Smith piles the pressure on India
Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, believes that India are the team with a point to prove going into the three-Test series starting in Centurion on Thursday. "If you're going to be No. 1 in the world you have to be convincing all around the world and beat people in their own backyards. That's what Australia did consistently. The pressure will be on India," Smith said at a press conference in Centurion on Wednesday.
Although Corrie van Zyl, South Africa's coach, and some of the other players have talked down the importance of the rankings, Smith echoed the thoughts of many who believe that India have to win in South Africa to justify their label as the world's top-ranked Test team.
Smith believes South Africa are in an ideal space to challenge India. "We've been touching the No. 1 and 2 spot for the past two-and-a-half-years and we've played some good cricket around the world. We pride ourselves on big series like this one." Unless they sweep the series, South Africa can't overtake India at the top of the rankings, but they're more interested in asserting their dominance than the label itself.
The pitches are expected to play a vital role in the series, with South Africa requesting bouncy surfaces. Smith expects that the Centurion strip will have, "even more seam movement than expected because of the overcast conditions." Even though the elements will support a pace attack, Smith all but dismissed thoughts of using five quicks, which they have at their disposal in the 12-man squad. "Judging how we've approached Tests at home in the past I would say we would go in with a spinner. "
That means Paul Harris will definitely be in the starting XI after Johan Botha was released to his franchise. The additional seamer will be one of Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Ryan McLaren, with the former more likely to be included because of the variation he will add as a left-armer.
Morne Morkel on Tuesday identified Virender Sehwag as the main threat to the South African attack, but Smith said his men will not be intimidated by the destructive Indian opener. "It's important to note that he has been very successful against us on the subcontinent. We have discussed him, but no more than other batters and we've got plans for him." The other batsman Smith has a particular eye on is Sachin Tendulkar. "I would love for Sachin to get his 50th Test ton but maybe in the next series."
The pre-series hype is still centred on the South African bowlers versus the Indian batsmen. Smith was asked if he thinks his bowlers have the ability to take 20 wickets in a match, after they failed to do so twice against Pakistan and twice in last season's home series against England.
"There's no doubt in my mind that we can. When we playing England we had them nine down in two of the matches and had a little bit of luck gone our way we would have won the series. I'm sure India are asking themselves the same question after two drawn Test matches [against New Zealand]. I believe we have enough firepower and it's just going to be about how we execute it."
Smith said his side are an older, wiser group from the one that drew with England last summer. "We are far more experienced and a lot calmer in terms of what we want to achieve. Emotion doesn't really play a part in how we make our decisions," he said. One of the things they want to achieve is to set the early pace in the series, especially after they had to recover from 1-0 down against India during the 2006-7 tour. "We really want to put our peg in the ground over the next five days. It's important to get ahead."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent