India in South Africa 2013-14 December 17, 2013

Smith's South Africa keen to build legacy

South Africa squashed their opponents at home last summer. This year's visitors are expected to be tougher, and Graeme Smith wants his team to be as ruthless

'Hoping Tahir will make an impact' - Smith

The summer of 2012 had some milestones for South African cricket.

It was the first time Graeme Smith's team played at home after winning the Test mace in England that August. It was also the first time since readmission that there was no Test in Durban: Kingsmead's traditional Boxing Day fixture was cancelled in favour of a Twenty20 series. When the Tests began, South Africa won all of them in a home season for the first time in a decade. None of the matches lasted five days.

That last point was the most notable of the lot. After becoming the top-ranked Test side and then winning a series in Australia, South Africa's mission was to assert their authority over the rest. They were ruthless against New Zealand, who barely posed a challenge, and Pakistan, who worried them only on the first day in Johannesburg and when Saeed Ajmal took ten wickets in Cape Town.

The summer of 2013 is expected to be trickier. South Africa are still No. 1, having ended a seven-month break from Tests with a drawn series against Pakistan in the UAE. It's not mid-table teams they are up against at home, though, and they have to play in Durban, where they have not won a Test since January 2008. It is likely that matches will last longer than they did last summer.

South Africa's first opponents are the No. 2 ranked side. Though India's rise in the rankings has been a result of victories at home, they have been competitive in South Africa in the past. There's reason to believe they will be again, despite the transition they are going through after Sachin Tendulkar's retirement.

"Their line-up is hugely talented, although very different to the one I have become accustomed to playing against," South Africa's captain Graeme Smith said. Of the 27 Tests South Africa have played against India, only twice have they not come up against Tendulkar. In 2008, he missed the Kanpur and Ahmedabad matches with a groin injury.

Tendulkar's absence has got the South African bowlers excited. Morne Morkel said that without him and Rahul Dravid, India's line-up lacked "guys who can bat time," although he singled out Cheteshwar Pujara as being someone with the potential to do that. He expected the other batsmen to attack and said they may come unstuck if they adopt that approach.

For Morkel, possibly South Africa's gentlest soul, to issue such a stern warning shows the level of self-belief in this squad. They don't think they can beat teams; they know they can.

Smith said that was the major difference between this Test side and the one that could not beat India three seasons ago. "There's confidence and composure now, and growth in terms of knowing that we can win from certain situations," he said.

Where South Africa have to be careful is in ensuring that their conviction does not become complacency. To guard against that, Smith has spoken about building a legacy - a term that is used to remind his team that every series is part of a bigger goal.

"We play the game hard and there's a big respect for the opposition. Hopefully we will be able to set standards," Smith said. "If you look at the Ashes, it puts into perspective the type of performances we've been able to put in. It's legacy and we need to have a care factor for that."

The Ashes winners, Australia, will tour South Africa later in the summer and that is expected to be a fiery affair. Smith does not want to look that far yet. "I don't feel there is any hype around the dressing room for that. We need to overcome this first."

Smith's focus is in the right place because South Africa have not won a series against India since 2006: the last three series were drawn. Their goal is crystal clear. Last summer, South Africa wanted to show they could win big. This year, they want to prove they can win hard.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent