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India prepare for "defining moment"

World number one Test side India are playing for reputation rather than ranking points on their three Test tour of South Africa - their last series before touring England in 2011.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men will stay at the top of the ICC rankings even if they lose all three Tests, the first of which gets underway in Centurion on Thursday 16 December.

India’s South African coach Gary Kirsten has described the series as "the defining moment" for the current squad and victory would seal their reputation as the finest side around.

It would also set up a mouthwatering battle with England next summer which gets underway at the Home of Cricket on Thursday 21 July.

The visitors have their work cut out on what are expected to be quick, bouncy tracks designed to favour Graeme Smith’s South Africa side.

World number one ranked bowler Dale Steyn has targeted the explosive Indian opening duo of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag but India’s unquestionable strength lies in their depth of batting.

The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman are scoring as heavily as ever and the proposition of Dhoni batting as low as number seven is a frightening one for their opponents.

Indian frailties?

However there are, as ever, caveats when discussing India’s chances outside of the subcontinent.

Steyn, along with Morne Morkel, will target the Indian batsmen’s supposed weakness against bounce on pitches which should offer some life for the seamers.

Steyn produced one of the great fast-bowling displays to take 10-108 in Nagpur when the sides met in February, and has taken 32 wickets in seven Tests overall against India.

India’s seamers though will also be looking forward to a rare chance to bowl in favourable conditions.

India’s last series away from the subcontinent was against New Zealand in April 2009 and just three of their past 30 Tests have been played away from India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

Zaheer the key

Zaheer Khan has been the key element in their rise to number one in the world.

India are unbeaten in a Test series since August 2008, during which time Zaheer has picked up 87 wickets in 20 Tests, a remarkable return on largely unresponsive tracks.

The left-armer has led the attack with unprecedented skill which has seen him rise to number four in the world, behind Steyn and England duo James Anderson and Graeme Swann.

He, alongside teammates Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth, will be looking forward to bowling on pacy tracks and how quickly and successfully they adapt could hold the key to the series.

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