x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Smith's men must forget Arthur turmoil

South Africa face India in the clash of the top-ranked cricketing countries for the world supremacy tomorrow but the Proteas are without a permanent coach.

The world's top ranked cricketing countries collide tomorrow as India host South Africa in the first match of their two-Test series in Nagpur. And while the hosts go into the game buoyed by recent series victories over Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, South Africa are faced with prospect of taking on the best team in the world just days after Mickey Arthur, their long-serving coach, resigned.

The South Africa selection committee were sacked after Arthur quit citing differences with the board following last month's drawn series against England. "Naturally it has been emotional for us because Mickey's been a part of our lives for five years and has made a big impact," said Graeme Smith, the captain. "Our preparation time in India will be crucial and we'll need to settle down quickly." India displaced South Africa at the top of the Test rankings after securing a 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka in December, but Smith's men can reclaim pole position under interim coach Corrie van Zyl with a 2-0 series victory. "India now hold the mantle of No 1 in the world, which is a credit to the way they have played," Smith said. "But we have come here to hopefully play better than them, and take it away from them. That's something we are talking about."

Smith said it was tough to win a series in the subcontinent and success is "a real feather in your cap". "But we won in Pakistan on our last tour there, we won in Bangladesh, we came very close to winning the series here in India," he added. "We were 1-0 going into the last Test, so I think generally we have played well." The tourists warmed up for the series with a two-day tour game against an Indian Board President's XI, which finished in a draw. The main positive was the form of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis who both made half-centuries.

The onus, though, will be on their fast bowlers to give them an edge in this series, with Dale Steyn spearheading their attack. He has good memories of India after taking five for 23 to set-up a South African victory in the second Test in Ahmedabad two years ago. India squared that series by winning the third and final Test on an unpredictable pitch in Kanpur. Tomorrow, the Indian pace attack will be without the fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who impressed against Sri Lanka before injuring a hamstring in Bangladesh. And experienced batsmen Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh will also miss the series through injury. VVS Laxman is also a doubt.

"A player of Rahul's calibre, experience and expertise will be missed by any team," said Krish Srikkanth, India's chairman of selectors. "We still have a competent side. We have the most feared batsman in the world in Viru [Virender Sehwag], the best opening pair in the world in Viru and Gautam Gambhir, and then we have a great player like Sachin Tendulkar." And Srikkanth is confident that the hosts will remain as cricket's top nation after the series is over.

"They are the two best sides in the world," he said. "South Africa have been playing well. Having said that, I can declare that we are capable of winning the series. I can't say by what margin, though." * With agencies