Tue, 10 Dec 2019

Ranchi - On-song Virat Kohli is looking to topple Aussie run machine Steve Smith in the international batting rankings as India push for a whitewash over South Africa in the third Test starting on Saturday.

Kohli's career-best 254 not out in India's second successive win in the three-match series moved him to within one point of Smith in the International Cricket Council Test chart.

Smith replaced Kohli at number one last month following his blazing Ashes series against England and after the Indian star made a golden duck against the West Indies.

The Australian, who only returned to Tests in August after a year-long ban for ball-tampering, is out of action in the five-day format until November 21 when Australia host Pakistan.

Kohli regained lost ground against the struggling South Africans in the current series as he scored his seventh Test double century, joining England great Wally Hammond and Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene.

He also went past Don Bradman's tally of 6 996 runs in 52 Tests.

With the Pune win last Sunday, India registered a record 11th straight Test series triumph at home. Australia had two streaks of 10 home series wins.

"I'm just happy to be where I am. Putting the team in a commanding position is the only thing I strive for," said Kohli, who tops the ODI batting chart.

South Africa suffered a fresh blow on Thursday as opening batsman Aiden Markram was ruled out of the final Test after hurting his wrist when he "lashed out at a solid object", Cricket South Africa said.

The incident happened "in frustration" after Markram was out for his second duck of the second Test in Pune last Sunday as India won the match by an innings and 137 runs, and with it the series.

Markram called his actions "unacceptable" and said that "to let the team down is what hurts me the most".

No replacement has been called up, opening the way for Zubayr Hamza to make his second Test appearance.

Skipper Faf du Plessis will meanwhile be hoping to give his team more of a chance from the get-go in Ranchi after losing the toss in the first two Tests.

It allowed India to amass a mammoth first-innings total of 502 in Visakhapatnam as South Africa's bowlers toiled, and then 601 in Pune.

This prompted former England captain Michael Vaughan to call Indian Test pitches "boring".

Dean Elgar's 160 has been the visitors' only standout show in the series so far.

Paceman Kagiso Rabada said the up-and-coming team - following the retirements of Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn - need to up their performance and their mindset.

"Our team is fresh and young, so the best thing we can do is look at where we can improve and remember our strengths and build on them," he said.

He added: "From a physical point of view, we need to execute our skills and from a mental point of view, we need to believe we can do it in certain situations. It's a balance we're working on."

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