Time to flex muscles: India face one last hurdle in Durban

Virat Kohli IndiaVirat Kohli during the net session at Kingsmead on Wednesday. India havenít lost a Test match this year, having won six at home and drawn one in South Africa so far

The ambience at Kingsmead is old-school. While a few corporate suites have come up at the Umgeni End, the pavilion side of the Durban venue still boasts of wooden benches, whose colour fades with each passing day. Durban's cricket stadium is also soaked in tradition. Here, South Africans play and watch their annual Boxing Day Test ever since readmission.

On Thursday, that tradition will recommence after the Proteas went without a Test starting on the day after Christmas last year.

Speaking of Boxing Day Tests, Indian teams have traditionally had wretched times during them, having lost eight out of the 11 they have been involved in - spread across Kingsmead, MCG and the Basin Reserve in Wellington. Their only win in one of these year-ending affairs came in 2010, here in Kingsmead.

Changing times

Following their awe-inspiring performance with both bat and ball in the first Test at the Wanderers, the odds no longer seem stacked against Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team. If anything, they will go in as equal favourites to win the decider, considering the nature of the pitch.

There were few who believed that this Indian line-up could even hope of winning a Test against the might of Dale Steyn & Co in their den. A victory in Durban will not only result in a maiden series win in South Africa, it will also be the perfect bookend for a year where Indian cricket has witnessed the coming of age in Indian cricket, along with the rise of a new aura.

Twelve months ago, Dhoni's team was at a crossroads. They had just been beaten at home by England. It was their first season without two behemoths in the middle-order, as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had called it quits. A number of their other mainstays too were fading away rather rapidly with Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan SIngh all having lost their place in the side.

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