The series is being touted as the Championship series where the current No.1 and No. 2 test sides in the world will be at their wits end to conquer each other.

However, both the sides are entering the series with their own share of troubles. India taking field without Dravid against a team with a fine pair of fast bowlers is like swimming in the seas without a life jacket. In the last decade Dravid has been not only the major contributor to her wins at home and abroad against the best sides but also been the best equipped in the team to tackle the pacers and put a prize on his wicket.

Adding to this setback is that Laxman is a doubtful starter which further aggravates India’s woes cause he is India’s big hundred man and the one who sets up the pace of the innings. Missing Yuvraj is no big deal , his performance in tests to say the least, is dismal. It’s time he makes way for the young blokes who are firing on the domestic scene. He is undoubtedly a great T20 and ODI player but I’ve seen him for the last decade and every single time he has failed to impress me as a test player. If you cannot play spin at home and tackle the fast bowlers abroad, you have a problem – he does not seem to have ever acknowledged that. Don’t tell me he never got enough opportunities with the middle order occupied by the big 4. Ganguly has retired for 15 months now and yet Yuvraj has not seized his opportunity. Compare this with Gambhir in the same period and you will understand what I mean.

South Africa on the other hand are struggling with the recent political mess in their cricket circle – resignation of their coach and sacking of the selection committee. Smith did not want this off-field turmoil on what happens to be one of the most important series of his career.

India does not enjoy a great record against SA – the only team they have not done well against in the last decade. SA also can be blamed for inconsistency – after a stupendous tour in Australia in 2008, they let go the advantage once the Aussies came to SA. They did not have a great test series against Eng recently either. A series which could have been 3-1 in their favour was eventually drawn level by the Poms at 1-1.

If Laxman does not make it tomorrow, India will probably field its weakest middle-order in a decade, a fact that SA’s brilliant two pacers Morkel and Steyn will look to exploit. However, if India play sensibly and weather the initial storm, SA does not have the spin attack to trouble India. If Abhishek Nayar and Pandey could destroy Harris and Botha, it should be easy pickings for Sachin and Co.

My bet is on Gambhir and Murali to take up Dravid’s responsibility. Gambhir needs no introduction – go to any cricket website and check out his performance in the last 15 months! The bloke is on a roll, what’s more is that he can transform his game as per the situation and need of the moment. So Sehwag can still go hammer and tongs and we will rely on the hope that Gambhir will see us through the day. The series gives Murali a good chance to cement his place. Of what I saw of him against SL he impressed me. Straight Bat, the bloke plays as straight as one can and exudes tremendous confidence. The future seems assured, I’m not the only one to put my money on him – most cricket fans I know (whom I’ve very high regard for in terms of their knowledge of the game) rate him high too. So let’s wait and watch.

Bowling still is a worry – Ishaant has to strike form and support Zaheer who is the only one who can run through the side right now. If the spinners don’t strike we are well looking for trouble.

SA has a fairly balanced batting order , each batsmen capable of turning the game on his own – The old war-horse Kallis, Boucher the danger man, Smith the backbone and the youngsters DeVilliers, Prince, Amla and Duminy. Their biggest weak point is the spin attack and if India gets it right, this could well be the reason for their loss in the series.

Unless India wins in SA we cannot tell who is the better side, but before that India needs to get this one right on their home ground. India are being proclaimed as the favourites in this series and that worries me. I’ve been watching cricket for last 18 years and I’ve a theory which is a proven fact – We do far better when we are underdogs, place the favourites tag on us and we are bound to fail or underperform. So I’m going to put SA as favourites in terms of their stable batting order and pace attack, and therefore if we draw the series we have done a good job.

I would love to see India win and will be cheering for them, but if you ask me where I’d put my money – I’d play safe and put in on a drawn result.

What about you?