Will South Africa free up or freeze up?
January 18, Cape Town
Start time 14:30 (12.30 GMT, 18.00 IST)
The Great Wanderers Choke only highlighted the concerns that were present from the first game. What if South Africa's middle-order collapsed? Can David Miller and the men below him shoulder the burden? AB de Villiers and JP Duminy ensured that situation never arose in the first game with their serene approach but Duminy was the one who started the collapse in the second game, by holing out to long-on. Smith fell immediately after taking the batting Powerplay and the rest crumbled. The situation will, of course, change significantly once Jacques Kallis returns for the World Cup: The lower order wouldn't remain so brittle and therefore this trial by fire is perhaps a great learning curve. If Miller, and Faf du Plessis, who is likely to play the next game, can get in a good knock under pressure in the remaining matches, it will help South Africa in the World Cup.
This injury to Kallis can be a blessing in disguise provided the hosts unearth at least one lower-order player who manages to perform under pressure in this series. It would also perhaps help the likes of Duminy to fast-track those youngsters' path to maturity.
India, for their part, can now test their World Cup squad. Sachin Tendulkar's absence does raise another hurdle but the likes of Yusuf Pathan and Suresh Raina will find that the pitches in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth don't offer disconcerting bounce, providing them a better chance to succeed. It will be crucial for Raina to perform, for Virat Kohli, who despite his great form might still struggle to hold a place in the playing XI once Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar, and Gautam Gambhir return, is breathing down his neck. If Raina can put in couple of good performances with bat and ball, he can secure his No. 6 slot.
The World Cup selection has eased Ashish Nehra's headaches but Munaf Patel is turning on the heat by stringing together some good performances. Until the fourth ODI against New Zealand, there was no contest; Nehra was the clear leader but suddenly he has failed four games in a row. His past performances under pressure in the Powerplays and with the new ball should still hold him in good stead but a couple of good shows in this series won't hurt.
South Africa: LWWLW
Players to watch out for…
JP Duminy: He turned in a matured performance in the first ODI but threw his wicket away in the second. The two games also showed that he is trying hard to correct his weakness - the habit of pressing that front leg too far across and having to play around it to the offspinners - and he has three more games to get used to soaking up the pressure and leading the lower order.
Yusuf Pathan: For long, he was the Kieron Pollard of India: Great for his clubs in competitions like IPL but a non-performer for his country. He changed that with a brutal hundred against New Zealand. His problems against the short ball are well documented and he perhaps wouldn't be in the squad if the World Cup was held outside the subcontinent. The pitches in the latter part of this series shouldn't have too much venom and gives him the best opportunity to succeed. Will he?
Yusuf is likely to come in. Tendulkar's replacement Parthiv Patel is yet to arrive in South Africa, so Kohli could open the batting with M Vijay. India, if they choose to go in with five bowlers, could give Piyush Chawla a go.
India (possible): 1 M Vijay, 2 Virat Kohli, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Yusuf Pathan, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Harbhajan Singh, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Munaf Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra
South Africa are likely to bring in the allrounder Faf du Plessis to strengthen the lower order, possibly at the expense of Miller.
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Stats and trivia
- India have won two games against South Africa with a one-run margin, making them the third team to win two or more games by one-run margin against the same opposition. New Zealand have won three such games against Australia, who themselves have beaten India twice on a one-run margin
- Tendulkar was dismissed bowled in the second game. It was his 66th - the most for a batsman in ODIs - such dismissal, and he shares that dubious record with Steve Waugh (bowled 66 times)
- Graeme Smith crossed the 6000-run tally in the last game. He is the fourth South African - Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten are the others - and the 41st batsmen in the history of the game to aggregate over 6000. He is the 12th opening batsman to achieve this feat.
"I have doubts about the ability of some of the batsmen to play on these tracks. Suresh Raina seems to be forever expecting the short ball; he was so back inside the crease and got out to a full delivery. Rohit Sharma ... well the selectors must look at few other players who have scored well in domestic cricket."
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly makes a frank assessment
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo