Graeme Smith’s South Africa open their tour of India on Tuesday with a practice match ahead of their bid to dislodge the hosts as the number one Test nation.
The tourists take on the Indian board president’s XI in a two-day match in Nagpur before the first Test begins at the new Vidarbha Cricket Association ground on the outskirts of the city on Saturday.
The two-Test series — the second match will be played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata from February 14 — could be one of the most important the Proteas have played in recent years.
The second-ranked South Africa need a 2-0 series win to displace India from the top. A 1-0 result in favour of the tourists will leave both teams level on 123 points.
South Africa were rattled last week by the resignation of long-time coach Mickey Arthur over what he said were differences with Cricket South Africa on the future course of action.
The entire selection committee, headed by former Test all-rounder Mike Procter, was also sacked following a 1-1 series draw to England at home.
National high performance coach Corrie van Zyl has taken over from Arthur for the Indian tour, which includes three one-day internationals after the Tests.
Skipper Smith was, however, confident the team would recover from the recent setbacks and perform well in India.
“It’s been an emotional week and not many teams go to India and win,” Smith was quoted as saying in Johannesburg prior to the team’s departure over the weekend.
“The players who have been part of the set-up for a while have dealt with a few difficult things in recent years and handled them very well.
“I expect them to be as professional as normal, and I’m looking to them for responsibility and guidance for the youth.”
The 15-man squad includes right-hand batsman Alviro Petersen (29) and left-arm fast bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe (25), both of whom have yet to play Test cricket.
Tsotsobe is part of a five-man pace attack led by Dale Steyn, but there is no place for former spearhead Makhaya Ntini.
Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy, Alviro Petersen, Mark Boucher, Paul Harris, Johan Botha, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe. — AFP