“These two Tests weren't scheduled. It would have been quite greedy to have asked for more,” Mahendra Singh Dhoni replied, tongue firmly in cheek, to whether two Tests in a series were enough. “I'm happy with what we have.”
Whether anyone else is happy with an abbreviated series between the world's two top Test teams is open to debate, but happiness, after all, is a relative concept.
So the Indians, for instance, are happier than the South Africans after looking at the wicket for the first Test. Skipper Dhoni, smiling slightly, called it a “normal, flat Indian track that will probably take a bit of turn” as the match progressed.
When it was his turn, Graeme Smith didn't smile. It was more of an, 'I'm helpless here, what can I do' kind of look, which had everyone laughing as he wryly stated, “I got what I expected”.
So expect no surprises from those all-important 22-yards when India and South Africa do battle to decide who's going to be No. 1. Both skippers insisted that rankings don't really count for anything once they walk onto the field, but whatever their public statements, this ranking probably does.
For most cricketers, this is the form of the game that really matters, a format that needs stamina and skill, subtlety and patience, grit and teamwork eight hours a day, for five straight days. Dale Steyn, the man who India's batsmen should be wary of — he can change the game in one lethal burst — summed up the challenge ahead beautifully.
“You are going to have challenges that face you whether you are a left-handed batter batting out of the rough, or a right-arm seam bowler bowling on a flat wicket to some of the best batters in the world. “That's the challenge that lies ahead and that's why we all play this game — you want to find out who you are as a person, how far you can stretch yourself at this level and really how good you are over five days against some of the world's best players. There's no better contest to take part in.”
From the game point of view, the Proteas will look to make the most of the fact that Rahul Dravid, the backbone of India's batting, will be missing.
With Laxman still uncertain — Dhoni said the physio and the batsman would take a call on the morning of the game — there's the very real possibility that India will have two debutants. That last happened in November 2004, when Dinesh Karthik and Gautam Gambhir had a baptism by fire against the Australians in Mumbai.
But, as Dhoni said, the newcomers will be “keen to prove themselves”, as will their teammates, who want to show the world that they are the true inheritors of Australia's mantle. South Africa, the best visitors to India in the recent past, won't be short of motivation. They will want to put to rest the ghosts of their last visit, when they almost cracked what is now, their 'final frontier'.