India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur February 5, 2010

The best overseas team in India

South Africa have a 4-4 win-loss record in India, and the key has been their ability to largely keep the Indian batting line-up in check

They haven't had the best off-pitch preparation for the tour of India, but South Africa go into this two-Test series with a genuine chance of regaining the top spot in the ICC Test rankings. A 1-0 win is what they need to topple India, but that's easier said than done, as no overseas team has achieved a Test series victory in India in more than five years; the last side to do this was Australia, in October 2004, when they triumphed 2-1. Since then, nine times teams have tried, and failed, to defeat India in India. South Africa have been to India twice during this period for Test series, losing 1-0 in 2004 and drawing 1-1 in 2008. (Click here for India's results in their last ten home series.)

India will feel confident of maintaining their No.1 spot - they are coming off wins in their last five Test series, and their last three at home. Against South Africa, though, their record isn't as impressive - overall, they've lost twice as many as they've won, and even at home they only have a 4-4 win-loss record.

India v South Africa in Tests
  Tests Ind won SA won Drawn
Overall 22 5 10 7
In India 10 4 4 2

In fact, South Africa's ratio of one win per loss is the best that any team has managed in India in the last 14 years. Pakistan have the same ratio as well, but the next-best team has only half that ratio: Australia have won four Tests and lost eight during this period.

South Africa are also the only team with a higher batting average than bowling average in India during this period - in other words, they've scored more runs per wicket than conceded them. Like South Africa, Pakistan have won as many as they've lost too, but South Africa's wins have been more emphatic - of their four victories, two have been by an innings and one by 329 runs. In fact, South Africa are the only side to inflict innings defeats on India in India in the last 15 years. (Click here for a list of India's home defeats since 1996.)

Overseas teams in India since Jan 1996
Team Tests Won Lost W/L ratio Bat ave Bowl ave
South Africa 10 4 4 1.00 34.26 29.24
Pakistan 9 3 3 1.00 34.00 39.09
Australia 15 4 8 0.50 31.37 36.65
England 8 1 3 0.33 32.03 35.82
New Zealand 5 0 1 0.00 37.73 48.40
Sri Lanka 9 0 4 0.00 34.20 46.93
West Indies 3 0 2 0.00 24.76 43.15
Zimbabwe 4 0 3 0.00 33.01 64.08

Many batsmen from outside the subcontinent have struggled to come to terms with the conditions in India, but South Africa's current lot have dealt with the challenges pretty well. AB de Villiers scored a magnificent double-century when South Africa last toured, while Jacques Kallis has scored a century in each of his last two series in India. Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith average in the mid-40s as well. The only batsman who has struggled is Ashwell Prince. He had a torrid time against Graeme Swann recently in South Africa, getting out to him three times in five balls, and India's spinners will be licking their lips in anticipation: he has been dismissed four times in India, and each time to a spinner - twice to Harbhajan Singh, once to Virender Sehwag and once to Anil Kumble.

South African batsmen in India
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
AB de Villiers 3 304 76.00 1/ 0
Jacques Kallis 7 557 55.70 2/ 2
Hashim Amla 4 333 47.57 1/ 2
Graeme Smith 5 401 44.55 0/ 3
Mark Boucher 5 181 30.16 0/ 1
Ashwell Prince 3 68 17.00 0/ 0

The Indian batsmen, on the other hand, have been strangely subdued against South Africa, and even more so at home. Virender Sehwag is an exception with 634 runs in eight innings, which is the highest by an Indian in home Tests against South Africa. Dravid averages marginally less than 40, with only one century in 18 innings, but even that is significantly better than the stats for Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. Between them, they have played 26 innings without a hundred.

Indian batsmen against South Africa, in India and overall
Batsman Home Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Overall ave v SA
Virender Sehwag 5 634 79.25 2/ 1 51.29
Gautam Gambhir 2 129 43.00 0/ 1 43.00
Rahul Dravid 10 628 39.25 1/ 3 36.51
MS Dhoni 3 114 28.50 0/ 1 27.25
Sachin Tendulkar 8 367 28.23 0/ 2 35.35
VVS Laxman 8 267 22.25 0/ 2 30.33

In the only previous Test at this venue - against Australia in November 2008 - offspinners from both teams dominated, with Jason Krezja taking 12 and Harbhajan Singh seven. How South Africa tackle the Harbhajan threat could have a huge bearing on the series: in five home Tests against South Africa he has taken 32 wickets at an average of 25.09.

Among the South Africans in the current squad, AB de Villiers has done the best against Harbhajan, using his deft footwork to score 107 runs off him for just one dismissal. Against Prince, though, Harbhajan will fancy his chances: in 92 deliveries Prince has managed only 26 runs, and has been dismissed twice.

Harbhajan v South African batsmen in home Tests
Batsman Runs Balls Dismissals Average Runs per over
AB de Villiers 107 192 1 107.00 3.34
Graeme Smith 75 188 2 37.50 2.39
Hashim Amla 106 197 3 35.33 3.22
Jacques Kallis 131 236 4 32.75 3.33
Ashwell Prince 26 92 2 13.00 1.69

Dale Steyn was South Africa's leading bowler on their last tour to India, taking 15 wickets at an excellent average of 20.20, but South Africa will want him to inflict more damage against India's top-order batsmen this time. In 2008, out Steyn's 15 wickets, nine were specialist bowlers - he was most successful against Harbhajan, dismissing him four times, while RP Singh fell thrice to him.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo