The good news is that this series is not without context. South Africa will be playing for World Cup Super League points. And they are desperate to get them. The better news - for them - is that they are doing it against a second-string Indian side that doesn't have too much riding on these three matches, and could be ripe for the picking.
But the bad news? There isn't any really, except if you were hoping to see India's best ODI players on display over the next six days. Oh, and there is a lot of rain around - especially for the first two matches - which could put a dampener on the whole thing.
According to the visitors' opening batter Janneman Malan, they are approaching this series as if they are "in a submarine" to try to block out the distractions caused by Mark Boucher's imminent departure as head coach, the disappointment over captain Temba Bavuma's non-purchase at the SA20, and the concerns over his form leading onto the T20 World Cup (more on that later).
Instead of pondering on all that, South Africa are applying a laser-like focus to the task at hand - getting themselves as close as possible to automatic qualification for the ODI World Cup next year, which will be played in India and where they are getting a small taste of the kind action they don't want to miss out on.
Since full-capacity crowds were allowed back into Indian grounds with South Africa's visit for five T20Is in June earlier this year, the stadiums have been packed with the noise and colour the Covid-19 pandemic robbed us of. It is those people that India's coach Rahul Dravid - who will not be in charge of the ODI team as he makes an early exit for Australia - told the broadcasters after the third T20I that India have relished playing for. They have had a glut of white-ball home fixtures - which, you could argue, will be lost in the bigger picture - but India coach Dravid recognised the joy it brought to spectators. Context matters, of course, but cricket can also be just cricket.
And it is never really just cricket, is it? Indian fans will remember well that the team was swept 3-0 in a bilateral ODI series against South Africa in February this year, and will wonder what kind of response their team is preparing. South Africa may just emerge from the submarine for long enough to remember that was the last ODI series they won, and try to use it as an inspiration for this one.
India WWWWW (Last five completed matches, most recent first) South Africa LWLWL
In the spotlight
Temba Bavuma needs runs, and needs them quickly as he gears up for the T20 World Cup on the back of a comeback from injury. Until the T20Is on this tour, Bavuma had not played international cricket since April after missing South Africa's tour of England with an elbow problem and has had a torrid time since returning.
With two ducks and a score of 3 from the T20I series, his form is a major concern; but the longer white-ball format may just give him the opportunity to turn things around. With time to build an innings and little pressure to go full tilt from the first ball, Bavuma can concentrate on both the technique and the tempo of his game, and find some confidence ahead of the World Cup.
Shikhar Dhawan's last ODI hundred came 26 innings ago at the 2019 World Cup. In that time, Rohit (2), Rahul (3) and Kohli (2) have scored seven hundreds between them. Shubman Gill established his white-ball credentials in the series against Zimbabwe and West Indies, scoring three half-centuries and a career-best 130 in his last six ODIs for India. Although more than a year away, the 2023 World Cup will be driving Dhawan, and if he wants to be absolutely sure of a spot, a good time to start piling on the runs is now.
The anticipation around Royal Challengers Bangalore star Rajat Patidar could come to an end if he makes his international debut in this series, but he is competing with Rahul Tripathi, who has been around the national set-up for the past few months.
However, all eyes will still be on Deepak Chahar, who has made a successful comeback from a torn quadriceps, and is on the radar as one of Jasprit Bumrah's replacements in India's T20 World Cup squad.
South Africa are not deploying any of their players to Australia for the T20 World Cup early, so will have their full-strength squad at their disposal. Bavuma is expected to be a straight swap for the injured Rassie van der Dussen from the England series, with the rest of the middle order - Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller - likely to remain consistent.
Andile Phehlukwayo and Marco Jansen, both T20 World Cup squad reserves, could come into contention for the allrounder's spot, with South Africa likely to try and field their strongest attack in what is a must-win series.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Janneman Malan, 3 Temba Bavuma, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo/Dwaine Pretorius, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Anrich Nortje/Marco Jansen, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Pitch and conditions
Neither team has ever played an ODI at Lucknow's Ekana Stadium, with the majority of its international fixtures being between Afghanistan and West Indies in 2019. There, in three ODIs, the average first innings score was 230, which suggests the ground may not support quick scoring. However, India have played two T20Is at the ground and put up totals of 195 and 199, which may indicate differently. It has been raining significantly in Lucknow, and showers are expected for most of the day.
Stats and trivia
South Africa lie in 11th place on the World Cup Super League points table, with four victories and 49 points from 13 games so far. After forfeiting the three-match series in Australia, the maximum number of points available to them from here is 80: 30 vs India, 30 vs England and 20 vs Netherlands.
That means if they win all their remaining matches - and have no over-rate violations which result in a points penalty - they will end up on a total of 129 points. England, Australia, Bangladesh and Pakistan already have 120, with six matches left to play.
South Africa and India were due to play in Lucknow in March 2020 but the match was cancelled as the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact the world and thus the sport. The stadium has hosted three other ODIs - all between Afghanistan and West Indies in 2019.
"Everyone knows how important the next eight games are for the Proteas in the ODI format. We are trying to maximise the points. The World Cup is in India. It's nice to get good prep and put in good performances to hopefully join the tournament." South Africa will do everything they can to make sure they get to next year's World Cup, according to Janneman Malan