India vs South Africa: We will play the game hard, says Graeme Smith
Johannesburg: South African skipper Graeme Smith on Wednesday sought to play mind-games ahead of the Test series against India, saying the fast and bouncy tracks here will be a real "test of character" for the young Indian batting line-up.
"They are a hugely talented bunch but very different from the Indian line-up we are accustomed to play against," said Smith, referring to the transitional period that this Indian team is going through.
"Touring different parts of the world is a test of character and it is going to be so for them in the next two Test matches," seasoned South African skipper said on the eve of the first Test.
India`s tour begun on a disastrous note as they were hammered in the first two One day internationals losing by huge margins of 141 and 136 runs respectively.
The Proteas skipper said that he would like his team to play hard and win the Test with a credible performance just like a No 1 team in the world.
"We will play the game hard. Ultimately we want to win this Test match and that is our goal. It won`t be different from the last time we played Test cricket (versus Pakistan). But there is a big respect-factor for the game and the opposition, and as the number one team in the world, I want to see us have some good credibility and lead the game well," he said.
Smith didn`t make too many intimidating statements like ODI captain AB de Villiers but he didn`t forget to mention that playing the first innings at the Wanderers is a tough proposition.
"The pitch looks like it has a bit of a moisture and we know that the first innings at the Wanderers can be pretty tough," said Smith, non-committal about what to do after winning the toss, just like Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
"Here, if you post decent totals, then you give yourself the best chance of winning. It doesn`t need to be 500-600 runs because there is always enough for the bowlers to do well.
"So if we can have a partnership at an important stage in the game, it will be crucial to set up a good platform and post a good total, giving us the opportunity to do well in this Test match," Smith added.
For the top-ranked Test side in the world, selecting their first XI is an easy job and South African side are no different.
They have retained the same side that played against Pakistan, with the sole exception of Hashim Amla coming in for Dean Elgar.
If at all they have a worry, it will be about getting off the blocks early, since they conceded a defeat in the first Test of that series against Pakistan.
They did draw level in the second Test, but team India knows how to win both in Johannesburg (in 2006) and Durban (in 2010). Hence Smith, and his side, ought to be very cautious about the first day of this short series.
"Most of the guys have played more cricket now which is always good (as compared to the start of the season). We have discussed in terms of areas to be improved upon, I am happy with the way we have responded and it is important to play good, positive cricket.
"And tomorrow, it's the first Test and it the first Test is very important in a two-Test series and we have to get into our straps soon," he said.
For Smith, the biggest advantage is that the Wanderers pitch not only has bounce but also seam movement which can add to the worry of the Indians.
"The Wanderers is effective for all bowlers, not only the bounce but there is also a little bit of seam movement that benefits the seam bowlers if they pitch it in the right areas.
Smith hasn't forgotten tainted pacer S Sreesanth's performance during the 2006 series where his five-wicket haul set-up India's first Test win in South Africa.
"Sreesanth bowled really well, and if my memory serves me correct, he got the ball in the right areas and created the opportunities. But I think as a team, we are probably further down the road in terms of knowing how hard to compete and what we need to do. It is important to us tomorrow that we hit the ground running," Smith added, recollecting about that 2006 tour.
Smith's own form hasn't been great of late but he is not perturbed by the fact that his old nemesis Zaheer Khan is back again with an aim of tormenting him. Zaheer has dismissed the left-handed opener six times in nine Test matches.
When asked specifically about his plans to cope with the left-arm pacer's stranglehold on him, Smith ducked the bouncer very smartly.
"I have had enough battles with bowlers over the years and I don?t need to lose much sleep over it. It is another wonderful opportunity to front up to an outstanding bowler," he signed off.