India put behind a close five-run defeat in the opening ODI to restore parity in the second, and the teams will head into this match with the series tied at 1-1. But the strength of this South African side and defeat in the preceding Twenty20 International series means there is little chance of India getting complacent.
That would probably explain why even an hour-long football match at the nets with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli leading the sides had a serious feel to it.
Kohli in particular, was quite animated in his goal celebrations. The Indian Test captain has had a bit o a lean patch in ODIs and his average in 12 innings since the Adelaide century in the ICC World Cup 2015 match against Pakistan has been 27. But with the Rajkot traditionally offering a batting deck, Sunday should be a good opportunity for Kohli to rediscover his ODI rhythm. Kohli channelled his energies into preparing for the short and back-of-length balls, and had a long session taking throwdowns. Once he seemed at ease, he unleashed a few pull shots that had the right blend of power and control.
On the batting front for India, Shikhar Dhawan's form since returning from a hairline fracture in his right hand has been patchy. Dhawan, however, has got off to starts and a big one may just be around the corner.
Suresh Raina's recent form has also come under the lens, but he looked at ease, making decent connection every time he gave bowlers the charge. With Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in blazing form and Dhoni having emphatically proved detractors wrong, a big score from even one of the Dhawan-Kohli-Raina trio would give South Africa a real taste of how formidable the Indian line-up is.
Most of South Africa's big-hitting batsmen have struck form at the right time. While AB de Villiers, the captain, is always the biggest threat, South Africa has several other potent players. Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy are both capable of teeing off as well and have made big scores at some point in the series, while the ever-solid and dependable Hashim Amla can always be expected to hold the innings together.
Even if the pitch is a batting-friendly one, South Africa's bowling attack could ask searching questions. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have already made a difference to the bowling since joining the squad for the ODI leg of the tour, while the wily Imran Tahir is capable of striking at crucial junctures. India will be impelled to employ a cautious approach and will have to find a judicious way of negotiating the trio. The dark horse, however, has been Kagiso Rabada. The 20-year old has not only impressed with his pace but also his control at the death. Rabada's bowling has already won South Africa the first ODI where he prised out Dhoni and Binny in the last over of India's chase, while in Indore, he delivered five dot balls against a set Dhoni. If Rabada can continue to keep the run-flow at the death in check, South Africa will gain immensely.
South Africa is an unstoppable force, while India is a formidable side in home conditions. Ultimately, the team that can outwit and out-hit the opposition will come out on top.
India: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Axar Patel, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin.
South Africa: AB de Villiers (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.