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South Africa in India 2007-08
'India start as favourites'
March 25, 2008
Daryll Cullinan previews the three Test series between India and South Africa
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"Morne Morkel could prove to be just as big a surprise to world cricket as Dale Steyn" © Getty Images

Daryll Cullinan: Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur, sometime back, recognised this 12-month period ahead as a very important period for South Africa in terms of their growth as a Test-playing nation. Well, it has finally started and with the first Test kicking off tomorrow, all of South Africa will be anticipating a very good performance from this side.

They [South Africa] have come to India on the back of a good series win in Bangladesh, and some decent form back home against the likes of West Indies will mean that they will be confident. They will also draw a lot of confidence from their good series win over Pakistan. They will feel confident about their chances in terms of their preparation in taking on what looks like a formidable India side. How India's performance in Australia will affect their performance remains to be seen. They haven't had much chance to really recover since then and put this South African series in perspective.

This series will also mark the debut of Gary Kirsten as India's coach and how ironic that his first day on the job will be against his former team-mates. He will know a lot about them but one thing that is in South Africa's favour is that they know how Kirsten thinks, so there shouldn't be too many secrets on both sides. It's also billed as the fight for the No. 2 spot and both teams will be going all out to prove their dominance over the other one.

India should start as favourites; there is no doubt about that. They have got a vastly experienced side; faces that are all-too-familiar for this South African side. In my opinion it's going to be all about their batting and how they will cope with South Africa's pace attack. South Africa have probably the most exciting young fast bowler in world cricket right now in Dale Steyn but Morne Morkel could prove to be just as big a surprise to world cricket as Steyn. They will spearhead this South African attack. South Africa though would have loved to have Andre Nel, who is not on this tour, because he adds some real backup and fire. Makhaya Ntini needs to be on top of his game and the question will be: how good is his fitness? It will really be up to Smith and his two spinners and how they look to control the Indian batting. From that point of view Paul Harris and Robin Peterson - they could both play - will be critical to Smith's plans of keeping this star-studded Indian batting line-up in check.

The other big question to be asked in how South Africa will go against the Indian spinners. The pace attack from India offers a bit of swing but there is no genuine, real pace that will frighten the South Africans. It will ultimately come down to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh and how they will work in tandem.

Just looking at the three venues - Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kanpur - it's highly unlikely that we will see a result in all three matches unless one team plays particularly badly. So it will be very important that if a side gets ahead that they really stay on top and if a win is possible, they have to ensure that they go flat out to achieve that.

The star performers for India will be Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, the two spinners and the pace attack who are so important to captain Kumble. For South Africa, Smith, Jacques Kallis, Steyn, Mark Boucher and Ntini really have to have a good series if they are going to be competitive. It's tough to pick a winner, but I will go with India, going ahead with a one-match win in terms of the series but they will underestimate what is a very good and determined South African side at their own peril.

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