November 25-29, 2015
Start time 0930 local (0400GMT)
After grey, blustery and mostly cricket-free Bangalore, the teams have moved to the geometric centre of India and the promise of a Test match free of interruptions under clear, cloudless skies. India ended day one of the second Test in a position of great cricketing and psychological strength, but there has been no action in the ten days since. Though the effects of India being 1-0 up cannot have dissipated entirely, there is a blank-slate feeling to the start of the third Test. Let the series begin, again.
The portents suggest India are favourites to take an unassailable 2-0 lead. The pitch is dry, the afternoons will be hot, and there are definite signs that India will play three spinners. Most of South Africa's batsmen are yet to find their feet on this tour. Worse still for the visitors, Dale Steyn, their one bowler capable of neutralising any sort of surface, is almost certain not to feature.
South Africa, however, are the No. 1 Test side in the world for a reason. Their batting might not have clicked just yet, as a collective unit, but there is too much quality in their line-up for the situation to become irremediable. AB de Villiers is in the frightening position of being both in form and due for a big one. Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis cannot keep failing in tandem forever. All South Africa need is one big partnership, or two biggish ones, to post their first big total of the series.
They can also take heart from their performance in Mohali. The match ended in three days, and India won by a sizeable margin, but South Africa still managed to bowl them out twice, for 201 and 200. If the Nagpur pitch turns out similar to the one in Mohali, it could narrow the quality gap between the spin attacks rather than exaggerating it. India know this phenomenon well. Over the last decade, some of their most significant away wins have come on green pitches that have allowed their seamers to compete on an even footing with pace attacks of greater all-round quality.
India's batsmen, moreover, have spent precious little time in the middle so far. Apart from M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, none have yet faced 100 balls in the series. If there is any rustiness, South Africa will want to exploit it quickly, particularly if India play only five specialist batsmen.
(last five completed games most recent first)
South Africa DLDDW
In the spotlight
The last time he batted at the VCA Stadium in a Test, Hashim Amla
made an unbeaten 253 that set South Africa up for a famous innings win
. Amla has struggled so far on this tour, but he has an exceptional record in India - 873 runs at 79.36, with four centuries - and proven ability against spin. A solid contribution from their captain could be just what South Africa needs to spark a revival.
The same Test match witnessed the debut of Wriddhiman Saha, who was forced to play as a specialist batsman thanks to an injury crisis in the squad. Having served a long apprenticeship under MS Dhoni, Saha is now India's first-choice Test wicketkeeper. Though he has contributed a few spunky knocks with the bat in his short career so far, India's batting line-up still looks a little thin with Saha slotting in at No. 6. He has an excellent first-class record, with nine hundreds and an average of nearly 44, and the confidence of his captain. He needs to translate that into Test cricket to be able to play what is a pivotal role in making India's five-bowler strategy work.
India have a squad free of fitness worries, and the one selection call they are likely to have to make is the question of whether or not to play three spinners. With conditions not suited to his medium-pace, India will most likely leave out Stuart Binny, which opens up a slot either for the legspinner Amit Mishra or for an extra batsman in Rohit Sharma. If conditions seem particularly conducive to spin, India could even play both Mishra and Rohit, leaving out Binny and Varun Aaron.
India (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Varun Aaron.
JP Duminy's offspin often does the job of supporting South Africa's main spinner, but if the pitch shows signs of taking turn early, they might just include Simon Harmer or Dane Piedt to bowl alongside Imran Tahir. Dale Steyn's continuing groin troubles have more or less ruled him out of contention, leaving Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott as the leading candidates to partner Morne Morkel in the seam attack.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Stiaan van Zyl, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Hashim Amla (capt), 5 AB de Villiers, 6 JP Duminy, 7 Dane Vilas (wk), 8 Simon Harmer/Dane Piedt, 9 Kagiso Rabada/Kyle Abbott, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir.
Pitch and conditions
Asked about the Nagpur pitch on the eve of the Test, Hashim Amla said it looked like "a good cricket wicket, one that we kind of expect in the subcontinent". Then he chuckled. Amar Karlekar, the curator, has himself said the pitch would start turning by tea on the first day. Lack of bounce was a concern during the last Test played at this ground, in 2012, but Karlekar is confident there will be no repeat of the bore draw witnessed on that occasion.
Nagpur has enjoyed sunny weather and clear skies in the days leading up to the Test. Winter has not set in yet, but the mornings are likely to be cool, before temperatures rise to an afternoon high in the low 30s.Ajinkya Rahane has played only four Test innings in India so far. His scores in those four innings are 7, 1, 15 and 2.
Imran Tahir is one wicket short of 50 in Test cricket.
South Africa won at least one Test on four of their five previous tours to India.
"I played only one Test match here, it went well for me. [I showed] lots of patience, something that at that point in time was probably out of my character. It was something that I discovered about myself. I hope the wicket doesn't play like that in this game because it ended up being a very boring Test match."Virat Kohli on his 295-ball 103 against England in the drawn Nagpur Test of 2012
"When I took over the captaincy, one of the ideas was to give me a bit more time, especially when we fielded first, to bat at 4. But you never know. We're a team in a little bit of transition, with a couple of new faces, so we're still finding the perfect batting order. So yes, there's no reason I couldn't bat at 3 at some stage."
Hashim Amla reckons he could return to his familiar No. 3 batting slot
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo