See-saw series set for decider
Match FactsJanuary 23, Centurion
Start time 10.00 (8.00 GMT, 13.30 IST)
The curious case of Virat Kohli keeps getting interesting. Prior to the series his case was distilled into this emotive question: How can you drop him from the playing eleven when he is in such good form? Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir return to take the top three. Yuvraj Singh is the best part-time spinner and can win a game with the bat, Yusuf Pathan's explosiveness will be vital lower down, and Suresh Raina can potentially get going right from the start and is more suited to the lower order, in Indian conditions, than Kohli.
Or so it seemed before this series. With Yusuf clicking in one game and Yuvraj too hitting a fifty, apart from his bowling, the pressure has escalated on Raina. If there is Yusuf and Yuvraj for power hitting, would it better to blood an in-form Kohli ahead of Raina? That's the thought Kohli will strive to strengthen in this decider and something that Raina will try to kill.
The series itself hangs on a knife's edge. India had just won three random games against South Africa in South Africa before this series and are on verge of something special. For their part, South Africa have hung on, despite threatening to implode in all the games, and pushed the series to a decider. The weather might play spoil sport, though, with the forecast predicting thunderstorms on the match day.
South Africa's World-Cup puzzles too are falling in place. JP Duminy has shown that he has the temperament to lead the lower order, Faf du Plessis hinted at a solid temperament, and Morne Van Wyk, with an accomplished performance in the Twenty20 game, is putting pressure on Colin Ingram. Smith has had a torrid time in the last two games and though he is an established player, a good show at Centurion won't hurt him. They have been shy to give Imran Tahir any exposure in this series, probably preferring to keep him hidden till the World Cup.
Morne Morkel has been simply outstanding in this series, extracting bounce from sluggish tracks in the last two games and indicating he might be a force to reckon with even on traditional slow-and-low subcontinental tracks. The ball to remove Yusuf Pathan - a full length delivery that seamed away at the last instant - in the fourth ODI also showcased that he is just not a hit-the-deck short of length bowler but someone who thinks a lot about his game and has the full repertoire.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been in rich form though one still has to wait and watch how he performs in the subcontinental conditions. He does have a good off cutter but can he continue to churn out good performances even in the World Cup?
South Africa: WLLWW
Players to watch out for…
Graeme Smith: He looked a shadow of the man who scored a confident 77 in the second ODI. And it just can't be put down to the pressure of a brittle lower order as he has struggled to put bat to ball in the last two games. He has stabbed inside the line, groped outside the line, stumbled forward, and has had a horror time. Will he get back to form with a confident knock in the last game?
Suresh Raina: The selection sword dangles over him. The pressure is truly on. He got to a start in the third ODI but threw it away with a wild slog against Morne, just as the game entered the final lap. He combusted cheaply in the last match, rushing out too early to be left stranded. Meanwhile, Kohli has been marching from strength to strength. Until now, Raina had the clear upper hand as he was more suited to the lower order and his case only strengthened when you throw in his off breaks into the equation. But he can't afford any more slip-ups.
Team newsIndia (probable): 1 Parthiv Patel, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Piyush Chawla/ Ashish Nehra, 10 Munaf Patel, 11 Zaheer Khan
South Africa (probable): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Morne Van Wyk/ Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Wayne Parnell/Robin Peterson, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
Stats and trivia
- du Plessis' 60 in the third ODI made him the first South African batsman to score a half century on debut against India. The previous best was 43 by Adrian Kuiper in 1991.
"We have done well with the ball in this series. We have generally fielded well. The intensity has been good. We are excited to go to Pretoria. The teams have been trading blows for two months now and it has been a competitive series"
Smith is excited ahead of the decider
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo