Appeals Commissioner Tim Castle at a hearing today after being penalised by match referee Clive Lloyd for the Indians' slow over rate in the platinum jubilee match again Pakistan.
"I'm not one for psychological edge. But matters like this take a lot of your time. You can't concentrate," he said.
"But we are paying not much importance to it. What is more important is the quality of opposition we are up against," he said.
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