If we needed an advertisement for a five-match bilateral T20I series, and one on the back of a 74-match IPL, this is it.
Locked at 2-2, this series has had South Africa's highest successful chase, and their lowest T20I total; India's biggest win over South Africa, career-bests for six players, a comeback for a veteran who was part of India's first-ever T20I in 2006. It has had big batting performances, and crafty bowling and if there is a criticism, perhaps it's that spin has only had a small say, but that's just being nit-picky.
We've seen the hosts go down 2-0 with a middle order that looked like it couldn't get it together, and then coming back to win their last two, must-win games with finishers who dominated a much-vaunted visiting attack. India have the momentum but South Africa have enough reason to snatch it away. South Africa came into this series on the back of a highly successful T20I run, and had won 11 of their last 12 games. They found unlikely heroes and continued to in the first two matches, underlining that theirs is a team effort not a galaxy of superstars. Inevitably some have emerged in this series.
The biggest, of course, is Dinesh Karthik, who has played cricket throughout the T20I age and has developed his game to match the format's evolution. He has become a finisher and may be eyeing the T20 World Cup to make his actual finish. Then there is Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who dictates the opening passage of play like it's his script to write, and Hardik Pandya, who must surely be in line to lead India soon. Ishan Kishan, too, has impressed.
For South Africa, Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen, won the first two matches despite few considering them T20I match-winners, and they've found room for two allrounders and two specialist spinners in an XI. Their team composition is showing signs of the creativity it once lacked, and their T20 approach has become more innovative. But their frontline bowlers have been lacking and that may be where the series could be won or lost. The likes of Kagiso Rabada, who sparkled at the IPL, and Anrich Nortje, who is coming back from injury, may want to have their say on that. Or they may not get to because the weather in Bengaluru does not appear to be playing ball, and if the series stays shared at 2-2, that won't be so bad either.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LLWWW
In the spotlight
Dinesh Karthik may have already enjoyed his fairytale return in Rajkot, but now he returns to his adopted home on the back of an exceptional IPL run and a stuff-that-dreams-are-made-of international comeback. He will now have the support of the home crowd to cap off this series. They'll want to see the Karthik who hit 19 fours and 19 sixes with a strike rate of 220 at the death in this year's IPL, not the Karthik who averages 14.40 for RCB at the Chinnaswamy and he won't want to let them down. Even if he doesn't produce big runs, Karthik is playing with the freedom of a player given a second chance he didn't expect and making the most of it. That warm, fuzzy feeling is sure to catch on.
A South African side that has stopped relying on superstars seems to have dimmed the brightness of Quinton de Kock , who has not scored a T20I half-century in six innings since before last year's T20 World Cup. In this series, de Kock missed two matches with injury and was run out after a mix-up with Dwaine Pretorius in the previous match, so he hasn't had as much opportunity to make an impact as he might have liked. But South Africa need him if they want to have better, quicker starts. Their other opening batters, Temba Bavuma and Reeza Hendricks, both need some time to settle and are more about strike rotation than boundary-hitting, which makes de Kock's role even more important.
India have been unchanged throughout this series. Unless they want to unleash Umran Malik in the finale, there would be no reason to change that up. It would be harsh to leave out any of the current seamers so we may all just have to wait to see the speedster in another series.
South Africa's most pressing injury concern is captain Temba Bavuma, who has to retire hurt after injuring his left elbow on Friday night. Bavuma did the damage while diving to complete a single but had been hit on that upper arm a few balls before. By Saturday afternoon, they had yet to test whether he could comfortably hold the bat or generate power and will likely take a late call on his availability. If he is unable to play, Reeza Hendricks will slot into the opening berth with Keshav Maharaj to take over the captaincy.
South Africa: (possible) 1 and 2 Quinton de Kock/Reeza Hendricks/Temba Bavuma (capt), 3 Rassie van der Dussen, 4 David Miller, 5 Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 6 Dwaine Pretorius, 7 Marco Jansen/Wayne Parnell, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Lungi Ngidi/Tabraiz Shamsi
Pitch and conditions
Known for being a belter, thanks to small boundaries and a flat pitch the Chinnaswamy hasn't hosted any white-ball cricket since before the pandemic, when it was known as a venue that produces runs and is unkind to spinners. But for that to happen, the players will have to get on the park. It's been a wet build-up to the match, with heavy rain on Friday night, and drizzle throughout Saturday which affected the Ranji Trophy semi-finals on other grounds in the same city. There's a 70% chance of rain on match day.
Stats and trivia
The average first-innings score in T20Is at the Chinnaswamy is 155. In the 2019 season, the average first-innings score across completed IPL games is close - 154.
India and South Africa played the last T20I at this ground, in 2019, and South Africa successfully chased 135. Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma were unbeaten at the end.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the standout bowler of the series, especially upfront. In the powerplay, he has bowled 54 deliveries in the four matches so far, conceded 32 runs and taken four wickets at an economy rate of 3.55.
"Maybe it's a lack of adaptability on the day which we need to go back and address. Obviously, it's a big game on Sunday for the series, and we need to be a bit more proactive than reactive in these types of situations."
Keshav Maharaj hopes South Africa can learn to adjust gameplans in the moment in the decider