By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - India begin life without "Little Master" on Wednesday, taking on top ranked South Africa in the first of a two-test series in their first contest since Sachin Tendulkar's retirement.
After nearly a quarter of a century of cricket, Tendulkar retired last month with more than 34,000 international runs against his name to go with a slew of batting records.
The absence of international cricket's most prolific batsman, whose retirement last month provoked an emotional farewell in India, is just one of several concerns for captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni ahead of the series opener at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
The speed, bounce and swing of South Africa's all-pace attack saw India's batsmen struggle while there was also a hammering for their bowlers in three one-day internationals between the two sides over the last fortnight.
Having won the first two one-dayers and dominated the third as well before the match was washed out, South Africa will have a massive psychological edge going into the test series but it was supposed to have been the other way round.
Before arriving in South Africa, Dhoni said playing without Tendulkar would be a challenge but the one-day series was an opportunity for the team to settle and gain confidence ahead of the test matches.
Instead, Tendulkar is now likely to be missed even more, given the masterly way he previously dealt with the South African conditions, in sharp contrast to India's batting capitulation over the last weeks.
"They (the Indian team) have always had issues playing pace in South Africa," South Africa coach Russell Domingo said.
"We wanted to put doubts in their mind in terms of the way they play pace," he said of his team's aggressive bowling in the ODI series.
South Africa hope to extend the same domination in the much anticipated test series, controversially curtailed to just two matches following a spat between the controlling bodies of world's top two test nations.
In Tendulkar's absence, the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli will carry Indian hopes of dealing with an expected barrage of hostile bowling on pitches vastly different from those they usually play on.
"It's not Mumbai where the ball doesn't get higher than the stumps. It's going to be hard (for them) to play here," South African strike bowler Dale Steyn warned at a media conference during the ODI series.
Tendulkar flourished in the battle against the ball in South Africa, scoring five test centuries on tours between 1992 and 2011. He hit 146 in Cape Town just under three years ago.
"He was a big player for them and a calming influence in the dressing room. It will be great not having to get Sachin Tendulkar out," added Domingo.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)