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December 16, 2013
The pre-series hype promised an intense clash that would overshadow the boardroom squabbles that have dominated headlines in the month leading up to India's tour to South Africa. It painted South Africa's pacemen as a pack of wolves, ready to tear into India's talented but young line-up and the ODIs went some way to confirming that.
India had minimal time to adjust to conditions and their batsmen, in particular, were exposed. They cowered against the short ball, pace and bounce. With the first Test scheduled at the Wanderers, there was expected to be more of the same. But hype can sometimes balloon over reality and India may have less to fear from the Johannesburg ground than it may seem.
Wanderers groundsman Chris Scott confirmed there is nothing sinister about the surface he is preparing for Wednesday. "We always try to have pitches with good pace and bounce but I am not doing anything fancy," he told ESPNcricinfo, rubbishing the notion that when a subcontinent team visits the country, he is under instruction to go green.
"It does not matter who is touring, I always follow the same formula and try to produce similar pitches to provide a good contest between bat and ball. I am just the stage manager. There's nothing I can do if the actors forget their words."
South Africa have a mixed recent record at the Wanderers though, and the ground is one of the better ones for India in the country - three matches at the venue in 1992, 1997 and 2006, have brought two draws and a win. India have not been bowled out for less than 220 at the Wanderers and they dismissed South Africa for 84 here in 2006.
What they had in those matches that they don't this time is a batting line-up filled with experience, with Sachin Tendulkar appearing in all three. His absence is what Morne Morkel thinks can be the difference this time. "They've got no Dravid, no Tendulkar - guys who can build an innings," he said. "Sachin was a guy that could bat time and put you under pressure over time. They've got guys now who can come out and be attacking, so we've got to watch for that."
With aggressive intent likely to be the Indian game-plan Scott is convinced India's next generation can perform in South African conditions. "I know the Indians have been concentrating on facing the ball coming up high so they may spring a surprise," he said. "It's going to be a good surface, it's just for the guys to perform on it."
Persistent rain over the last three weeks has not affected Scott's preparation at all. In fact, now that the weather has warmed up, Scott has ideal conditions to add the finishing touches to the strip. "The rain was good for me because it came well before I started preparing and now the weather has been fine," he said.
As summer finally descends on Johannesburg - with temperatures reaching 30 degrees on Monday - administrators are hopeful for a big crowd. The Wanderers has reported sales of more than 10,000 tickets for the opening day and average of 9,000 for every day after that, including the last.
They had a grand plan for one of those spectators to be Tendulkar. The Gauteng Cricket Board invited him to the Test but a source close to the officials said while Tendulkar expressed interest in attending, he had prior engagements he could not get away from.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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