Much anticipation heralds the start of the India vs South Africa series beginning in Chennai later this month. The ghost of the series down under is slowly being laid to rest. Fading from memory is a series that was as forgettable as it was unforgettable, and looming large on the horizon are the hulking figures of Graeme Smith and company.
I believe this is going to be a much harder series for India than the one they've just emerged from. Not withstanding the retirement of Shaun Pollock, the South African attack looks sharper, and faster, than I ever remember it to have been. Dale 'the Gale' Steyn is blowing batting line-ups away with amazing regularity. Three out of three man-of-the-series awards is no little achievement irrespective of the opposition and the Indian batsmen will be well advised not to blink. Steyn hovers around the 150 kmph mark without straying from the space between off and leg stump. You miss, he hits.
Steaming in from the other end with the regularity of an electric train will be Makhaya Ntini. Angling the cherry away from left-handers and sharply into batsmen facing the other way. Then there's Morne Morkel who brings the ball down from what's nearly the peak of Petronas. Add the strong shoulders of Jacques Kallis to the equation and you have a pace attack with enough variety to trouble the best.
When it comes to putting runs on the board for the Proteas, two names come to the fore. Kallis and Graeme Smith. Necessarily in that order. These are the willow wielders I expect to hurt the Indian team's chances the most. The Kallis threat needs no introduction. He's been giving his bowlers something substantial to bowl at for years, and can be expected to continue the good work. Smith on the other hand is less predictable. But a look at his stats will convince you that when he scores, he scores big. And that's the danger. If out of 6 innings, he maximises in 2, the Indians are going to be chasing a very tall order.
To sum it up, the result of this series depends on how India handles Steyn, Kallis and Smith. If they strike gold, the home team will have to settle for silver.