Mumbai: With the ODI cricket series tantalizingly poised 2-2, India will seek to keep the momentum when they go into what promises to be a thrilling series decider against South Africa here tomorrow with both the teams having enough firepower to clinch the title.
In the cat-and-mouse contest for supremacy in the rubber, the home team has managed to twice catch up with the tourists and therefore seem hold a very slight advantage going into the last match.
The winning momentum gained by India in the penultimate tie in Chennai on October 22 by comprehensively beating South Africa by 35 runs should stand them in good stead in the needle contest.
Also the fact that India had won all three previous contests (2 in 1996 and the last one in November, 2005) against South Africa at the Wankhede Stadium, which is expected to be jam-packed with a boisterous crowd to support them, should also give the home team advantage.
While both teams have been undone by injuries to key players, India have been able to fill the breach left by the unavailability of top off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin after the opening Kanpur game more effectively with veteran Harbhajan Singh filling in the gap admirably.
South Africa had lost the services of their key all rounder Jean-Paul Duminy for the last two games due to a hand injury sustained in the third match of the series in Rajkot on October 18.
Fast bowler Morne Morkel too sustained a leg injury while turning in a match-winning performance of 4 for 39 in Rajkot and missed the Chennai game and his absence also hurt the visitors badly.
Replacement Chris Morris was not as effective in doing the job of curtailing the run-rate as well as taking wickets as his more illustrious teammate had done in the first three games.
But Morkel is unlikely to feature in the final game as the visitors will want him fit and running for the Test matches starting November 5 in Mohali.
The return to top form of Virat Kohli, who struck a fine half century (77) in vain in the third match and then made a brilliant 140-ball 138 in his flamboyant fashion at Chennai bodes well for the hosts.
Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who too is in good nick with 239 runs in his kitty which is one run better than the former, and the steady Ajinkya Rahane have been the fulcrum around which the Indian batting has revolved.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has also been among the runs (185 from 4 games at 61.66 per innings) and the half century (53) by Suresh Raina in Chennai after his string of two ducks earlier in the rubber should be the much-needed boost ahead of the needle contest.
The woeful form of left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan, however, is a cause for worry, but India seem to have far less batting woes than the visitors for whom two top order batsmen Hashim Amla and David Miller are yet to show what they are capable of.
The form of Amla, a good player of spin bowling on Indian wickets, has been abominable (66 runs in 4 games with 37 as his best).
The left-handed Miller — who was promoted to open the innings at Chennai — has been equally frugal in gathering just 52 runs with 33 in the fourth game as his top score.
The visitors would be hoping these two key members would buckle up and hit the ground running in the winners-take-all match.
Captain AB de Villiers has led from the front with his brilliant batting and the way he single-handedly kept SA in the hunt in the fourth match at Chennai while chasing an imposing 300 target with a top-class hundred must have given the tourists the ideal pep-up before tomorrow’s finale.
De Villiers has handled the Indian spin trio very well, by even using his reverse-hit shots to damning effect, and would hope the other batsmen follow his footsteps in tackling this major threat for his team’s chances.
India, as they did in Chennai, are expected to field all three slow bowlers Harbhajan (5 wickets in 3 games), Axar Patel (5 in 3) and Amit Mishra (4 in 3) and how effectively they put the skids on the South African batsmen in the middle overs would be one of the important phases of the match.
The Indian medium pace attack has not been on top with Mohit Sharma, with his ability to bowl his slower balls effectively with a cross-seam hold or back of hand bowling, being the best of the lot while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been expensive.
Srinath Aravind has been included for the last two games and the Indians could be tempted to use his left-arm bowling, fast as well as slow stuff.
The South African spin attack led by leggie Imran Tahir has not been as effective as their Indian counterpart, and the visitors might be inclined to bring in Dean Elgar, the left-arm slow bowler brought in as a replacement for Duminy, for the all-important match.
On the other hand the lanky Aaron Phangiso, who got a chance to play in Chennai, did a decent job with his left hand slow stuff and could be retained. But the absence of Duminy has upset the team balance.
The visitors would hope whatever decision they take to fill in his place in the eleven turns out to be effective and enables them to win their first ODI bilateral rubber in India, after having lost three (in 1991-92, 1999-2000 and 2009-10), and drawn the other (2005-06) in previous attempts.
Rival squads (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Axar Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Mohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, S Arvind, Stuart Binny, Ambati Rayudu, Gurkeerat Mann.
South Africa: AB De Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Khaya Zondo, Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada, Dean Elgar.
Match commences at 1:30 pm.