India recently created history, marking the first time they held South Africa to a drawn Test series. Now with a mouth-watering 5-match one-day series between the hosts and touring sides all set to regale the crowds in the Rainbow Nation, India have another score to settle. This time the record of history stacks up intimidatingly - India have won only 3 of their last 16 one-dayers against South Africa in the latter's backyard. That's India's worst record touring any country.
Furthermore, India's last ODI series in South Africa was a consummate disaster as they went down 4-0 in the five-match series with a no-result from the first encounter. What's more, the comprehensive manner in which the Indians were thrashed in all the played one-dayers on that tour, was bewildering to say the least. The tourists lost the second match by 157 runs, the third by 106, the fourth, by 80 and the final one-dayer, by 9 wickets with 112 balls remaining!
This lacklustre performance after putting on a stiff fight in the Test series just a few weeks, which India lost by the narrow margin of 1-2? Hardly becoming of a side that had weeks to acclimatise to South African pitches. The career stats of the tour too were far from flattering for the Indians. There were just three Indians - Dhoni, Tendulkar and Dravid - in the top ten run-makers of the one-day series and the same number of Indian bowlers in the top 10 wicket-takers.
But four years on, the scene has apparently changed. India seems to have morphed into a more formidable unit. It has just come off a tremendously prosperous series against New Zealand at home with a 5-0 whitewash. Plus, India went 2-1 up on South Africa in the last of their one-day engagements (in Feb last year). And while the tourists have been hit with a longish injury list with Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag out of action and Sreesanth and Paraveen Kumar likely to join them, the team still have reserves to see them through this challenging face-off.
Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and speedsters Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma will provide more than ample back-up to the depleted bowling attack, while the batsmen appear to be in top gear. Virat Kohli is the form of his life, Suresh Raina has apparently regained his knick in the Twenty20 against the hosts and Rohit Sharma looks more like a permanent fixture with every game he plays. India indeed appear 75 per cent the way home at zeroing in on their final squad for the World Cup.
South Africa on the other hand, have more settling to do with an eye on the mega-event. To-be debutant leg-spinner Imran Tahir and his spin twins Robert Petersen and Faf du Plessis will rustle up the the fire-power their side needs in the slow-bowling department. But all three will be vying intensely for a World Cup slot. Meanwhile, pace bowler Wayne Parnell, can look forward to a more meaty chance at proving his worth as he joins fellow speedster Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Then, Colin Ingram, who scored a century on ODI debut, will provide an adequate stand-in for the injured Jacques Kallis and the capable David Miller will bolster up the hosts' middle-order. Hopefully, for South Africa, exuberance from the young blood will compensate for the lack of experience.
A dynamite series is on the cards and riding on their good form of recent times, India have a chance to turn history on its head and grab this series. They have the resources, now they just have to deliver the goods...
India (possible): 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 M Vijay, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 R Ashwin / Munaf Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Faf du Plessis / Robin Petersen, 7 David Miller, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Wayne Parnell / Lonwabo Tsotsobe, 11 Morne Morkel