Team India will have unsettling memories of the days when they were up against the South African pace battery of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Brian McMillan. The Indians would recall with a high degree of distress when they were shot out for 100 and 66 in the first Test on their 1996-97 tour of the African nation. They were clueless against the frightening pace of the speed quartet.
But the Indians have grown in stature and experience from that early disaster. In their last series against the side in South Africa in 2006/07, they faced the likes of Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock to come away with partial success. India won the first encounter by 123 runs, but went down in the subsequent two Tests due to an inability to get on top of the bowlers.
Now as they embark on a brand new tour of South Africa, they come face to face with a current potential nemesis - Dale Steyn. The Indians have had a taste of his brand of bowling on South African pitches. During the 2006-07 tour, Dale Steyn made quite an impact in the third and deciding Test. He took 6/88 in his cumulative 34 overs from both innings. Since he too has grown in stature since that outing, he is capable of inflicting even more damage. Ever since he made his Test debut against England at Port Elizabeth in Dec 2004,
Dale Steyn has become a force to reckon with and a potent weapon for his side. He current bears a phenomenal bowling average of 23.77 with 217 wickets from 43 matches to his name with as many as 14 five-wicket hauls to his credit.
He is coming off a slightly disappointing series in the UAE against Pakistan, where his team were only able to draw the two Tests on placid pitches. But the strips at home promise results, which is what he is hoping for. "It will be really sad if we have similar wickets to the ones we had when we played Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates," said Steyn. "This is a big series between two good sides and we need results to keep people interested."
Steyn is going into the current series with a strong belief that his side holds the edge against India. "I still think that our bowlers tend to bowl better in these conditions. And it's the same with our batsmen. They are more used to these conditions." India know only too well what they are in for - a barrage of short balls and bouncers. They are adapting to the same at India coach Gary Kirsten's cricket academy in Cape Town.
Steyn is wary of the Indian openers as he feels their stand will take much heard-work to break. "A guy like Sachin, with the reputation that he is has, is always going to be an important wicket. But for me, their opening pair is terrifying, with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag."
Steyn has been prosperous against India, knocking off 32 scalps in seven Tests. His new-ball partner Morne Morkel has 15 from six against India and together they've shared 206 wickets in 24 matches. "We've played a lot of cricket together at the Titans and now with the national side and we are always fighting between us for wickets."
But India are the No. 1 Test team for a reason and South Africa, as the No. 2 team will have to be on their toes if they want to entertain hopes of pipping India to the post. So with the battle of two cricketing super-powers in the offing, and Dale Steyn in the middle of the storm, a scintillating contest is on the cards.