Chennai, Mar 24 (UNI) It's the battle for number two in the ICC Test Championship as South Africa looks to take on and beat India in its own back yard with the first test starting here Wednesday.
This is Gary Kirsten's first series in charge of India and the veteran of 101 Tests as a player will be anxious to get his tenure as coach off to a good start and he will have targeted nothing short of victory over the country of his birth.
Beating India is never an easy prospect and in conditions that will differ wildly to what most of the Proteas are used to, coupled with the fact that India is a confident team these days, Graeme Smith and his men will have their work cut out.
The heat, the humidity, the crowds and pitches could all conspire against South Africa as India looks to show the world that good recent performances in Australia were not flukes.
But these are the sort of challenges that sides with aspirations must rise to if they are to become the best in the world and although Australia is way out in front at the top of the Test Championship table, both South Africa and India have the opportunity to stake a claim for next best.
If South Africa wins the three-Test series 1-0 or 2-1, it will move ahead of India into second place while a drawn series of any kind (0-0 or 1-1) or an Indian victory will make sure Anil Kumble's team retains its second place.
A 3-0 series win for India will gain four ratings points for the home side, thus closing the gap on Australia to 26 points.
Conversely, a 3-0 series win for South Africa will mean 27 points stand between it and the undisputed world number-one team.
In fact, if South Africa did wrap up the series 3-0, India could drop as low as fifth place provided England doesn't lose the third and final Test against New Zealand in Napier. Equally, a 3-0 defeat for South Africa would hand lowly fifth place to it instead of the lofty heights of number two. It's certainly all to play for.
The series will also be a chance for Jacques Kallis to launch a bid to become the top-ranked Test batsmen. The 32-year-old currently stands on 899 ratings points, in joint-third position level with Ponting, 13 points adrift of Australia's Michael Hussey and 34 points behind leader Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka.
A strong showing in the three Tests against India could propel Kallis to the top depending on how Sangakkara goes in the remainder of his side's tour of the West Indies. India trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman can also make moves within the top 20 of the batting rankings.
In the rankings for Test bowlers, South Africa's Dale Steyn can overtake Muttiah Muralidaran of Sri Lanka if he plays to his potential over the next couple of weeks.
Steyn (24) is just 14 ratings points behind the Kandy off-spinner and, after another good Test series in Bangladesh, he has never enjoyed such a high rating. He will feel this is his chance to topple the great Muralidaran.
Also in the top 20 bowlers, Makhaya Ntini and Kallis of South Africa and Kumble and Irfan Pathan can make their moves up the rankings.
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