The South African side was completely revamped, as they sought to avoid a whitewash, having already lost the first two matches of the series. In came Lungu Ngidi, Zubayra Hamza, Heinrich Klaasen, George Linde and Dane Piedt, with the injured Aiden Markram, and Senuran Muthesamy, Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, and Theunis de Bruyn all dropping out of the side. Klaasen also took over wicket-keeping duties from Quinton de Kock, who was moved up the batting order to open the innings with Dean Elgar.
Meanwhile India opted to play a third spinner, and handed a debut to Shahbaz Nadeem, who was brought into their team in place of Ishant Sharma.
For the third time in the series, India won the toss in Ranchi and opted to bat again. Initially though there was something in the pitch for the South African seam bowlers, and they enjoyed early success when opener Mayank Agarwal, who had scored hundreds in the previous two matches, was caught by Elgar off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada when he had scored just 10. Fellow opener Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara struggled to score against accurate bowling, and the pressure paid off when Pujara fell for a duck, lbw to Rabada.
That brought captain Virat Kohli to the crease, but the Ranchi crowd were denied a big innings from the Indian skipper when he was lbw for 12, Anrich Nortje the bowler this time. At that stage India were 39 – 3, and South Africa very much in the ascendency. However, as the pitch settled down Sharma, and the Indian vice-captain, Ajinkya Rahane, started to take control of proceedings, counter-attacking with fine, aggressive play.
Sharma led the way, first passing 50, and then bringing up his 6th test century in style, planting a delivery from Ngidi over the ropes for six. His partner though was not far behind, reaching his own half-century and closing in on three figures of his own.
The pair had put on 185 for the fourth wicket, which the bad light which had been threatening finally arrived, and the umpires took the players off the pitch, with India 224 – 3, with dark clouds also circling the stadium.
Play was eventually called off for the day, with Sharma 117 not out, having struck 4 sixes and 14 fours. At the other end Pujara was undefeated on 83, with a six and 11 fours to his name.
Rabada was the best of the South Africa bowlers, but was relatively expensive, having taken 2 for 54.