Vernon Philander is a man of few words, but in those few words he did throw down the gauntlet for India two days before the series' first Test. Asked about the general reputation this India team seems to carry - of being better travellers than the earlier teams - Philander said he wasn't impressed just yet.
"They have played most of their games at home, so it'll be interesting to see how they go in South Africa," Philander said. "It's a total different ball game. We're going to have to wait and see once they pass the first Test match."
The pitch, because of the large-scale drought in Cape Town, remains a mystery, but there is a decent amount of grass on it. South Africa coach Ottis Gibson said this was exactly what they wanted, but Philander didn't feel it was a pitch to be scared of. "No, I wouldn't say it's greener [than other Newlands pitches]," Philander said. "I have played all my life here. I've seen a lot of similar wickets and they haven't done much. Obviously there's a little bit of grass there, but I don't think it's going to scare anyone."
There are also a few vertical cracks on the pitch, which reminded a reporter of the 2011-12 Test here, when Australia were bowled out for 47. Philander said that was all about the overheads. "I think that wicket was a little bit different to what this was," Philander said. "That one looked a lot flatter than this one. But sometimes you get to Newlands, and it depends on the type of wind that blows here as well. You might get days there is grass, but it's absolutely flat. You get some days, the north-western blows, and the ball goes around when there's not much grass on there."
All these vagaries of playing at Newlands leave both teams' openers an important job to do. India's fourth-most prolific opener in Test cricket, M Vijay, has a big job to do if India are to succeed in South Africa. Vijay spoke before Philander did, and he pointed to the green pitch as an exciting opportunity. "It is quite green," Vijay said of the surface. "I don't know how it is going to behave on day one. Hopefully it should be a good Test match to be part of. We are looking forward to it, and that is more important. Everybody in our dressing room is looking forward to the first day of play."
Vijay was pointed to Graeme Smith's assertion that South Africa is the most difficult place to open an innings in. Statistically, in all Test cricket, openers have had a worse average only in New Zealand. "I have been here a couple of times," Vijay said. "Once I got to play the Test match, it was pretty challenging for the opening batsmen. As you know the bounce and seam movement in these conditions is something really exciting for openers to go out there and perform against. I agree with him [Smith], it is difficult but at the same time you learn a lot of things. If you have some x-factor in your game, you can use it when you get into a situation like that next time."
But, hey, at least Smith didn't have to face Philander, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, which is why Vijay joked his "learning" is greater than Smith's.
Vijay is considered one of the best leavers of the ball, which is what helps him at his job, but he said an opener couldn't afford to go out with a fixed mindset. "You cannot have a set pattern," he said. "You cannot go into a Test match thinking you are going to leave so many balls. You also have to be in a frame of mind where you also have to score runs. If they bowl in good areas, then you have to try to counter and come out stronger. These are the things, I think, which will be critical for us to move forward."