Smith - winning 'top priority'
Nagpur - South African captain Graeme Smith said winning a series in India is the team's chief priority and not the ICC's number one ranking as they head into the two-Test series with the first game in Nagpur on Saturday.
Smith has led the team to series triumphs in Pakistan, England and Australia in the last two and a half years, and South Africa drew 1-1 the last time they were in India, in April 2008. After being 1-0 up going into the last Test, there is a feeling of unfinished business among the tourists.
"We came very close the last time we were here and one of our main goals as a team is to tick that box. It's an awesome challenge to win in India, not many teams do it, and to win here is what excites us. If we do that, then the rankings will take care of themselves.
"In the last two years we've had some intense series for the number one ranking, so we are battle-hardened. But the bigger opportunity is beating India at home. I feel like we have everything to gain and India have everything to lose," Smith said at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on Friday.
India are currently number one on the International Cricket Council Test rankings, but if South Africa win the series then they will return to the pinnacle.
In a two-game series, the first Test is obviously crucial and Smith acknowledged that his team could not afford any hiccups in Nagpur.
"There's obviously a lot of emphasis on the first Test, you need to be a lot more precise because there's no way back in the series if you allow things to slip in the first game. We haven't started series well of late, but we can't be more ready than we are, we've covered all our bases," Smith said.
For all his strong leadership and square-jawed persona, Smith very definitely has a human side and he confirmed that the build-up to the tour, which had seen long-time coach Mickey Arthur resign, had been emotionally draining.
"Last week was a tough time, with the mixed media reports weighing on our heads. But it's good to get down to what we really enjoy, which is playing cricket.
"It's been a bit of a rushed preparation for Corrie [Van Zyl] and Kepler [Wessels], but so far it's all gone well, we've covered all our bases. It's now up to the players to take responsibility tomorrow and come out and implement the plans," Smith said.
Although the VCA Stadium pitch is expected to be flat and more suited to the spinners, Smith is certain the South African attack - comprising three fast bowlers, Jacques Kallis and a spinner - is still going to be a threat.
"We've got to adapt our skills to the conditions, but we still need to play our style of cricket. We've seen our seam bowlers be successful here and people tend to write off our spinners all over the world. But they have performed important roles for us.
"But we have bowlers with good pace through the air, which is crucial when you're using reverse-swing, and they have good skills and good game plans, they just need to adapt to the surface," Smith said.
Ex Australia and South Africa opener Kepler Wessels has also been working hard with the batsmen and Smith has few worries about their ability to handle whatever India and the pitch throws at them.
"Spin plays a crucial part here, but the players have shown they are able to handle that and we've posted decent totals here in the past. We expect certain pitches and spin bowling when we come here, we're more accustomed to it now, and it's just a matter of each batsman refining their game plans for conditions here," Smith said.