India vs South Africa: Kohli's men eye 3-0 clean sweep in Ranchi

With the series sealed, India will be looking to complete a whitewash on South Africa, while the visitor would want to salvage some pride in Ranchi.

Indian batsmen Mayank Agarwal (L), skipper Virat Kohli (R) and Rohit Sharma have contributed 67% of India's total runs in the Test series against South Africa.   -  Twitter (@BCCI)

Watching South Africa bowl to the Indian batsmen in Pune was like being transported from 22 yards of dirt and green to a boxing ring, where Virat Kohli and Mayank Agarwal weren't cutting, pulling or driving but throwing punches until the opposition was rattled.

If there were any doubts about the outcome of the series after Visakhapatnam, then they were quickly dispelled in Pune. The third and final match, in Ranchi, now merely provides South Africa with an opportunity to salvage some proverbial pride. Kohli and co., on the other hand, will eye a 3-0 scoreline to further strengthen their hold at the top of the World Test Championship points table.

The thumping innings and 137-run win in the second Test may have given India an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the series, but Kohli has warned that his team won't take the 'foot off the gas' in the third Test.

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India's bowling attack, especially at home, has the look of a winner. Mohammad Shami's three five-wicket hauls in the second innings since 2018 is the most by any bowler. His 41 wickets in 16-second innings, at an average of 18.09, have given Kohli the option of banking on his pacers on day four and day five sub-continent tracks where traditionally spinners have held sway. If there's wear and tear and the ball reverses, Shami can be lethal.

Yadav wasn't originally part of India's squad but was drafted in when Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out with a stress fracture. The 31-year-old, despite being part of the squad in the West Indies, didn't feature in a single Test across the two-match series but returned with a match haul of six for 59 at the MCA Stadium. Yadav troubled the Proteas top-order by swinging the new ball at pace.

The Ranchi stadium hosted its lone Test in 2017 when the match between India and Australia ended in a draw. The pitch ensured full five days of cricket, with scores of 451 and 603 but only produced 25 wickets.

It wasn't a batting paradise though with the odd ball keeping low. Ravindra Jadeja was the best spinner across the two sides, getting the ball to grip and turn and India will hope for more of the same from the spin duo of Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin.

India's batting looks well equipped as the top-order continues to rack up runs with reassuring familiarity, something the South African batsmen have aspired to but haven't been able to so far.

There's a case for captain Faf du Plessis batting up the order, like in Pune where he promoted himself to No. 4 in the second innings ahead of regular two-down Temba Bavuma.

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Test vice-captain Bavuma, who has struggled for runs this series, looked like South Africa's best player of spin in the last outing, but after getting in and with the ball getting softer, he played a loose drive at Jadeja to gift his wicket away.

Opener Aiden Markram, who bagged a pair in Pune, has been ruled out of the third Test after sustaining an injury to his right wrist. No player has been called up as a replacement. No.3 Theunis de Bruyn, and Bavuma could make way for fresh faces with Zubayr Hamza and wicketkeeper-batsman Heinrich Klaasen — in line for a Test debut — likely to get a nod.

In the bowling department, the South African fast bowlers have been flat, lacking fire, intensity and purpose. The think tank could consider playing Lungi Ngidi here and give some much-needed rest to either Kagiso Rabada or Vernon Philander. There is also a possibility that left-arm spinner George Linde, an injury replacement for Keshav Maharaj, could feature in his maiden Test.

With the series now out of its hand, South Africa has nothing to lose. But in a string of defeats, sometimes one win is all it takes to revive fortunes. Like in 2018, when India ceded the three-match Test series 0-2 against South Africa in its backyard; a gutsy 63-run win in the final Test in Jo'burg set Team India on the path which culminated with a historic series victory Down Under.

How far a win in Ranchi will go in resuscitating South Africa's sagging spirits is anybody's guess but it will surely hold an evolving side in good stead in the days to come.