NAGPUR, February 4 – South Africa will draw confidence from their record on the subcontinent as they seek to replace India at the top of the world rankings in their two-Test series starting Saturday.India dislodged South Africa as the number one Test side in December after beating Sri Lanka 2-0 at home, and a series victory against the Proteas would consolidate their position.
South Africa can snatch back the coveted ranking only if they win the series 2-0. A 1-0 victory would leave both teams level on 123 points.
"India now hold the mantle of number one in the world, which is a credit to the way they have played," South Africa skipper Graeme Smith said ahead of the first Test in Nagpur.
"But we have come here to hopefully play better than them, and take it away from them. That’s something we are talking about."
Smith said it was tough to win a series in the subcontinent and success is "a real feather in your cap."
"But we won in Pakistan on our last tour there, we won in Bangladesh, we came very close to winning the series here in India. We were 1-0 going into the last Test, so I think generally we have played well," he said.
"I think we have got a very positive mindset when it comes to playing in the subcontinent, which is important."
On their last tour of India in 2008, South Africa won on a greentop in Ahmedabad, before the hosts levelled the series on a turning wicket in Kanpur. The first Test was drawn.
The task this time appears more daunting for South Africa, who are going into the series after a week of turmoil at home that ended in the resignation of long-serving coach Mickey Arthur.
And the entire selection committee, headed by former Test all-rounder Mike Procter, was sacked following a 1-1 series draw to England at home.
National high performance coach Corrie van Zyl has taken over from Arthur for the Indian tour, which also features three one-day internationals after the Tests.
India are depleted by injuries to key players — sustained during a 2-0 away victory over Bangladesh — upsetting the team combination.
Rahul Dravid, a vital cog in the middle order, is recuperating after undergoing surgery for a fractured jaw while the aggressive Yuvraj Singh is nursing a sore left wrist.
"They still have quality players there, but to lose somebody of the calibre of Dravid with an incredible career of over 10,000 runs is always very difficult," said Smith.
"Number three is obviously a key position in any batting line-up, so it is going to be very interesting to see whom they choose to use there."
Dhoni, India’s first-choice wicketkeeper, has also been suffering from a troublesome back, forcing the national selectors to pick uncapped Wriddhiman Saha as his cover in the 15-man Test squad.
The Indian pace attack will be without the mercurial Shanthakumaran Sreesanth who impressed against Sri Lanka, before being laid low by a hamstring injury in Bangladesh.
The second and final Test will be played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata from February 14.