Centurion - The rivalry between the Proteas and India will be taken to a new level when the three-Test series between these two major cricketing nations starts at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Thursday.
There is every indication that this could be the last three-Test series between the two nations – this rivalry has reached such iconic status that it surely warrants a full five-match series, along the lines of the Ashes.
There are so many sub-plots to heighten interest in this series: No 1 against No 2 on the ICC world test rankings, Graeme Smith versus Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag versus Dale Steyn.
Then throw into the mix the unpredictable weather that the greater Gauteng area is currently experiencing, the role of Gary Kirsten for India, Sachin Tendulkar’s target of 50 test centuries, and the prolific Hashim Amla pitting his skills against the land of his forefathers.
Proteas’ captain Graeme Smith discussed many of these issues at his press conference on Wednesday.
“The weather hasn’t been too frustrating as we have got two good sessions in," said Smith.
"If we hadn’t been able to train outdoors it would have been more frustrating. We had a good ‘middle’ session at the Wanderers on Monday and we had a good net session here (at SuperSport Park) yesterday.
"Today was always going to be about topping up and being ready for tomorrow."
Smith added that the camp had not asked for green seaming wickets, despite what had been written in the media.
“We like to play under conditions that we know with pace and bounce and that is something that we are hoping for. The weather has made life difficult for the groundstaff so I think there will be more seam movement than even they anticipated. It is something both sides will have to adapt to over the five days.”
Speaking about his own fitness, he commented that his recovery had been a lot quicker than anyone expected.
"I have done exactly what I was required to do in this off period. This is going to be a big series both for myself and the team and I am glad that I will be able to be part of it.”
Asked about the opposition, Smith did not go so far as to state that they are the best-ever Indian team yet to tour South Africa.
“It is a difficult question to answer as to whether this is the best Indian team to visit us, but it is certainly one of the most experienced. They have got a lot of players who have travelled around the world and have been playing cricket for a very long time.
"They should know how to adapt to the surfaces they will be facing. Someone at the function the other night said that Sachin (Tendulkar) had been coming here since 1992, so he has probably seen more South African surfaces than I have!
“I have prepared for this series the same way I have prepared for any other" was Smith's response when asked about the threat posed by paceman Zaheer Khan.
"He is one of the top bowlers in the world, especially against left-handers. He has achieved success against Hayden, myself and several others.
"Zaheer being the Indian spearhead and myself opening the batting it is going to be a natural challenge. I try not to personalise things too much. I focus on my own game and what I would like to achieve throughout the series.”
Smith does not believe that the fast-scoring Virender Sehwag requires extra-special attention from the SA camp.
"We have discussed him but not more so than any other player in their side. The last Test series he played against us here he ended up sliding down the order to No 5 or 6 so he has got a couple of demons he needs to put right."
The conditions will give both sides plenty of food for thought ahead of the toss. Spin bowling is still likely to play a role. Test matches are played over five days and SuperSport Park can flatten out very quickly when the sun starts to bake down.