Freedom Series: Ruthlessly superior India holds all the aces

South Africa, beleaguered and bruised, will wonder how it might turn things around and redeem some pride

It will perhaps be truly appreciated only with the passing of time, but India’s home record is something of a marvel. Since the start of 2013, on its own patch, the team has won 25 Test matches and lost only one: that is a win-loss ratio of 25, a figure that makes a mockery of the very idea of a win-loss ratio. The next best home record, over the same period, has been New Zealand’s: 17 wins to three defeats.

With the result in Pune, India made it a record 11 straight series victories on home soil: another reminder, if it were required, that this was the hardest place in the world for a touring side.

Unlike South Africa’s previous visit to this country, when only one of the four Tests went beyond the third day (the second Test was washed out), there can be no complaint about the nature of the pitches this time. India’s demolition of the opposition, on fairly anodyne surfaces, has ensured there can be no explanation for the result but India’s ruthless superiority. Virat Kohli’s men are ranked No. 1 for a reason.

No mood to relent

India will be in no mood to ease up when the third and final Test begins at the appealingly-designed JSCA Stadium, with its airy, canopied stands and grass banks, here on Saturday.

After his side had taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in Pune, Kohli insisted there would be no taking his foot off the gas with World Test Championship points on offer. It is not as if India would have treated this third Test like a Diwali vacation otherwise, but one thing the ICC’s new competition has succeeded in doing is to imbue dead rubbers with greater meaning. Forty more points will take India’s tally to 240 on the WTC table, stretching what is already a formidable lead.

South Africa will wonder how it might turn things around. Its pace bowlers, who would ordinarily be considered their side’s strength, have endured a torrid tour. Kagiso Rabada averages 50 over the two Tests, and Vernon Philander 77.5. They have been thoroughly outperformed by Mohammed Shami (20) and Umesh Yadav (9.83) in the same conditions.

South Africa’s batsmen, who showed a willingness to fight in Visakhapatnam, disappointed in Pune. If not for lower-order resistance from Keshav Maharaj, who is now ruled out of the series with an injury, and Philander, things would have been worse. Aiden Markram has flown home after fracturing his wrist, leaving his side looking for another opener now.

Contrasting picture

India’s batsmen, in contrast, have all been among the runs. Mayank Agarwal, only four Tests old at the start of this series, has batted with an extraordinary assurance. Kohli looked unstoppable in Pune. Rohit Sharma scored hundreds in both innings of the first Test.

The JSCA Stadium — to get to which the team buses have to drive past open fields, where buffalo graze and a weekly market does brisk business — has hosted one Test match before: an engrossing game two years ago, when Australia battled to a draw on the final day.

India perhaps felt the pitch did not break up enough on that occasion; things might be different this time, with the playing surface a dark brown on match-eve. It was dry, Faf du Plessis said; spin and reverse swing, he felt, would be factors in the game. India will not be complaining.

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (Capt.), Ajinkya Rahane, Mayank Agarwal, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, and Umesh Yadav.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (Capt.), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde, Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, and Zubayr Hamza.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth, Nigel Llong (both on-field), and Chris Gaffaney (TV). Referee: Richie Richardson.

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