Home team bank on Centurion advantage
Come Thursday, and the Indian team will begin their quest to succeed in a task that has been achieved only five times in 31 attempts since 1992, for that's exactly the number of times an overseas side has won a Test series in South Africa. Of those five home series defeats for South Africa, four have been against Australia, and one against England. The slight crumb of comfort for India is the fact that South Africa haven't won their last two home series, losing to Australia and then drawing against England last year. However, the only team other than Australia and England to have managed even a drawn series in South Africa since their readmission into international cricket is Pakistan, when they drew 1-1 in 1997-98. South Africa have won 23 out of 31 home series since 1992, including all four against India, which indicates how tough it could be for the visitors over the next three weeks.
Apart from their No.1 ranking, what should give the Indians more hope this time is their overseas record in the last ten years - they've won a couple of Tests in Australia, and Test series in England, West Indies and New Zealand. They won in South Africa too in 2006-07, but then promptly lost the next two to lose the series. They'll expect more from their experienced line-up this time around.
The series begins in Centurion, which is not a bad venue for South Africa to begin their campaign. The SuperSport Park has been by far South Africa's favourite home venue: in 15 Tests since 1990 they've won 11 and lost only one, which was also in slightly dubious circumstances, when Hansie Cronje forfeited South Africa's second innings in a dead-rubber game against England in 2000. Apart from that, South Africa have won almost every match; the only team which has even managed to draw here is England - they've been involved in all three draws. India, though, haven't played a single Test here so far.
|Venue||Tests||Won/ lost||Draw||W/L ratio|
|Cape Town||21||14/ 3||4||4.67|
|Port Elizabeth||11||4/ 4||3||1.00|
The biggest test for India will be to see if their batsmen can cope with the pace, bounce, and seam that is likely to be on offer for the fast bowlers in the South African venues. Most of the Indian batsmen have played Tests on these surfaces, but none of them can claim to have conquered these conditions.
In fact, the South African pitches have been the ones which have troubled the Indians the most. Of the four stalwarts in the side - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag - who have toured there more than once, only Laxman has a 40-plus average. Tendulkar is 165 away from becoming the first Indian to aggregate 1000 Test runs in South Africa, but he currently averages only 39.76 in his 22 innings there. Dravid has done even worse, averaging less than 35 and scoring only one century in 16 innings. Sehwag began his Test career with 105 in Bloemfontein, but since then his highest in eight Test innings in South Africa is only 40.
These numbers are in stark contrast to their stats in Australia, which is generally another country that offers fast bowlers some pace and bounce. In Australia, all these four batsmen average more than 50, have collectively scored 13 hundreds in 85 innings, and have a combined average of 56.61. In South Africa, these four batsmen have scored five hundreds in 59 innings, and have a combined average of 36.06. The collective rate of failure has been much higher for these batsmen in South Africa: in 59 innings, 31 times these batsmen have been dismissed under 20. In Australia it's much lower - 33 such dismissals in 85 innings.
|VVS Laxman||7||370||41.11||0/ 3|
|Sachin Tendulkar||12||835||39.76||3/ 3|
|Rahul Dravid||8||504||33.60||1/ 2|
|Virender Sehwag||5||238||26.44||1/ 0|
For South Africa's batsmen too, playing at home hasn't necessarily been a good thing. Jacques Kallis has done well, as has Ashwell Prince, but some of the others have better averages outside South Africa. The difference is especially significant for AB de Villiers: an overall batting average of almost 48 reduces to just over 36 in South Africa.
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Overall ave|
|Jacques Kallis||74||5927||56.44||18/ 31||55.84|
|Ashwell Prince||33||2001||47.64||7/ 5||43.48|
|Graeme Smith||43||3125||45.95||9/ 14||51.06|
|Hashim Amla||24||1628||41.74||5/ 9||46.75|
|AB de Villiers||33||1877||36.09||4/ 11||47.78|
|Mark Boucher||67||2834||35.42||4/ 18||30.82|
Centurion, though, has been an excellent venue for most of the South African batsmen: Hashim Amla, Prince and Kallis all average more than 60. In fact, Kallis' recent stats at the ground are even better: in his last eight Tests there, since 2004, he averages 87.67, with four centuries in 12 innings.
The only batsman who has really struggled at the ground is their captain, Graeme Smith. In 15 Test innings at this venue, Smith has topped 50 only once, when he scored 139 against West Indies back in 2004. In his last 11 innings at SuperSport Park, Smith has scored 194 runs at an average of 17.63 and a highest score of 45.
|Hashim Amla||4||428||85.60||2/ 3|
|Ashwell Prince||7||542||67.75||3/ 0|
|Jacques Kallis||14||1035||60.88||4/ 5|
|AB de Villiers||7||517||47.00||1/ 3|
|Mark Boucher||13||591||39.40||2/ 2|
|Graeme Smith||9||371||26.50||1/ 0|
For the South African bowlers, though, and especially for Dale Steyn, bowling in home conditions has been an absolute blessing. Steyn averages 23.29 in South Africa, and less than 19 in Centurion. His career-best match figures of 10 for 91 came at this ground too, against New Zealand three years ago.
|Bowler||In SA - Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate||In Centurion - Tests||Wickets||Average||Strike rate|
In the last five Tests in Centurion, fast bowlers have expectedly taken the bulk of wickets, but spinners have had their moments too, with five-wicket hauls for Paul Harris, Shakib Al Hasan and Graeme Swann. That could mean Harbhajan Singh might have a bit to do over the next five days in Centurion.
|Wickets||Average||Strike rate||5WI/ 10WM|
With the weather expected to be overcast in Centurion over the next few days, the toss could have a role to play in deciding the winner. If the clouds don't relent, bowling first could be a good option for the team winning the toss: of the the nine Tests that have ended decisively in Centurion since 2000, six have been won by the team fielding first.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo