The last time India went to South Africa which was in 2018, they lost a closely contested series 2-1. That series marked the beginning of a long overseas journey for India where they toured both England and Australia twice and New Zealand once.
They have made a full circle and now return to South Africa after close to three years where it all began for them. India has never won a Test series on South African soil and have only managed three wins in this country.
India have never been able to deal with the swing and bounce in the rainbow nation which has one of the toughest batting surfaces in the world. After decades of failures in this country, what makes India favourites this time around?
The most important factor lies in the strength of the South African team, particularly their batting line-up. The 2018 side had modern greats in Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander. The Proteas haven't been able to fill the void left by these legends yet and have struggled since then.
Since that series win against India in 2018, South Africa have won 5 Test series out of the 9 that they have played. On paper, this looks like a decent record. But as we delve deeper into the stats, we can understand the problems in South African cricket.
Out of their five wins, the only notable victory was the 3-1 victory at home against Australia. It was the sandpaper-gate series and the Proteas still had their Test legends playing for them. The 2-0 and 3-1 losses to Sri Lanka and England at home exposed the frailties in the side.
India meanwhile comes into this series beating both Australia and England away from home in the last year. They have assembled one of India's best fast bowling attacks in Bumrah, Shami, Ishant and Siraj. Bumrah, who made his debut in that series, has picked up 101 wickets since then at an average of 22. Shami and Ishant too have picked up 100 and 85 wickets in that period.
The bowling attack has also gained valuable experience in overseas conditions. Apart from Ishant, none of the bowlers had experience in these conditions in the 2018 series. With the likes of Aswin and Jadeja, India's spin department is well stocked.
The batting is the weak link for both sides. The loss of Rohit Sharma to injury may be a massive blow for India but his replacement Mayank Agarwal is in good form scoring a century in his last test. KL Rahul returns to the side who had a good series against England. Virat Kohli hasn't been in good form but he averages 55.80 in 5 tests in South Africa. The only big concern is the form of Pujara and Rahane and one of them might be replaced by Shreyas Iyer.
South Africa too have a brittle batting line-up and they have lost the services of Anrich Nortje and Quinton de Kock, who will miss the 2nd and 3rd tests.
It is not always about the on-field action in South Africa and this time it's not the same either. South African cricket is in the middle of a racist storm. The CSA has launched a formal inquiry into the conduct of head coach Mark Boucher, director of cricket Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers.
Test captain Dean Elgar voiced his concern about the lack of stability in the administration
of the CSA. "One of the biggest things is that we haven't had a lot of stability from an administrative point of view, and hopefully sooner than later there's a lot more stability that comes within Cricket South Africa. But yeah, it's not nice to see our coaches get lambasted for things, and I know the work they're putting in behind the scenes, which no one else sees. Only us as the players group - we notice that and we see that and we're extremely grateful for the hard work that they put in."
With all this off-field stuff plaguing South African cricket combined with the fact that they haven't played a test in 6 months, this is the best chance for Virat Kohli and his men to finally conquer the rainbow nation.
This is the weakest South African side that India had faced in history and if they don't make the same mistakes that they made last time, India will have a very good chance of winning the series.