Even though the series is lost, South Africa should pick their strongest XI to try to win the final Test against India.
The proud away record of staying unbeaten over nine years is over. South Africa should take the extra time from the third Test to process the defeat and the hurt it carries.
Indian team director Ravi Shastri wants the surface in Delhi for the fourth Test to be similar to the ones in Mohali and Nagpur. If that is the case, Hashim Amla and the rest of the batting order must show that they have learned something from the series so far. That’s why the selectors should refrain from making too many changes to the team.
There are a few reasons why South Africa should try to win the final Test. Firstly, they are still the No 1-ranked team in the world and a 2-1 or 2-0 beating will look better than 3-0. They should must lose as few points on the rankings table as possible. South Africa are currently on 125 points. Losing the series 2-0 will see them drop down to 116 points. Losing 3-0 sees them on 114 and India on 111.
Secondly, the Proteas will want to take some confidence and momentum into the England series, which starts with the first of four Tests on 26 December.
There has been a predictable reaction to the series loss, which has been to focus the blame on Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Vilas. Van Zyl, fans argue, is not an natural opener and should be dropped. Vilas is apparently not good enough and in Quinton de Kock there is an exciting, young wicketkeeper ready to resume his promising career.
It would, however, be unfair to make Van Zyl and Vilas the scapegoats for what has transpired in India. All the batsmen struggled, in both teams. There is no guarantee that someone like Stephen Cook or De Kock would have fared any better in those conditions.
Hashim Amla struggled. So did Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar. Even AB de Villiers found it difficult although he is the only South African to score a fifty (two) in the series so far.
There is no sense in making rash decisions and having knee-jerk reactions because South Africa lost an away series for the first time in nine years. It was bound to happen sometime and it’s not like it was a closely contested series. India were comfortably the better team, winning the first Test by 108 runs and the third by 124 runs.
The Proteas, as a collective, failed and it wasn’t just down to one or two players not being good enough. No-one was good enough. Whether that was solely down to the conditions is probable, but it’s exactly for that reason that the selectors should refrain from making long-term decisions.
With Vernon Philander injured and likely to miss the start of the England series, it would make sense to give Kyle Abbott or Marchant de Lange a chance and rest Kagiso Rabada, who has played every game on tour.
If Dale Steyn is fit he should play too. To experiment now, with conditions in South Africa set to be radically different from those in India, doesn’t make sense. Let the players who have played in those conditions see out the series and try and improve.
There is no evidence to suggest new players coming into the side will fair any better on pitches Amla has described as the toughest he has played on.