Gautam Gambhir, the Indian opener, has described Rahul Dravid's absence from the Test series against South Africa as a "big blow" but remains confident after beginning the year on a positive note, beating Bangladesh 2-0. "Rahul Dravid has been the wall of the Indian middle order batting and his absence against a quality team such as South Africa will be a big blow," Gambhir said. "But we have begun 2010 well [by winning against Bangladesh]. The players would want to carry the momentum against South Africa. Moreover, injuries are part and parcel of sports, and it gives other players an opportunity to prove their mettle against a tough opposition."

Dravid had injured his upper left jaw against in the second Test against Bangladesh in Mirpur and underwent surgery in Bangalore on Friday. He has been advised two to three weeks' rest, making him an unlikely prospect for the two-Test series.

South Africa last toured India in 2008, drawing the series 1-1. They drew the first Test in Chennai, won the second comfortably in Ahmedabad and were upstaged in the third on a minefield in Kanpur. "They (South Africa) did well when they were here the last time, but didn't win the series," Gambhir said. "They will surely carry some confidence from that tour. But we have started off the year well by winning the series against Bangladesh. We have a lot of cricket ahead and it is good to start the year on such a positive note.

"We have to play well as a team. It would be crucial for us to get a good start, either batting or bowling first. If we are batting first we need to put up a good total to back up the bowlers. If we are bowling first, we need to take crucial early wickets."

Gambhir also said South Africa possessed a strong pace attack but the recent form of Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, who excelled in the Test series against Bangladesh, Gambhir said, makes for an exciting contest. "They have a strong bowling pair in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. We need to start off well upfront to keep them at bay," he said. "Though we don't have Sreesanth, Zaks (Zaheer Khan) has been bowling extremely well recently. His performance in Bangladesh speaks volumes of the form he is in. Ishant Sharma has also been bowling well in Test and we do have a good balance in bowling."

Sreesanth suffered a thigh strain during the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong, but was hopeful of being fit for the second Test against South Africa at Eden Gardens. "There is nothing serious and I am having very good training sessions at the NCA. I am very happy with my progress and I am recovering very fast," Sreesanth told PTI in Kolkata. "I have started running sprints and will start bowling soon, may be by Wednesday or Thursday. Everything is looking good and hopefully I should be fit for the second Test. I really don't want to miss any game be it against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or South Africa.

"I will not say it will be a 2-0 for us, but I am sure it will be a good contest. I am looking forward to play if I get fit and if I get selected for sure."