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Series in the bag, India eyes No. 2 Test ranking

Plenty at stake in dead rubber as embattled South Africa looks to end 72-day tour on a high

Series in the bag, India eyes No. 2 Test ranking - Cricket News
Indian team celebrates the wicket of AB de Villiers.
All eyes were on Daljit Singh and Ankit Datta on the eve of the final Test between India and South Africa at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Rather, the two gents were looking at their handiwork, the pitch, and a gaggle of people waited outside the ropes to see what the verdict would be.

While the Indian team – as made clear by Ravi Shastri, the team director – would like the Delhi surface to play much as Nagpur did, there is a large cross section of people hoping this does not happen. A more Indian surface, where there is something for the batsmen early on and then plenty of turn later, would go a long way in ensuring that we leave the ground talking about the cricket rather than the pitch.

On a cricketing front, the Delhi Test beginning on Thursday (December 3) is a bit of a curious creature. By virtue of the fact that the series has already been decided, you would imagine that the game meant less, being a dead rubber. This could not be further from the truth. For South Africa, a win here would take the scoreline to 1-2, which would mean that South Africa can end its 72-day sojourn on a positive note, not just doom-and-gloom stories of the ball turning square. For India, a 3-0 scoreline will ensure a leap to second place in the ICC Test rankings, dizzy heights it has not seen since being knocked off its perch at the top in England more than four years back.

Hashim Amla, the South African captain, made it clear that his team would not be making changes just for the sake of it. “You want to win every Test match, so at every Test match we’re going to play our strongest XI. Whether that necessitates changing your team to play the strongest eleven, then so be it,” said Amla. “But you don’t really ever change a team to … Test cricket is the ultimate level you play in this sport. If changing the team means playing the best team, then it happens.”

At its net session on Wednesday afternoon – an optional one that allowed a few players to take a break – Temda Bavuma was first in, and spent close to an hour preparing. To hand him a fifth Test cap would not be a bad idea, given Stiaan van Zyl’s tortured stay at the top of the crease. Bavuma is a middle-order batsman, but given the manner in which wickets have fallen in this series, the promotion would hardly make a difference.

Dale Steyn is yet to recover from his groin injury, and this means that Kagiso Rabada’s workload was not about to ease anytime soon. Rabada has played every single match on this tour, from Twenty20 to 50-over, Tests and in between. “KG (Rabada) has played all the games. It’s been a great challenge for him and a great experience for him to play all the games,” said Amla. “In such a short career internationally, he has made such an impact.”

Amla stressed on the importance of ending with a win. “We’ve got the England series very close, almost two weeks. It’s very important for us to get back to winning ways. That’s probably the key to it. Every Test, as I mentioned earlier, is an important match. There are no freebies in Test cricket and certainly when you play for your country, you want to make an impact and you want to win,” he said. “It’s very important for us to go at least 2-1, salvage some pride. Also, we came to India almost two and a half months ago, had a largely successful tour in terms of winning the T20 Internationals and the ODIs, so it would be good to cap off the tour with a win.”

For India, the principal aim, aside from winning the game, would be getting some batsmen among proper runs. While the line has been steady from Indian players through the Test series, that they don’t really care about scores as long as the team keeps winning, Kohli will know that he is the latest torchbearer of the India school of batsmanship. No batsman has come remotely close to scoring a century in this series and if Delhi provides a pitch that looks and acts like a day one  surface on the first day, it would be a great toss to win and get stuck in.

This would help Kohli’s cause as well, for runs on the board and wear and tear will still keep South Africa under pressure, and he will be able to refute the charge that the surfaces have been so poor that neither team has managed any runs. But, the game is unlikely to depend so heavily on the toss, and you can’t pick a playing XI on such presumptions. India may be tempted to keep the same team going, although it will consider bringing Varun Aaron in for Rohit Sharma after a final look at the pitch on match morning.

Teams (likely):

India: Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron.

South Africa: Temba Bavuma, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dane Vilas (wk), Simon Harmer/Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir

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