Ajinkya Rahane at the nets
Ajinkya Rahane at the nets

 Cape Town: India will have their sights set on an unprecedented 3-0 lead when they take on a South African team, which has quite literally fallen apart due to injury blows, in the third ODI of the six-match series, here tomorrow. The visitors won the first two matches of the series in Durban and Centurion by six and nine wickets, respectively, dismantling the home side with consummate ease.

Twice previously, India have managed to win two ODIs in a bilateral series in South Africa -- in 1992-93 and in 2010-11. In the latter instance, the visitors shot into a 2-1 lead, only to lose the five-match series 3-2 in the end. They had also lost 5-2 in the other instance. But given the hosts' current travails, history repeating itself would be a major disaster for the Men in Blue.

This is because the Proteas are beset with injury problems. AB de Villiers was ruled out before the first ODI, Faf du Plessis before the second (both suffered finger injuries). And the list has only grown with Quinton de Kock (left wrist injury) ruled out before the third ODI.

Cricket South Africa didn't name a replacement for him, and Heinrich Klaasen, who finished as the third highest run- getter in the domestic one-day tournament here, is expected to make his ODI debut. The host has the option of leaving leave out David Miller, who has struggled against Yadav, accommodating both Behardien and Zondo instead.

South Africa will be keen to mix things up in the hope of countering the wrist-spin threat, and make an impression with the bat in the hurting absence of de Villiers and du Plessis. Also, Centurion saw another departure from norm for the Proteas. Despite defeat in Durban, du Plessis was adamant that "two spinners didn't fit into their team balance". 

Yet, Markram -- in his first outing as skipper -- belied those words and picked both Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi at Centurion. With du Plessis still part of the dressing room despite his injury, this was more of a change in keeping with the pitch conditions on Sunday than anything else. As such, it remains to be seen what sort of wicket is presented to both teams on Wednesday, and whether South Africa will persist with this tactic. Meanwhile, the Indian team is relishing a fine role reversal from the Test series.

While South Africa shot into a 2-0 lead, the visitors had to chop and change repeatedly to find a plausible combination throughout the prior series. In the present, there is once again no need to change things around.
Virat Kohli, who has named 35 different playing elevens in 35 Tests, could very well field the same team for this third successive ODI. Consistency will give them a boost in what is surely a match of historic significance, albeit a small one, as India have never before won three matches in an ODI bilateral series on the South African soil.

If it so comes about, this will also be India's third- ever win at Newlands, for the Men in Blue have only played four ODIs at this ground, winning two and losing two, since 1992. In three ODIs against South Africa here, they have lost two and won one, the latter in 2010-11 when they had shot into the series' lead (aforementioned).

On current evidence, the visitors are expected to draw level in this statistic too and look worth their money as concerns the lead. Additionally, India had climbed to the top spot in ICC ODI rankings after their win in Centurion and another win in Cape Town will help them open up a gap in the standings. A win for South Africa will see India move back to no.2. The Indian team management has repeatedly said that rankings don't warrant much attention, but these are brownie points that Kohli and Co. wouldn't want to miss out on.