India begins its sixth tour of South Africa in 20 years with a three-match ODI series, the first of which will be at the Wanderers, Johannesburg, next Thursday.
On the head-to-head count, South Africa has clearly had the upper hand in the shorter format of the game, winning 19 of the 25 at home, whereas India has managed to put it across the host only in five games.
South Africa, which notched up its 100th Test match recently, must be hoping to sustaining its excellent showing against the India; in the 15 Tests at home against India — all since its return to the fold a little over two decades ago — South Africa has won seven matches, India two, and six have ended in draws.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has played four Test matches in the Rainbow Nation, will want to make amends to his team’s recent results playing away — 4-0 loses in England and in Australia.
However, he is only too aware of the enormity of the challenge, especially with a new middle-order configuration, and a relatively inexperienced pair opening.
“I think it is always a challenge when you play abroad. The home team know the conditions well. Their fast bowlers always know what length to bowl, and also the areas they need to bowl,” said Dhoni.
Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander have taken 199 Test wickets at home since January 2010, with Steyn leading the figures with 92, followed by Morkel on 55 and Philander on 52.
Dhoni said the Indian batsmen have to quickly adjust to the bounce, and also learn the art of leaving the ball.
“The batsmen have to push the fast bowlers to bowl at them instead of going after them. That will be a key factor,” he said.
“Starting (the tour) with the ODIs always helps. The batsmen can go for their shots, and it will help them get over the nerves. We are going to play play three ODIs, and the guys will be able to express themselves.
“They will play their shots, and then they will be able to carry it forward into the Test matches as well.”
“The good thing is that there won’t be too many changes, when you compare the Test squad to the ODI squad.”
The first Test begins on December 18, which means that the players will have got reasonably adequate time to get used to the conditions.
“I don’t know if it’s enough or not, but this is the time we have. We will try to have long practice sessions in the first one or two days that we have with us. We will have one light session before the match, and that is how we will get ready for the ODIs,” he said.
Asked about the post-Tendulkar era, Dhoni said it was up to the replacements to step up to the challenge.
“When Paaji (Tendulkar) played his first Test match, that was his first Test match,” he said. “What’s important is that they (the newcomers) have good amount of exposure.”
“The ODIs will help to adjust to the pace and bounce of the wicket. It will be a new challenge for all, and at the same time it will be a learning curve.”
Asked about South Africa’s fearsome pace attack, Dhoni said: “Whenever we tour abroad we get asked this same question. I don’t have a new answer.”
“As far as the India-South Africa series is concerned, both teams are well positioned. I think it will be a good contest because the ODIs are before the Tests. Overall I think it will be an exciting series, and there are exciting players in both sides…it looks like it will be an interesting series.”
He said handling pressure came with the territory when playing for the national side.
“Even if we play Ireland, it is said that they are the underdogs, and you feel some pressure because of it. We are going through a good patch; we are doing well and so we will take that confidence forward.
“South Africa is a very good team. They are well balanced in both ODIs and Test matches.
“It is a big phase for our youngsters. They will get to learn a lot, and at the same time it will be a good platform to express themselves.”