The Indians did well by drawing the Test series 1-1 and then winning the only T20 game on Sunday, but the humiliating 135-run defeat in the first match came as a big blow for the visitors who have to regroup before its too late.
Already plagued by injuries to key players, nothing seemed to have gone right for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men in Durban as both the batting and bowling left much to be desired.
The Indians have a track record of not doing too well in the first match on tours and Dhoni and his men will be looking to bounce back and level the five-match series 1-1 at the New Wanderers ground which is likely to aid the pace bowlers.
Already missing key players such as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, the injury list has only grown longer with paceman Praveen Kumar also returning home because of an injury.
Paceman S Sreesanth is also recovering from an elbow injury, which forced him to sit out of the first match, and it remains to be seen whether the Kerala speedster is fit enough to take the field on the morrow.
Batting has been India`s strength but the top order collapsed like a pack of cards to be reduced to 43 for four in the first match, and the team could never really recover from that jolt.
Sachin Tendulkar, returning to the Indian one-day fold after close to a year, has a big role to play and the champion batsman has to take up the responsibility of giving India a competitive total on the board.
The Indian line-up has a number of young but talented players such as Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina but they have to fire when it matters most.
Kohli was the only batsman to score a half century in the last game unlike the South Africans who had three batsmen coming up with substantial contributions. The failure to build partnerships made India`s chase all the more difficult.
For the off-colour Yuvraj Singh, it is the final chance to convince the selectors that he is the same destructive force which won India many a matches before the stunning slump in form.
Unlike the Indians, the South Africans put up a clinical show but captain Graeme Smith cautioned his teammates not to take the visitors lightly.
"I expect them to bounce back. We have to put our foot down in the next match," Smith said.
For the Indians, pacer Ashish Nehra was a big disappointment in Durban, and that forced captain Dhoni to use three part-time bowlers to try and contain the run flow.
But it is highly unlikely that the team management will drop him as the left-arm seamer had done well in the past.
"Honestly speaking, these are the four-five fast bowlers we have got. We do not have many options to play with. So we have to back them to do well. Whether they are in match practice or not what is important is that we take care of these bowlers and they should go in the World Cup without any injuries," Dhoni had said.
South Africa will miss prolific all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who is nursing an injury. The veteran has been the key player in the South African batting line-up and has been more than handy with the ball as well.
But the Proteas still have a good batting line-up with skipper Graeme Smith, the explosive duo of A B de Villiers and JP Duminy and the consistent Hashim Amla to anchor the middle-order. Amla, de Villiers and Duminy struck half centuries in the first match and will be looking to maintain that form.
The Indians are aware that they could have done much better in the first game and captain Dhoni has promised to bounce back in the series.
"We could have done better. When you are playing with four bowlers, you are under a bit of pressure, that if one of the bowler does not bowl well then you have to make those overs with the part timers."
"We can bounce back. We can play better cricket than this. That way cricket is good game as in every match you start afresh. We have to click as a unit to win matches," Dhoni said.
It is the final ODI series that India and South Africa play before the World Cup starting February 19, and both sides would look to settle their squads for the big event through these five matches.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/keeper), Sachin Tendulkar, Murali Vijay, Yuvraj Singh, R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, S Sreesanth.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.