'South Africa is waiting, bring it on'. When you see a certain Jacques Kallis say this on the promo of a cricket channel ahead of the India-South Africa series, it is a grim reminder of what to expect on this recent safari for Team India.
Not that MS Dhoni and his boys are unaware of the challenge that lies ahead, but the mind games before a big series often sets the tone for things to come. The Proteas know that the stakes are high for the No.1 Test side in this series and they have struck the right chord.
A verbal tirade on India's past abysmal performances in the rainbow nation has already been issued by the South African coach Corrie van Zyl who has said that the "record books do not lie". Adding fuel to fire is the elegant South African middle-order bat AB De Villiers who has questioned the ability of the Indian batsmen to score big outside the sub-continent. "If they don't have success here, there'll definitely be a question mark about their No. 1 ranking," he said.
Team India knows that they will hang on to their No. 1 Test status even if they lose the three-match series 0-3 but that must be the last thing on their mind. A series win or even a stalemate with the hosts will go a long way in putting to rest the questions about their claim of being the top Test side, something that coach Gary Kirsten knows pretty well.
Their last sojourn to the southernmost nation of the African continent started in great style with a victory in the first Test match at Johannesburg with the mercurial Sreesanth devastating the South Africans with an eight-wicket burst. That remains the only victory ever on South African soil for the Indians.
But even after such a great start, the hosts turned the momentum around to win the next Test match convincingly. And just when it looked like a stylish first innings ton by opener Wasim Jaffer had put India in a strong position to either force a win or a draw in the third Test match, the famed batting line-up decided to fold up like a pack of cards in the second innings to succumb to their fourth straight series loss in South Africa.
So the writing is on the walls, the tourists need to perform out of their skins to make sure that history does not repeat itself. Gautam Gambhir has got back his form of the old through the series against New Zealand, but his abilities against the rising ball will again be under the microscope against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on the spring board of a wicket in Centurion.
Swashbuckling Sehwag has shown that he is capable of tearing apart bowling attacks anywhere on the planet as his hand & eye co-ordination tends to take factors like pace, bounce and overcast conditions out of the equation. But the 'Najafgarh ka Nawab' has just a debut century at Bloemfontain to show which came back in 2001-02. His performance on the last tour was dismal to say the least, something that led to him being dropped from the Test side as well.
Rahul Dravid may have rekindled his chances of a longer stint in the five-day game with his mammoth ton against the Kiwis, but he knows that every single failure of his is a potential opportunity for someone like a Murli Vijay.
VVS Laxman has been the saviour for India on countless occasions now but he knows very well that he is yet to score a century on South African soil. Tendulkar too will be looking forward to his 50th Test ton and an Indian win alongside that would surely be the icing on the cake.
But the real Test will be for Suresh Raina (if picked to play) who has been given the nod ahead of Yuvraj Singh who is waiting like a wounded tiger to make a comeback for India in the white kits.
The pace battery will be spearheaded by Zaheer Khan (if he is fit at last), but the most reassuring fact for the team would be the great rhythm shown by Sreesanth whose 'banana-swingers' can turn out to be the key once again. Harbhajan Singh too needs to do a total recall and remember that his primary role in the team is to get wickets and not hit sixes (the latter is also welcome knowing the batsmen's vulnerability against pace).
So, it may not just be the final frontier yet for the Indians but a good performance against South Africa will just be what the doctor had prescribed ahead of the World Cup.