Dale Steyn has said the preparation of result-oriented pitches will be the key to South Africa maintaining their supremacy against India at home during the upcoming Test series. South Africa begin their home summer against India at Centurion on December 16, their first assignment after a drawn series against Pakistan in the UAE.
"It will be really sad if we have similar wickets to the ones we had when we played Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates," Steyn told ESPNcricinfo. "This is a big series between two good sides and we need results to keep people interested."
The battle between the No. 1 and 2 ranked Test sides is expected to be influenced by the conditions in South Africa, with the visitors warned to anticipate bounce and pace from the pitches. Steyn saw the playing field as more level with India's batsmen, whose traditional weakness on tour has been the short ball, becoming more experienced in dealing with lively surfaces.
"Everybody has played enough around the world now for no conditions to be totally unknown," he said. "The Indian batsmen have proven themselves over the years and the pitches will be a test for both of us: our bowlers against their batters and their bowlers against our batters."
That's not to say Steyn doesn't think South Africa hold a slight edge. "I still think that our bowlers tend to bowl better in these conditions. And it's the same with our batsmen. They are more used to these conditions." India already know that and are preparing for the barrage of bouncers that will be hurled their way at a week-long training camp at Gary Kirsten's academy in Cape Town. The memory of Steyn's career-best match haul of 10-108, which included 7-51 in the first innings on a particularly responsive pitch in Nagpur in February, will be fresh in their minds.
Although that type of wicket is Steyn's favourite, he doesn't expect to see a strip as inviting as that all the time. "Every bowler wants a green top but we don't get them that often. Pitches around the world favour batters these days, I don't know if it's because they get used so much and they are worn out. The truth is that you rarely find a wicket that offers bowlers enough to get 20 wickets quickly. We have to work for our wickets."
Steyn singled out the Indian opening partnership as the one that will take the most toil to break. "A guy like Sachin, with the reputation that he is has, is always going to be an important wicket. But for me, their opening pair is terrifying, with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag." Without giving away any of the strategies he has been working on, Steyn hinted that South Africa have been brainstorming their bowling tactics . "The important thing for us will be to bowl to plans and to stick to those plans."
A big part of those plans will be the role of the two new-ball bowlers, Steyn and Morne Morkel. "We know if we do well, the team has a good chance of doing well," Steyn said.
Steyn has enjoyed success against India, taking 32 wickets in seven Tests. Morkel has 15 from six against India and together they've shared 206 wickets in 24 matches. "We've played a lot of cricket together at the Titans and now with the national side and we are always fighting between us for wickets. That really helps us because we are each motivation for the other." The competition between the two is stiff with Steyn currently lying third on the 2010 list of wicket-takers, with 45 scalps, and Morkel sixth with 37.
Steyn has no clear favourite among the three surfaces the Tests will be played on, although he does lean towards his home ground, Newlands, as the one that will offer the best cricketing experience. "All three wickets are great. I grew up playing in Pretoria, so I know exactly what to expect from that pitch. Now I live in Cape Town and it's just an unbelievable place to play cricket. South Africa's record is great at Newlands and to have the third test here will be good."
Steyn may be surprised to learn that, of the 45 Tests South Africa played at Newlands, they've won 17 and lost 19. Since readmission, which is probably the period Steyn was thinking about, South Africa won 14 out of the 21 matches played there, losing only three.