With a prize as big as a T20 World Cup on offer in little more than a month’s time, and teams including the hosts of this three-match ODI series having their eye firmly set on the marquee event, it would be easy to dismiss the decider as not such a big deal. But it is. Especially for South Africa.
For all the pride and pressure South Africa will take to Delhi, India have the opposite. Of course, they will be mindful of the home reputation they want to uphold and the impressions individual players can make on the national selectors through performances in this series, but they’ll also be pretty satisfied with the way things have gone already.
That said, there are always improvements that could be made. Chiefly, Shubman Gill and Shikhar Dhawan will want to step up, but if India close out the series, their returns may not be as important as the end result.
India WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LWLWL
In the spotlight
India have a few more days to decide on Jasprit Bumrah’s replacement for the T20 World Cup, and Mohammed Siraj is making a compelling case to be selected. After going wicket-less in the opening game, Siraj’s execution was excellent in the second ODI in Ranchi, where he struck in all three spells and was particularly effective at the end of the innings. He delivered four overs laced with slower balls and found reverse swing to show what he is really capable of. Mohammed Shami appears to be the frontrunner to take Bumrah’s place in Australia but another strong performance from Siraj could make things a whole lot more complicated.
India’s six-man attack was far better balanced than the five bowlers they went into the first ODI with and they will want to keep that kind of combination for the decider. With Deepak Chahar out of the series with back stiffness, Mukesh Kumar may be given a debut if India want to include an extra seamer but, with the batting line-up firing, we may have to wait a while before we see Rajat Patidar or Rahul Tripathi in action.
India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Ishan Kishan, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Sanju Samson (wk), 6 Shardul Thakur, 7 Washington Sundar, 8 Mukesh Kumar/Shahbaz Ahmed, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Avesh Khan, 11 Mohammed Siraj
South Africa are waiting on the health of captain Bavuma to decide their top order. If Bavuma returns, Janneman Malan may have to sit out for in-form Reeza Hendricks. With conditions likely to favour the quicks, South Africa may consider one spinner instead of the two they have been deploying so far. That may mean only Maharaj plays – even if Tabraiz Shamsi is given a clean bill of health – alongside the full complement of quicks.
South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Reeza Hendricks/Janneman Malan, 3 Temba Bavuma, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Anrich Nortje 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Kagiso Rabada
Pitch and conditions
Heavy rain has fallen in Delhi over the weekend causing water-logging and traffic chaos in addition to threatening a washout of the series decider. The forecast is slightly improved for Tuesday, with the chance of rain falling from 40% in the morning to around 15% later on but the teams could still end up with a reduced match on their hands. Should play get underway, expect a surface that should offer more to the quicks than what we have seen so far. The Arun Jaitley Stadium has not hosted an ODI since March 2019, but in the last three matches, the average first innings score has been 259, and the team batting first has won all three matches.
Stats and trivia
“There’s two sides to it. If we look at it from the point of view that we get to play cricket, we get to stay out on the park and guys get to find form or continue form. That’s the positives you can take from it. The two formats [T20Is and ODIs] are slightly different but we are looking at everything we can take from it. It’s a very important series for us because of the points for the [ODI] World Cup. We are giving it our all. We will try to take all the positives we can into the T20 series.”
Aiden Markram tries to see the bright side of South Africa’s entire T20 World Cup squad still engaged in India while other teams have already departed for the tournament.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent