Moments after the toss of the second T20I between India and South Africa, Proteas captain JP Duminy asked his teammates to treat the game as 'a semi-final' and take the series to Newlands, the venue where the series had commenced and is going to end. In contrast to the previous South African sides, Duminy's men responded well to the burden of a 'semi-final' and emphatically defeated India to set up a mouth-watering 'final' at Cape Town.
As spectacular as the latter half of the South African innings was in Centurion — thanks to an extraordinary innings from Henrich Klaasen and a matured hand from Duminy — the start was just as dull. Opener JJ Smuts' struggles in international cricket continued while Reeza Hendricks could hardly make an impact. It was only after Hendricks' dismissal that India were pushed against the wall in the chase.
Throughout the ODI series, Yuzvendra Chahal made the opposition batsmen dance to his tunes; beating them in air, going through their defence with a googly or deceiving them cleverly with his subtle variations. But Chahal endured a horrid night at Centurion — he was taken apart for 64 runs in his four overs and also leaked 23 in an over.
There is a school of thought that believes the South Africans have responded well against spin in the T20I series but it is important to remember that Kuldeep Yadav has not featured in both the games. His absence has highlighted his importance to Chahal, and India might want to bring back the Chinaman without dropping Chahal, given that the team management have always accepted that wrist-spinners can have off days in pursuit of wickets.
Since the early 2000s, India have always been blessed with a solid top order — from the likes of Sachin Tendulkar-Sourav Ganguly-Virender Sehwag to Tendulkar-Sehwag-Gambhir. But the trio of Shikhar Dhawan-Rohit Sharma-Virat Kohli has set an altogether different benchmark. Hardly has an Indian side been so dependent on the top three as this team has; the Champions Trophy 2017 final is the biggest example albeit it was a different format. That trend continued in this tour as well, and hence the 98-run stand between Manish Pandey and MS Dhoni will give India a huge sigh of relief. That Dhoni could accelerate the way he did in the death overs was down to one sole reason: he had faced enough balls, assessed the conditions well and was set. His 28-ball 52-run knock was the perfect ideal example of why India should bat the former Indian captain at No 4 in ODIs.
Apart from fielding two wrist-spinners, the Indian team would want to draft Jasprit Bumrah, who missed the second game due to an abdominal strain, back into the side. Other than that, Kohli and Co would also want Rohit among the runs if they are to finish the tour with two trophies.
South Africa are missing a lot of key players — AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla — but still have competed well in the shortest format. Junior Dala, playing his maiden international series, has bowled exceptionally well at the start and even snared the wicket of Kohli with an absolute peach. The emergence of Klaasen would also please the South African side, who have often been left bereft of options in the middle order. After smashing 69 off 30 in the second game, Klaasen beautifully summed up the start of his international career, "My dream is fulfilled. Now it becomes a job," and it won't be wrong to assume that South African fans and management would be pinning hopes on Klaasen in the series-decider.
Dane Paterson is known for his frugal bowling in the death overs but he has had an indifferent series and Proteas would hoping for him to be at his best at Newlands. One of the biggest reasons why South Africa lost the ODI series was because the seniors weren't playing to their potential. While the likes of Hashim Amla and JP Duminy did contribute in different capacities at some stage, David Miller hasn't had any impact on the series. Given his experience, Miller would want to get back his mojo.
India have played two matches at Newlands during this tour and Saturday's fixture will make it three. The Men in Blue did overpower South Africa in the 50-over format but were on the losing side in Tests. Which side will prevail in the shortest format?
The pitch is expected to assist the batsmen and no rain is expected during the course of the match.
South Africa are treating this game as a 'final' but this is not an ICC tournament; it is a bilateral series where Proteas display their best cricket. The last time both these sides played a series-decider was at the Wankhede stadium in 2015, where South Africa demolished India by 214 runs. However, this time around the situation is different. India are riding high on confidence since the victory in the third Test and will be keen on ending the 'Rainbow Nation' tour with two trophies. But can they do so? The chances are high.
South Africa: JJ Smuts, Reeza Hendricks, JP Duminy, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen, Farhaan Behardien, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Junior Dala, Tabraiz Shamsi, Aaron Phangiso
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav