First Test preview: South Africa v India

India

The Proteas will want to get off to a very good start at the Wanderers and make sure the series is not completely lost to festive season distractions and the Ashes goings-on in Australia.

Given the number one and number two Test nations will be contesting the series starting in Johannesburg on Wednesday, many fans will continue to be disappointed that it's just a two-game affair with a high potential for a draw.

The last three Test series between South Africa and India have ended in stalemates, the most recent in January 2011. Added to that, India have never won a Test series on SA soil, but the second Test will be in Durban, which they enjoy.

Thus, the Proteas will want to get off to a very good start at the Wanderers and make sure the series is not completely lost to festive season distractions and the Ashes goings-on in Australia.

The last 10 games between the sides are fairly even results-wise, with the Proteas winning five, India three and two draws. The last time they played at the Bullring, in 2006, India won by 123 runs.

Of that India side, only Zaheer Khan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni remain. It was a rather low-scoring match, with Sreesanth's bowling the main reason for India's win. This time, Zaheer will need his experience to thwart the Proteas' top order.

One of those batsmen is relative 'bunny' Graeme Smith. The chatter pre-series has been about Biff's poor record against the India paceman, as he has taken his wicket six times. That is second only to Chris Martin's eight.

Smith was in poor form in the recent limited overs series against Pakistan, both in the UAE and at home, but his most recent Test saw him score a double century upon his return from injury. Zaheer, meanwhile, has not played for India in a year.

The rest of the Proteas' order should fare well if they play to form, with Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers coming in on the back of recent tons while topping the batting rankings in both Tests and ODIs.

It's the middle of the order that's a concern, with Faf du Plessis in bad nick and dropped from the ODI side, and (whisper it) Jacques Kallis not in great form since his return from his long rest period.

The home bowling attack is ready to fire at full strength though, and this could be the difference between the sides, as it was in the ODI series. Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir make a formidable foursome.

India's bowling will be led by Zaheer, who, as mentioned before, has not played in a while and is on the tour due to his experience. The rest of the crew, from Ishant Sharma to Bhuvneshwar Kumar to Umesh Yadav, have not enjoyed recent series. Mohammed Shami is the shining light.

Batting-wise, India have one of the most enjoyable top orders to watch, from Shikhar Dhawan to Cheteshwar Pujara to Virat Kohli, and their form will dictate how much fans forget about Sachin Tendulkar's absence. This will be their first series since his retirement.

<b>Key Men</b><br>For the hosts, <b>Dale Steyn</b> will be the man to watch. The fast bowler took six wickets for eight runs the last time he played at this ground, and averages under 19 here. He's the number one Test bowler for a reason.

India will look to <b>Virat Kohli</b> for inspiration and runs, as his temperamental nature has recently calmed to see him become one of their most consistent performers. His quick strike rate could see the game taken away from SA in a session.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2011, Third Test: Match drawn in Cape Town<br>2010, Second Test: India won by 87 runs in Durban<br>2010, First Test: South Africa won by an innings and 25 runs in Centurion<br>2010, Second Test: India won by an innings and 125 runs in Kolkata<br>2010, First Test: South Africa won by an innings and six runs in Nagpur

<b>Prediction</b><br>With rain looming and the evenly-matched nature of the sides, we're going to say that the Proteas will scrape a win on the final day. Not many draws at this ground, but this could be one…

<b>Squads</b><br><i>South Africa:</i> Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile

<i>India:</i> MS Dhoni (capt, wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha

<b>Dates:</b> 18 to 22 December<br><b>Morning session:</b> 10:30-12:30 (08:30-10:30 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:10-15:10 (11:10-13:10 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 15:30-17:30 (13:30-15:30 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Rod Tucker and Steve Davis<br><b>Third umpire:</b> TBC<br><b>Match referee:</b> Andy Pycroft

Latest