India embark on one of the toughest assignments in recent times to South Africa, billed as the fight out for the number one Test team in the world.
India have registered just one win in the last 12 outings to South Africa, when Shanthakumaran Sreesanth mesmerised the South African batsmen with his guile and swing, producing a man-of-the-match performance with figures of five for 40 four seasons back.
The ascent to the top of the rankings for Indian side has mainly come through home victories, so it will be interesting to see if India can register their first series victory in South Africa this time.
The only away win came in New Zealand during March and April last year when they won the series 1-0 - the three matches being India's only three outside the sub-continent in their last 30 Tests.
In an effort to acclimatise to the conditions, the BCCI approved the advice of coach Gary Kirsten to spend extra time in South Africa in the absence of any tour games. The players are training at Kirsten's cricket academy in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg to join the rest of the squad. The Indians will return from South Africa on 24th January, less than a month before their first World Cup match against Bangladesh in Dhaka on 19th February.
More than the swing and seam, it will be the bounce that will be on offer to conquer for the world’s strongest middle order comprising Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina.
The war of words has started long back with South African premier fast bowler Dale Steyn has singling out the Indian opening pair to give attention this series. The consistent performance at the top of the order from combination of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir is one of the major reasons for India’s success in the longest format of the game.
South Africa are fresh from the UAE tour, where they played on placid tracks against Pakistan, and their ability to take 20 wickets was questioned. However, playing at home, they will be a different proposition altogether, enjoying an enviable record.
India started off with a win at Newlands last time, only to fritter away the lead to succumb to 2-1 defeat. Africans. They will be aware of it and would like to tie loose ends in their preparation for the first Test, which starts at Centurion on 16th December.
The three Tests in Centurion (16th-20th December), Durban (26th-30th December) and Cape Town (2nd-6th January) will be followed by a Twenty20 match and five One-Day Internationals.
It will be a mouth-watering contest between the two giants of cricket with the winner walking away with the mantle of the undisputed top team in Test matches.
South Africa Test squad (first Test): Graeme Smith (c), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
India Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c), Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha, S Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Murali Vijay
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