India"s first match against South Africa would not only be tough because they are playing the Proteas in their own den but also because the den is the home side"s favourite hunting ground. To just merely state the facts, out of a total of 15 games on the Super Sport park, the home side has lost just one, won 11 and has drawn three games. To add to the alienation is the fact that India has never played a serious game at this ground. They were supposed to in 2001 but because of some code of conduct issues then, the game was reduced to a 5-day unofficial game.
This though should not be in any case taken as something this Indian side cannot overcome. This team has won Test matches recently courtesy tail-enders batting exceptionally well against Australia, won games from near defeat situations courtesy all-round capabilities of the side, and beaten the best in the business to scale the position of number one in Test cricket. By now it would be more than a mistake to call Dhoni"s men sitting pretty at number one a fluke, they have scaled it through sheer hard work and very few teams currently have the aura to take on this side.
This challenge of playing and winning in South Africa would add to this glorious chapter of Indian cricket and as coach Gary Kirsten was recently heard as saying to a leading cricket website “a win here would be a definite moment in Indian cricket", he meant it because he very well knows that considering Australia"s poor form at this hour, it"s only South Africa which has the repertoire of stopping the Indian juggernaut.
India"s last series in South Africa was spectacular to say the least. What started as a dream series, finished not in favour of India because of its own doing. The team started in aggressive fashion winning the first Test and then a few bad, rather defensive spells of play spelt doom for the side and South Africa won the series like taking a quality dish away from a hungry man. This time as well a lot of players from that series would be gunning for glory. Players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman would very well know that this is probably their last series in South Africa and hence would leave no stone unturned to conquer the final frontier.
The Indians are in top form considering most of the top order has scored runs at all given opportunities. Gautam Gambhir who looked like struggling till recent time has also come back to scoring terms with a good run against New Zealand. With a top order like this, unless South Africa go for an all-out pace and bounce surface, India looks like resting the advantage sooner than later. On the other hand if the Proteas provide a lush green top, Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma led by a very able Zaheer Khan have all the talent needed to unruffle the famed South African batting line-up.
For the South Africans though the best chance would be to provide ample pace and bounce in the surface, something that will make the Indian batting line-up uncomfortable. The moment they play defensive and provide good batting tracks, they will make the same mistake New Zealand did when India toured the Kiwi land last year. Then India beat Kiwis comprehensively and Graeme Smith and his men will be aware of that for sure.
Smith also has a lot of good things going for him. In Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Wayne Parnell and Jacques Kallis he has an attack which has the potential to crack any batting attack. Tsotsobe and Steyn would have clear instructions to bowl fast and around the chin. That will create problems for all Indian batsmen. On a good bowling track, no batting line-up has the stead to face this attack and even someone like Kallis who is mere medium pace will prove more than a handful on a green top courtesy his ability to bowl precise line and length.
On the batting front also South Africa has a lot of good options. Players like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince, and Jacques Kallis alongside Smith will make a potent batting attack in home conditions. Out of the five Prince, Kallis and Amla are the one"s India will have to very seriously look forward to since they have a excellent record at the Super Sport park with averages of 67, 60 and 85 respectively.
There is no point in discussing which the better fielding side out of the two is and the Indian side should be beware that catches dropped in a series like this, especially in the first Test will go a long way in deciding which way this series will head.
India"s only Test win till date in South Africa came when they played here last time around when they went one up in a three Test series. South Africa though pulled that back winning the remaining two. This time though India will look not only to win the first one but also to come back on top at a place which they have never conquered. For a team which is number one in rankings and still enters a series as an underdog, this win if they do achieve it will certainly be a 'defining moment" in their cricketing history.