Johan Botha, 23, was a moderately successful all-rounder for the Eastern Cape Warriors franchise when Mickey Arthur, who has subsequently become the South African team coach, suggested he should work on the off-spinners which he occasionally experimented with in the nets.
Botha is the only uncapped player in a 15-man squad that will depart Friday to play five One-day internationals.
Although he is inexperienced at top level, Botha could start as the team's main spin bowler. The other two spinners in the party, Robin Peterson and Justin Ontong, had poor tours when they played in a Test series in India last year.
If Botha gets the nod, he will come up against Harbhajan Singh, the man he modelled his spin bowling on - even mastering a version of Harbhajan's "doosra", a delivery which spins towards leg with an off-break action.
When Arthur was appointed national team coach in May, he got an SMS message from Botha, who was playing club cricket in Ireland, signed "Harbhajan."
"He was bowling at 125kmh and swinging the ball away," said Arthur. "There are probably 50 guys in the country doing that. He's got the ability to do something different. He's been studying Harbhajan and he's become a very useful spinner who can bowl the doosra and bowl at the death in a one-day game."
Botha, who captained South African Schools in 2000 when he was still a seamer, bowled his off-spin steadily when he toured Sri Lanka with the South Africa A team in September but his chances of going to India seemed to have gone when he suffered a broken bone in his left hand at the start of the South African season.
But returned to take four for 71 for the Warriors in a four-day match against the Lions this weekend.
South Africa will go to India without Nicky Boje, their only regular recognised spinner. Boje and batsman Herschelle Gibbs withdrew because they could not get any guarantees from Indian police that they would not be arrested following their naming in the Hansie Cronje scandal in 2000.
Botha, Peterson and Ontong were added to the South African squad which wrapped up a 4-0 series win against New Zealand Sunday. The only man dropped was Jacques Rudolph, who was not in the playing 12 in the last two matches.
"The conditions in India suit spin bowlers and we feel the time has arrived for us to back them to do the job," said selection convenor Haroon Lorgat.
South Africa squad: Graeme Smith (captain), Jacques Kallis (vice-captain), Johan Botha, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Albie Morkel, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Justin Ontong, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince.