India's first taste of Centurion
India will endeavour to become the only visiting side apart from England to win a Test match at SuperSport Park in Centurion when the three-Test series gets underway on Thursday.
Remarkably. India has never played a Test match at this ground before. They were scheduled to do so in November, 2001, but the match had its status downgraded to a five-day first-class match following Code of Conduct issues around the previous Test at Axxess DSL St. George's.
The Proteas won the match by an innings but the result was totally incidental as the series had already been decided 1-0 in South Africa's favour. Both Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis scored centuries but the unofficial nature of the contest meant that Kallis had to wait another three years to score his first Test century against India at Kolkata's famous Eden Gardens.
The unofficial match also marked what should have been Jacques Rudolph's debut and he had to wait 18 months for that to happen when he scored a double century on his official debut against Bangladesh.
Image: Team South Africa
Sehwag, Tendulkar centuries thrilled fans
In spite of the controversial finish the series produced much excellent cricket with Virender Sehwag scoring a century on debut (batting at No. 7) in the first Test at the Oval. Sachin Tendulkar also scored a century in that game as did Herschelle Gibbs and Lance Klusener for the Proteas.
Gibbs went on to play what was probably the best Test innings of his life in the second match at Axxess DSL St. George's where he blasted the Indian bowlers to all corners of the ground on a lively wicket after India had won the toss and opted to field first. He finished just four runs short of a double century.
There are six survivors from that series on the Indian side in Sehwag, Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan and only two from South Africa in Kallis and Mark Boucher.
The Proteas have found SuperSport Park a wonderful hunting ground with 11 victories in 15 matches as against three draws and one defeat (all against England).
Kallis has only missed one of those 15 matches (he earned his first cap two matches after SuperSport Park's maiden Test against England in 1995) and not surprisingly is the only South African to have scored more than 1 000 Test runs at this venue at an average of 60. The other two players who have really cashed in at this venue are Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince with averages of 85 and 67 respectively.
Kallis is nonetheless only fourth on the list of leading runs scorers in series between the Proteas and India. The top three are the Indian 'big three' -- Tendulkar, Sehwag and Dravid.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Virender Sehwag
Amla will be the key man for Proteas
Both Sehwag and Tendulkar have scored five Test centuries against the Proteas and the man most likely to catch them is Amla after his phenomenal tour of India at the start of this year.
He scored three centuries including a double in his only three Test innings which gives him a total of four in all against these particular opponents. They have all been scored on the Asian sub-continent and have played an important role in the Proteas' amazing record in Test matches in India -- 5 wins and 5 defeats. In home Test matches the Proteas have a record of 6 wins against India as against a solitary defeat.
That defeat happened at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on India's last visit to our shores in 2006-07 and left the Proteas in the unusual situation for a home series of having to win two games out of two to clinch the series.
This they managed to do and one fancies that Graeme Smith's men will be very happy to be one up at the end of the current series as well.
Image: Hashim Amla