New Delhi: India will aim for a victory on what could be another spin-friendly surface when the fourth and final Test gets rolling at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium here on Thursday.
Having won the first and third Tests to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series, the Indians will go into the final contest aiming to record their biggest series win over South Africa with a 3-0 verdict.
“In terms of mindset, we want to be ruthless. We are not satisfied with 2-0. If we have any chance to go 3-0 up, we try to achieve that. We will give our 100 percent,” India captain Virat Kohli said after a practice session here on Wednesday.
Victory in the fourth Test will propell India to the second spot in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings. The hosts had started the series at the fifth position. They are currently at the fourth place having gained a place after Pakistan’s 2-0 series victory over England earlier this month.
The Proteas will continue their reign at the top of of the ICC list despite losing the series.
If India lose the Delhi Test, they will end the series at third-ranked team with Australia at the second spot.
With the Feroz Shah Kotla pitch expected to retain its low and slow nature, the hosts may opt to reatin their three-pronged spin attack consisting of in-form off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, leg-spinner Amit Mishra and left-armer Ravindra Jadeja.
The trio have accounted for 47 of the 50 South African wickets to have fallen in this series and will be aiming for an encore on the helpful Kotla surface.
Ishant Sharma was the lone pacer for India during the Nagpur Test, but with the series already in his pocket, Kohli may opt to make some changes in the playing XI.
The Indian team management may opt to drop Ajinkya Rahane in favour of another pacer in all-rounder Stuart Binny or fast bowler Varun Aaron.
Opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan has not been among the runs of late and Kohli may be tempted to drop the Delhi batsman in favour of the promising Lokesh Rahul.
Murali Vijay — the other opener — has been in excellent form and is the best Indian batsman in this series with 195 runs. The talented Cheteshwar Pujara is also in fine knick with 160 runs in his kitty. The hosts will again look to the in-form duo to boost the batting along with Kohli.
The South Africans will continue to miss pace spearhead Dale Steyn. The experienced fast bowler is battling a lingering groin injury that has limited his participation in the series to a solitary contest in the opening Test in Mohali.
With a home series against England starting on December 26, the visitors decided against fielding the 32-year-old in the inconsequential final Test.
“I can confirm that Dale Steyn is not going to be fit. Dale is not playing in this game,” South Africa captain Hashim Amla told reporters on Wednesday.
The visitors will also have to do without the services of talented fast bowler Vernon Philander, who sustained an ankle injury during a practice session ahead of the second Test in Bengaluru to be ruled out of the remainder of the series.
In their absence, Morne Morkel will continue to lead the Proteas attack. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir has also thrived in the spin-friendly conditions, claiming a five-wicket haul during the second innings of the Nagpur Test.
In the batting department, AB de Villiers will need to continue his good form. Amla, who himself endured a run of poor scores in the series, showed signs of returning to form during the second innings in Nagpur with a fighting 72-run partnership along with Faf du Plesis.
J.P. Duminy has also been a good option lower down the order.
Despite being outplayed throughout the series, Amla is determined to win the last Test and finish their Indian sojourn on a high note.
“We got the England series very close, two weeks after we get back. It`s very important for us to get back to winning ways,” he said.
“There is no freebies in test cricket. You want to make an impact and you want to win. It`s very important for us to go at least 2-1, salvage some pride from the series.
“We came to India almost two-and-half months ago and we had a largely successful tour in terms of winning the Twenty20 and the one-dayers. It would be nice to cap off the tour with a victory,” Amla added.
The following is the scoreboard at tea on the opening day of the fourth and final cricket Test between India and South Africa here on Thursday.
Murali Vijay c Amla b Piedt 12
Shikhar Dhawan batting 31
Cheteshwar Pujara b Abbott 14
Virat Kohli c Vilas b Piedt 44
Ajinkya Rahane not out 31
Rohit Sharma c Imran Tahir b Piedt 1
Wriddhiman Saha b Abbott 1
Extras (nb 3) 3
Total (6 wickets; 53.5 overs) 139
Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Vijay, 16.2 overs), 2-62 (Dhawan, 28.5), 3-66 (Pujara, 29.6), 4-136 (Kohli, 46.6), 5-138 (Rohit, 50.1 ov), 6-139 (Saha, 53.5).
M Morkel 12-2-35-0
Kyle Abbott 15-5-21-2 1
Dane Piedt 20-3-56-4
Imran Tahir 4-0-18-0
Dean Elgar 3-0-9-0
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and Bruce Oxenford (Australia)
Television umpire: C.K. Nandan (India)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)
Reserve umpire: A.K. Chaudhary (India)