During the T20I series preceding the Tests, when South Africa’s batsmen—prominently Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma—exhibited excellent temperament and judgement against the spinners, it almost seemed as though the Proteas were more intent on milking those singles to prepare for the Tests, rather than seeing to the immediate task at hand.
However, like with all their ICC tournaments, the bigger stage has seen them flatter to deceive. The only consolation is that they aren’t the first team to feel the heat in India. That they have the best record in Asian countries for non-Asian teams is history. And India’s dominance at home is the present-day reality.
Beating India in the subcontinent seems like a far-fetched dream so much so that social media has been trending with World XIs to beat India at home. South Africa does’t have a dream team. Since their first team XI hasn’t done well, it is inevitable that we will see changes in the visiting camp.
Meanwhile, all is well in Virat Kohli’s camp. India has this aura of invincibility around them at home. The wily spinners, the unconquerable top-order and a seam attack to rave about complete India’s devil grin at home. To beat them seems like an impossible proposition. To eke out a draw is a huge task in itself; to lose with honour intact is no easy task either. South Africa can’t save face after their debacles in the series unless they win this one, but that seems as improbable as winning a World Cup.
Venue: Ranchi has hosted a Test match only once before, in the 2016/17 season when Australia visited the country. Then, a Steven Smith special and a Glenn Maxwell blitzkrieg gave Australia a 400-plus first innings total. India, of course, fought back with a 600-plus total powered by Cheteshwar Pujara’s double ton, but importantly, the match ended in a draw. Going by the surfaces in this series, we might see another flat wicket.
India: India wouldn’t want to tinker their XI too much with the World Test Championship on. If at all there is a change in the offing, it could be Hanuma Vihari replacing pacer Ishant Sharma.
Probable XI: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav
South Africa: South Africa is certain to chop and change ahead of the Ranchi Test. Their combinations and plans have come apart rather dramatically in this series. As such, reverting to a tried and tested formula could be the priority. Aiden Markram is out of the third Test with a wrist injury but he could have missed out even otherwise. That said, the Proteas don’t have a back-up opener in place although Temba Bavuma could do the job like in 2015. Heinrich Klaasen and Zubayr Hamza should make it into the XI while Lungi Ngidi could also come back for Anrich Nortje. Dane Piedt could replace the injured Keshav Maharaj.
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Zubayr Hamza, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Senuran Muthusamy, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada
Umesh Yadav vs South Africa’s top-order
Umesh Yadav made a brilliant comeback to the side at Pune. That the pacers took 10 out of the 20 Proteas wickets to fall shows where South Africa stumbled in the second Test. If Umesh manages to dent South Africa early, the visitors could be left grappling with an inexperienced middle-order facing the spinners. Since 2017, no pacer has taken more wickets in India than Umesh. That he has managed to trump the likes of Shami at home is credit to his effectiveness at home.
Kagiso Rabada vs Cheteshwar Pujara
Rabada has gathered steam this series only to see bowlers at the other end not delivering from the other end. His duel with Pujara could be an interesting one in this final Test when the South African pacer will be looking to go full throttle. Pujara is a beast in this conditions, though, and his temperament could be put to test. In his last Test here, the Indian sheet anchor made a double ton against a potent Aussie attack. Rabada, though, will be targeting to bounce him out, a ploy that was initially tried in Pune before it was deserted.
Cover Image: Ranchi Cricket ground; Pic credit: Sandipan Banerjee