India couldn't have had a more ominous start to what's being billed as the unofficial contest for the world's best team.
Zaheer Khan, on whom rides much of the Indian hopes for posting the first ever series win in South Africa, is virtually of the first Test starting in Centurion on Thursday.
"Zaheer is doubtful for the first Test. We will take the final call just before the match, but he's quite doubtful," said India skipper MS Dhoni on the eve of the first Test.
The left-arm pacer is struggling with a hamstring problem. He had missed India's first net session completely on Monday, and bowled for a while on Tuesday.
The injury which occurred during the home series against New Zealand has obviously not healed and the India squad looks in no mood to risk a not-fully-fit Zaheer.
"It's indeed a big blow to us. He has done so well for us, be it on seaming wickets or flat tracks. But then we have to keep a bigger picture in mind. World Cup is approaching and we can't afford a major injury to any of our main players. So until we aren't 100 percent sure about his fitness, we won't risk him," Dhoni to a press conference, almost confirming the paceman is out of the first Test.
His absence, especially in this particular Test, would be felt the most as the wicket will have moisture and he could have proved more than handy on this track.
It will be interesting to see how Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma respond to the burden they will have to shoulder in Zaheer's likely absence.
For the third seamer, it would be a toss up between the 19-year-old Jaydev Unadkat and Umesh Yadav. The former, being a
left-arm bowler, may get the nod.
For South Africa, this would be the best news they would have wanted to hear. With Zaheer missing, they would feel far more confident in taking on the Indian attack.