India find themselves in the same position that South Africa were in after two matches in the Test series – 2-0 up with a trophy in their sights – but there’s more than just one match to play. A victory at Newlands will guarantee India at least a share of the spoils but the way they are playing suggests they want much more.
South Africa have been ravaged by both wristspin and injury and have already reached the point where they need to do something drastic to avoid a complete downhill spiral. Kagiso Rabada stressed the need to “speak the right language” in the changeroom and to keep believing they are still in it. While Rabada comes across composed, there must be some panic in the ranks, especially because the batsmen just aren’t putting up good enough totals.
Exactly why South Africa struggle against wristspin may take longer than this series to figure out, but for the moment, their issues appear to have been caused first by a tendency to play tentatively, as all but Faf du Plessis did in Durban and then by an overcompensation in attacking. Their approach in getting forward is better than the one of staying back but the hosts need to be more selective in their shots and astute when picking the variations.
It will take time and experience to overcome what seems to be a long-running concern but South Africa only have 10 days. Four matches will be played between Tuesday and February 16, and South Africa need to win them all if they are to be crowned champions. They don’t actually need to win them, though, because this series has been talked of as the start of ‘Vision 2019‘ and so they may chalk up their defeats to learning and let it be.
From the position of dominance, India will only want to keep playing the attractive, aggressive style of cricket that has put them in this position. As Rabada said, “when you’re winning, you don’t ask yourself too many questions.”
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: LLWWW
In the spotlight
An XI bereft of experience will need more from Hashim Amla than usual, both in terms of runs and guidance and particularly against spin. Of those left in the line-up, Amla is the most accomplished against the turning ball but even he has managed only 39 runs in the series so far. Not only will Amla want to contribute much more but he will have to lead by example to minimise the spin threat.
He has not had the opportunity to contribute much with the bat or behind the stumps so far but in MS Dhoni India have what South Africa lack: an elder statesmen, a purveyor of advice and a presence that inspires confidence. Dhoni has enjoyed the best view in the house as the spin twins has operated, and has had a say in setting strangling fields. And the best may still be on the way. If South Africa give India something meaty to chase, you can be sure he will be among those standing up.
In Quinton de Kock’s absence, Heinrich Klaasen will debut at Newlands but South Africa also need a replacement opener. Aiden Markram, who in his third match was given the responsibility of captaining, will play his second match as captain and will partner Amla at the top. JP Duminy will have to move into the No.3 spot, with Klaasen slotting in lower down, but then South Africa have to decide whether they’d prefer an extra batsman in Farhaan Behardien or an extra bowler in Andile Phehlukwayo. The second specialist spinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, is likely to be left out.
South Africa: 1 Hashim Amla 2 Aiden Markram (capt) 3 JP Duminy, 4 Khaya Zondo, 5 David Miller, 6 Farhaan Behardien, 7 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 8 Chris Morris 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Morne Morkel 11 Imran Tahir
India didn’t make any changes from Durban to Centurion after concluding that there was no need to mess with a winning combination. They’re still winning, so it’s likely they will be unchanged.
India: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Pitch and conditions
Newlands produced the most agreeable pitch of the Test series, at least as far as the South Africans are concerned. The hosts will be looking forward to getting back to a happy hunting ground. Rabada mentioned the possibility of some nip for the seamers, history regards this as a batsman’s venue. The average first-innings score in the last six ODIs is 311. Wednesday is predicted to be a hot day with temperatures reaching 30 degrees in the afternoon.
Stats and trivia
- Among South Africa’s major grounds, Newlands is their most successful. They have won 28 out of 33 matches at the venue, a win percentage of almost 85.
- The last time India beat South Africa in a bilateral ODI series was in February 2010.
- Of the current South African squad’s batsmen, JP Duminy has performed best at Newlands with 301 runs in eight matches at 37.62 and three fifties. Hashim Amla has only 190 runs in six matches at 31.66 with two fifties.
“There are a few problems. I wouldn’t say there are a lot. Sometimes when you do badly it seems like there’s a lot more going on. Failure is going to happen.”
Calm Kagiso Rabada remains careful not to over-dramatise South Africa’s issues
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.