Over the next few weeks, India will attempt to do what they have never done before - win a Test series in South Africa, the only country where they are yet to win one. South Africa's recent home record is not convincing though: they have lost five of their last eight home Tests, played across three series in which they have lost two. However, India's quest for their maiden Test series win in South Africa starts on Boxing Day in Centurion, which has been like a fortress for the hosts.
South Africa, by far, is the toughest country for batting in Test cricket. Since the start of 2018, the batting average in South Africa is the second-lowest at 25.39, next only to the West Indies with 23.53. There have been only 15 centuries in the 18 Tests that South Africa has hosted since 2018, at 0.83 hundreds per Test, the lowest ratio for any host country.
The trend of bowler-friendly pitches in South Africa is evident by the recent records of the three venues that host India: Centurion, Johannesburg and Cape Town. The batting average in each of these venues, in the last five Tests hosted at each ground, is below 27. Only once a team did go past the 500-run mark, and the average first-innings total stays below 350. Also, more than 85% of the wickets have been taken by the pace bowlers in these matches.
India did find some consistency from their openers in overseas Tests this year, but the senior trio of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara has been short of runs. All three have been to South Africa a couple of times earlier and have had some success there. Kohli and Rahane average more than 50 in Tests in South Africa, while Pujara has played a couple of crucial knocks too. However, each of the three batters has struggled for big runs in the last two years, averaging below 30.
South Africa's batting at home has struggled too, with only four centuries across their last 11 home Tests - two of those were by Faf du Plessis, who retired from the longest format earlier this year. du Plessis and Quinton de Kock are the only batters with 40-plus averages for South Africa at home in this period. On the other hand, their pace attack will have a fresh look, led by Kagiso Rabada. They have picked seven pacers in the squad, but not more than two have played together in a Test match.
Sampath Bandarupalli is a statistician at ESPNcricinfo