India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni says "getting used to the pace and bounce" in South African conditions will be the biggest challenge for his young team, which will play three ODIs and two Tests on the current tour.
"One of the big challenges is to get used to the pace and bounce. If you are just new to the international circuit, then it becomes more of a challenge. The reason being, in India, even on the best of wickets, you don't get the same pace, or even bowlers who can generate similar pace and bounce.
"So it makes slightly more difficult for the players who have just made their debut in the international arena," Dhoni told reporters at the pre-match press conference.
"But at the same time there are few players (in the side) who have been playing for the last few seasons and have had a decent outing all over the world. When you come to the same venue, you know how the situation or condition will be, and it gives an edge to adapt quickly. At the end of the day experience always counts," he added.
Young they may be, but this Indian lot is also very enthusiastic about their cricket. And they are raring to take on the challenge of facing some of the best fast bowlers in world cricket.
The battle then essentially will be between Indian batsmen and South Africa bowlers, and how they cope up with the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will be intriguing, to say the least.
"Strategies have always been formed against batsmen. Batsmen form their own strategies to counter bowlers' plans. The real challenge is how you are able to change your game and adapt as per different conditions. More important than strategies is who scores more runs and takes more wickets," said Dhoni.
That, again, brings up the topic of the Indian bowling, the same deemed 'weak' by his counterpart.
"It is important how you exploit conditions," he replied.
"It's not important if you have the best bowlers. I think we have done pretty well. There have been ups and downs. We have really struggled when there is dew on the field or the wickets are really flat surfaces. That's an area where our bowlers haven't done outstandingly well," Dhoni said.
"But if there is help for them, fast bowlers or spinners, they have made use of it and done well. So we are happy with how they have done, quite happy with both ups and downs," he added.
Although Dhoni admitted that he hasn’t seen the pitch, earlier in the day, A B de Villiers had talked about the amount of grass on it. If some of it stays there come tomorrow, even the hosts will be wary of the threat the Indian bowlers can pose. Both captains have candidly agreed that saving wickets early on, for an attack in the death overs, is the safest bet.
"Irrespective of where you are playing, wickets in hand always get you good runs in last 8-10 overs. In the sub-continent, the wickets slow down and sometimes it is difficult to for the new batsmen to come in and play shots. In those circumstances, we have not been able to get par-plus scores.
"If there is good pace and bounce, we have seen that generally batsmen can get runs in the last 8-10 overs, and they add on to the par-plus score," said Dhoni.
"South Africa is one place where I believe a lot depends on how the conditions are, how the wickets are prepared, and whether it is overcast or a bright sunny day when wickets can be very good for batting. A lot will depend on what the circumstances are on that day," he added.
It is a fact that India go into this ODI rubber as the world's number one side. It is also a fact that they have never won a bilateral series in South Africa, and their record in the ODIs is poor as well.
"It is not about favourites. The poor record wasn't on my mind, but there have been instances, where we had an opportunity to win the series, but we didn't cash in on it. So, what is important is how you play cricket on that particular day. We have seen that in ODIs, you need to get off to a good start. With two new ball rule and especially if conditions favour the fast bowlers, it is important how you play the first ten overs. Having wickets in hand, cashing in on the last 15 overs to get par plus score and then how you defend it. It all depends on how you play and the kind of impact individuals have on that day."
Dhoni's words seemed to suggest that the Indians aren’t too flustered about batting first or second. South Africa's recent chase-record, losing seven of their last eight matches, could be tempting. Or, they could instead bowl first and chase themselves, something the Indian batsmen have done with great aplomb recently.
"We are working on our strengths in batting and bowling, and accordingly we will try to make the most of it. If we don't have bowlers who don't bowl at 145 or 150 km/h then there is no point thinking about pace and bounce.
"But if you have someone who can swing the ball, then we will make the most of conditions here with two new balls, try to get wickets in first ten overs and that can have an impact on the game.
"We have won a few games where we haven't scored a lot of runs. At the same time we have won quite a few games where we have scored 350 while chasing.
"In the past one year if you see, we have equal instances of players chasing down over 300 runs and at the same time defending something close to 150 (number of overs were reduced). So, to say which a better pick is, I cannot say," Dhoni opined.
All in all, this has all the makings of a tasty, keenly contested affair, although a shortened one.
"Whenever we have played South Africa, it has been a tough series and you hardly see any individuals crossing the line. We have a lot of love and respect for them. We hope they continue with their same (poor) form, but it is their home conditions, so they will definitely be ready.
"Only thing in a three-match series is that it becomes difficult if a team lags behind and loses the first game. Then there is extra pressure on the team that loses the first game," added Dhoni.
Image: Mahendra Singh Dhoni addresses the media in Johannesburg on Wednesday
Photograph: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images