A chance for India's batsmen to make amends
India's consistent performances in Tests over the last couple of years - they've won series in West Indies and England, and Tests in South Africa and Australia - have pushed them to second place in the ICC Test rankings, but that spot will be up for grabs when the three-Test series against South Africa gets underway on Wednesday. The South Africans are only two points behind India's 111, and a series win by any margin will push them to second place.
Winning a series in India, though, won't be quite as easy as South Africa's previous assignment, against Bangladesh, but they can take heart from the fact that they are one of only two teams to win a series (of more than one Test) in the last 20 years in India - they triumphed by a convincing 2-0 margin in 1999-2000.
On their most recent visit to India, South Africa were beaten 1-0 in the Test series, but overall they have a respectable record in the country, winning and losing three times each. The other feature of matches between the two teams here have been the lack of draws - only one out of seven Tests have ended in a stalemate.
|Played||India won||SA won||Draw|
As always, the South African batting will depend heavily on the formidable Jacques Kallis. He has scored runs against most teams in most conditions, but playing India in India clearly brings out the best in him - in four Tests, he has scored a hundred and two fifties, and averages a fantastic 75.40. A feature of his batting here has been his immense patience: he has faced 1074 deliveries for his 377 runs and five dismissals, which converts into 2.11 runs per over, and almost 36 overs per dismissal.
Most of his team-mates, though, haven't come anywhere close to replicating his form against India. Apart from Ashwell Prince, the other specialist batsmen have ordinary records, with the numbers being especially poor for AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla.
|Jacques Kallis||8||704||64.00||1/ 5|
|Ashwell Prince||3||306||61.20||1/ 1|
|Graeme Smith||5||382||38.20||0/ 4|
|Mark Boucher||7||299||37.37||0/ 3|
|Neil McKenzie||2||82||27.33||0/ 1|
|AB de Villiers||3||102||17.00||0/ 0|
|Hashim Amla||4||117||14.62||0/ 1|
India's top seven, though, have struggled even more against South Africa. Both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid average in the mid-30s against them, which is about 20 less than their career average. Virender Sehwag is the only one with a 40-plus average.
Even more surprisingly, almost the entire top order has scored more runs against South Africa on their bouncier pitches than on the wickets at home. Tendulkar averages 30.58 from seven home Tests against South Africa, while Ganguly and Laxman have fared even worse. In fact, apart from Sehwag, none of the other Indian batsmen in the current squad have scored a century against South Africa at home. (Click here for the stats of Indian batsmen at home against South Africa, and to find out the only other Indian batsman to score a hundred at home against them.)
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Career ave||Difference|
|Rahul Dravid||15||954||35.33||1/ 5||55.60||20.05|
|Sachin Tendulkar||19||1202||36.42||3/ 5||55.57||19.15|
|VVS Laxman||12||510||30.00||0/ 4||44.20||14.20|
|Wasim Jaffer||5||231||23.10||1/ 0||34.96||11.86|
|Sourav Ganguly||14||736||30.66||0/ 5||42.45||11.79|
|Virender Sehwag||7||500||41.66||2/ 1||50.67||9.01|
|Mahendra Singh Dhoni||2||104||26.00||0/ 0||34.31||8.31|
Going by the track record of the Indians in Chennai, the venue for the first Test, it's likely that Tendulkar will break that jinx and help himself to a century here: in seven Tests at Chepauk, he has already struck four hundreds, for a phenomenal average of 92. Sehwag has scored plenty of runs here as well, but for the others, it's been a bit of a struggle. Dravid hasn't topped three figures in ten innings, while Ganguly has had a wretched time, averaging 16.12 from six Tests, with a highest of 54. (Click here for more.)
Despite the lack of runs from most of their batsmen, India have an excellent record at this ground, with only one defeat - to Pakistan - in the last 20 years. That is largely due to their two spinners. Anil Kumble has been magnificent here, with 45 wickets from seven Tests at an average of 17.24 and a strike rate of less than 39 balls per wicket, while Harbhajan Singh isn't far behind, with 27 wickets from four Tests.
For South Africa to counter the Indian spin threat, they'll need Kallis to be at his best. He has negotiated both Kumble and Harbhajan superbly: Kumble has dismissed him three times in all, but in Tests since 2001, Kallis has scored 180 runs off him and been out only once. Against Harbhajan too, Kallis has scored plenty of runs.
The Indian batsmen, on the other hand, have fallen to Makhaya Ntini on numerous occasions. Ntini has dismissed India's current top six a combined total of 20 times, with Laxman, Ganguly and Jaffer falling four times each. However, the Ntini of the last six months hasn't quite shown the same verve, and given his lack of success traditionally in the subcontinent, India's batsmen should feel confident they can turn things around against him this time. The biggest threat to Tendulkar and co could well come from Dale Steyn, who has been in scintillating form over the last 15 months. In his last 12 Tests, Steyn has taken 73 wickets at a phenomenal average of 15.95. His performance over the next couple of weeks will be one of the crucial factors for South Africa.
|Jacques Kallis||Anil Kumble||180||410||1||180.00|
|Graeme Smith||Anil Kumble||136||197||2||68.00|
|Jacques Kallis||Harbhajan Singh||111||175||1||111.00|
|Rahul Dravid||Makhaya Ntini||118||225||2||59.00|
|Virender Sehwag||Makhaya Ntini||124||196||3||41.33|
|Sachin Tendulkar||Makhaya Ntini||99||148||3||33.00|
|VVS Laxman||Makhaya Ntini||114||186||4||28.50|
|Sourav Ganguly||Makhaya Ntini||107||140||4||26.75|
|Wasim Jaffer||Makhaya Ntini||48||94||4||12.00|
|Wasim Jaffer||Dale Steyn||18||63||1||18.00|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo