The series might already be in the bag for India, but the hosts will not be taking their foot off the pedal just yet as they get ready to take on South Africa in the third and final Test in Ranchi that begins on Saturday.
Virat Kohli and his men raced away to a 2-0 lead in the series with emphatic victories in Visakhapatnam and Pune, but the 40 precious World Test Championship points on offer in Ranchi means that there’s still plenty at stake for them.
For the visitors, it is about regaining some pride in their displays after what has been a chastening Test series for a new look Proteas side.
Proteas woes compounded with key injuries
As if the two mammoth defeats against the hosts weren’t enough, South Africa’s woes have been compounded further with injuries to two key players.
Spin spearhead Keshav Maharaj has been the best Proteas bowler on show in the two defeats so far, but the 29-year-old’s absence is set to greatly felt in Ranchi after he was ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Maharaj has had to bowl marathon spells in Vizag and Pune with South Africa’s two other spinners – Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy – barely making any impact at all. With another spin-friendly track set to greet the visitors in Ranchi, the Proteas will be hoping that one of Muthusamy, Piedt or the recently called up George Linde can put their hands up against an Indian batting unit firing on all cylinders.
The second injury is the one opener Aiden Markram sustained in bizarre fashion after reportedly slamming the dressing room wall in frustration in Pune. The right-hander’s subcontinent woes continued in the second Test after he bagged a pair of ducks but his absence will still come as a blow given the team’s lack of other viable options.
In Markram’s place, Zubayr Hamza is set to get his chance but the opener has just the experience of one previous Test behind him.
Injury thwarts Kuldeep’s chance as Nadeem gets call up
India’s spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been rampant in the two Tests so far with the duo combining for 24 wickets between themselves.
While the two experienced stalwarts haven’t allowed any breathing space for the South Africa batsmen, there could have been the possibility of a third spinner in the fray for India on Saturday.
Youngster Kuldeep Yadav has had to bide his time on the bench and the wrist-spinner was looking likely to make his first Test appearance since January this year if Friday’s net session was anything to go by.
The 24-year-old had an extensive workout with both bat and ball in the practice session and it would have been the perfect time to unleash him on Saturday against a Proteas side wilting under the pressure. However, the spinner complained of pain in his shoulders late after the net session and that has prompted the hosts to hand Shahbaz Nadeem his maiden Test call-up as cover.
The pitch for Ranchi is expected to take some turn and India would have been tempted to go in with a three-man spin attack before the late injury to Kuldeep scuppered those plans. Nadeem is unlikely to be thrown straight into the cauldron after joining the squad just on the eve of the Test, but he could be handy in case India need to make a concussion substitute.
Du Plessis promises to keep fighting in horror India tour
The retirements of key stalwarts such as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn has left a gaping hole in terms of experience in the rejigged South Africa Test squad and it has clearly shown in the team’s displays in India.
The inexperienced squad has been found wanting in nearly every department and their meek series surrender has even forced Cricket South Africa to assure fans about the future of the Proteas Test outfit.
While things are looking far from rosy, skipper Faf du Plessis has vowed to carry the fight in the final Test. “It is tough. It is tough when you’re losing,” he said ahead of the final Test.
“For us, we’re very, very competitive people, so it does take a dent out of your confidence, but international sport is supposed to be hard, and the guys who’ve stayed at the top for a long time will tell you that it comes with ups and it comes with downs, personally and from a team point of view.
“So it’s important for us to understand that we have to fight our way out of these last two losses. We can’t expect things just to happen.”
“The senior players are trying to keep the guys motivated. We’re still representing our country which is still an immensely proud moment for all of us.” 🇿🇦 - #Watch Dean Elgar Talk about the buildup to the last Test match in India. https://t.co/GxR18jHzGf— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) October 18, 2019
India: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma.
South Africa: Zubayr Hamza, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf u Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Senuran Muthusamy, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje.
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