India, who will retain their No. 1 ranking if they avoid a third defeat, were sifting through the positives on match eve.
“Not many times in overseas Tests have we picked up 40 wickets in two games,” the team captain Virat Kohli said.
“I said before the series that whichever team bats better would win. That has been the case.
“But it’s never a bad time to start anything. The batsmen are looking forward to rectifying the mistakes made in the first two Tests. In times that have not gone our way, if we can change things around, that will build characters and individuals. That can be a milestone for a lot of guys going forward, if they can step up in this game and be the difference.”
India will ponder the idea of playing with an all-pace attack, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming in for Ravi Ashwin. There could also be acknowledgment that the emphasis on “current form” has not really worked, as Rohit Sharma — whose struggles outside India show no sign of ending — makes way for Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain.
Kohli scored 119 and 96 at this ground in 2013, in a match that India bossed for four days before AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis nearly pulled off the improbable pursuit of 458.
“We would focus on the things that worked for us last time,” Kohli said.
“Although there’s more grass, the pace and bounce would probably be similar. We would love to have another situation where we can capitalize and bring the Test match toward us rather than let it slip away.”
For Du Plessis, whose team have never swept India in a Test series before, the stress was on more of the same, especially the stranglehold the Proteas’ bowlers have had on India’s top order.
“The last Test we played here was fantastic,” he said, after expressing amazement at India not having lost a game here in four attempts.
“Their bowling is good, a very good seam attack. If you have that, you can compete. We just have to make sure we keep their batsmen quiet.”
If the grass takes Keshav Maharaj, the spinner, out of the equation, South Africa will add either the all-round skills of Andile Phehlukwayo or play Theunis de Bruyn to bolster the batting. Either way, there will be no letting up, not with a series against Australia looming.
“Once again, India will come back with a point to prove,” said Du Plessis.
“They’re a proud team, and we’re expecting a good challenge. We have to keep doing the things we’ve been doing well. Batting in partnerships, that’s a key factor in conditions like this. If you do get in, string together a partnership.”
South Africa have, and they have the series spoils to show for it.
India may only be playing for pride but ARAB NEWS picks the three things Kohli and Co. need to do to get that elusive win in South Africa.
SORT OUT THE FALSE STARTS
In four innings so far, India’s opening combination has seen off 28, 47, 57 and 47 balls. But in conditions where defying the new ball is one of the primary criteria for victory, the highest partnership has been 30. Shikhar Dhawan was dropped after Cape Town, while Murali Vijay and KL Rahul have yet to replicate their run-scoring feats of the past 12 months. If they get a start, Virat Kohli and Co. could cash in. If Kohli comes in at 30 for two, South Africa will once again have the door on its hinges, ready to be barged down.
DO NOT WASTE THE NEW BALL
At Newlands, India had South Africa 12 for three, before losing both control and discipline with the ball. At Centurion, on a flatter pitch, they were tidy without looking especially threatening. They need more wickets upfront to put South Africa under serious pressure. In 2006, when India won here, it was S Sreesanth’s superb swing bowling that set up the victory. Bringing back the accurate Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the best exponent of swing in the current side, would be a start.
CATCHES WIN MATCHES
Ravi Ashwin bowled beautifully to take five wickets at Centurion. But he also had four catches dropped off his bowling. Parthiv Patel, deputising for the injured Wriddhiman Saha, did not even go for a couple of chances that went between him and first slip. Opportunities have also been dropped in the slip cordon, whose personnel keeps changing with players entering and exiting the XI. Without grabbing their chances, India will struggle to take anything from the series.