The dull concept of a dead rubber has been flung out the window in this series, as the visiting Indian side has stayed neck and neck with their hosts South Africa, throughout this tour.
Indeed, it has been an especially memorable trip with now just one match poised to determine the ultimate winners. Who would have thought at the outset of the one-day series that with its infantry depleted of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautamn Gambhir and Praveen Kumar, India would still be able to demonstrate the kind of fire-power that makes it a side to reckon with.
India lost a chance to wrap up the series as the jinx of Port Elizabeth, where India has lost all of its four previous matches (including one to Kenya in 2001), continued into Friday, Jan 21. Rain, falling wickets and a mounting run-rate worked against a determined side as India found itself on the wrong side of the Duckworth/Lewis method.
Meanwhile, India have a score to settle at Centurion. The place where they opened their tour, with a defeat in the first test, now could be the ground on which they say goodbye on a victorious note.
The dream of effecting their maiden series win has slipped partially through their fingers, but the tourists still have a date with history and they seem likely to keep it. The insurmountable, unmitigable cohesive essence that rendered the South Africans hapless in quelling that force in games 2 and 3, could very well return in the make-up of India on Sunday.
India has one last chance to set right the maladies of their batting, but they will be rightly rewarded if they do so as a whole series hangs in the balance. One sha seen signs of positive intent from openers Parthiv Patel and Rohit Sharma. They both were middling the ball at Port Elizabeth, albeit hitting it straight to the fielders. A little tweaking of the angles which they dispatch the ball at, will go a long way toward boosting their confidence.
Meanwhile, the middle order must simply resolve to stand thier ground. They have been doing well in patches and on seperate occasions, but No. 3 to No. 6 must come together as a cohesive unit and collectively play well. The habit of losing a cluster of wickets must be countered consciously and new batsmen must find a way to stay firm. It was painful to watch batters fall against the run of play in the 4th ODI.
Secondly, India must not allow the Proteas to claw back from positions of adversity. Too often in the series, has an innings been saved by the handiwork of one or two batsmen while the others depart for low scores. India must wrest all the initiave and give the opposition no quarter, not even a sniff because the Proteas are adept at converting those chances.
India is on the doorstep of history and it will be a shame if it leaves without dropping in. After all, the side has traversed one continent and one ocean and two decades to be in the position they are now. Fans at home and abroad will be smacking their lips as the stakes of this last encounter are indeed delicious to savour. If victory were a well, India should drink up and now!