SA vs IND 3rd Test: India stares at history against upbeat Proteas

India may opt for Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav in the decider at Newlands as Mohammed Siraj sustained a hamstring injury.

South Africa captain Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma celebrate the win at the Wanderers.   -  REUTERS

The trick is in the mind. The decider at the Newlands here will be one of the most significant matches for India in its Test history. A win here and it will accomplish what no other Indian team has managed to achieve. Win a Test series in South Africa.

Can India conquer the final frontier? The pressure on the Indian team, with the series 1-1, will be immense. This is indeed an opportunity to tick a big box.

But then, Indians will do well to take the pressure element out of their minds and treat the decider, beginning January 11, like any other Test match. 

They will, this way, be able to play with greater freedom in this city of sunshine and sea.

This said, the Indian obsession with taller pacemen and citing this as a reason for its seamers getting less purchase from the pitch in the second Test at the Wanderers, is nothing more than a cleverly camouflaged excuse.

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If height indeed was a factor, then how did Shardul Thakur, the shortest of the Indian pacemen along with Mohammed Shami, run through the South African line-up in the first innings, scalping seven?

And no Protea bowler, whatever be his height, got a seven-for in the Test, or bowled a more destructive spell.

Forget about the height. It is about the areas you bowl in. If the Indian pacemen, irrespective of their height, had consistently hit the cracks, like Shardul did in the South African first innings, India would have won.

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And the outfield had dried up considerably by the time the Test resumed on day four. In any case the ball was wiped clean and dry before every delivery with a towel.

If the ball was indeed slippery then how did the Indian pacemen manage to hit the South African batsmen so many times on the body? Logic and common sense go out of the window when you search for excuses for a defeat from a winning position. 

Looking ahead, zeroing in on the decider at Newlands, India needs to pick a replacement for Mohammed Siraj. A hamstring injury, particularly for a paceman, can recur and India is certain not to risk Siraj in the decider.

So it boils down to choosing between Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Ishant is down on pace, is not getting any younger and has not been in the best of forms lately. Yet, when he finds his rhythm, he can still bowl a compelling off-stump line with bounce. And going by India’s current line of thinking - wanting taller pacemen - Ishant could get the nod.

This said, Umesh has done little wrong in the opportunities given to him. He is the more versatile pacer, has a lovely outswinger, can bring the ball back and is decidedly quicker than Ishant. 

In fact, when he received a rare opportunity, against England at the Oval last year, Umesh, bowling with fire, scalped three batsmen in each innings, playing a key role in the Indian victory.

He opened up the Test for India with wickets of Joe Root and Dawid Malan. But then, Umesh is likely to sit out again.

Kohli at nets

Indian captain Virat Kohli, who missed the second Test because of an upper back spasm, had nets with the rest of the Indian team at Newlands on Sunday. The Indian team arrived in Cape Town, the venue for the decider, on Saturday. According to reports, Kohli played his shots without any discomfort.

The chances of Kohli leading India in the third Test appear bright.

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