An experimental India would have found the going tough against a formidable South Africa in the five-match T20 series. To add to the challenge, the injured duo of skipper K.L. Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav pulled out of the series on the eve of Thursday’s opening clash at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground.
Rahul picked up a right groin injury whereas Kuldeep was hit on the hand while batting in the nets on Tuesday evening.
Rishabh Pant was handed over the captaincy and Hardik Pandya was named his deputy. The National selectors are yet to name replacements for the two injured players.
Given the strengths of the team, there is no clear favourite. Moreover, in the shortest format of the game, more than the man-to-man superiority, focus remains on clinching the key moments.
With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah having been rested and Ravindra Jadeja, Deepak Chahar and Surya Kumar Yadav nursing injuries, India appears set to test comeback men Dinesh Karthik and Hardik besides the untested duo of Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik.
Struggling for form, Pant now leads a bunch that includes Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan in the top-order. Shreyas Iyer’s presence lends a touch of assurance.
Leg-spinner Yuzuvendra Chahal could hold the key though some pacers will try to reinforce their claim to a more permanent spot in the playing XI. However, it remains to be seen how many from the squad — now reduced to 16 — make it to the playing XI in this series.
There are plenty of bowlers to pick from and coach Rahul Dravid should have no problem in finding the right balance. In any case, Hardik’s fitness and Karthik’s consistency could again come under scrutiny.
The South Africans, back after the 2020 ODI series was called off ahead of the second match in Lucknow in March due to the pandemic, look well equipped to deal with the host.
Players like the strokeful Quinton de Kock, back-in-form David Miller, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, speedsters Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Dwaine Pretorius and Marco Jansen are all too familiar with the conditions, having figured in the IPL. The much talked about 19-year-old Dewald Brevis is not part of the team.
Skipper Temba Bavuma has a number of bowling all-rounders in his team. Left-arm spinners Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, also add to the wicket-taking options. Among the pacers, Lungi Ngidi and Wayne Parnell make South Africa look better armed in terms of the bowling resources.
Though the teams will test their bench-strength as part of their preparations for the World T20 in Australia in October-November this year, winning the series will not be optional.
South Africa would like to stop the host from winning only a second T20 at home while India is one victory from the world record of 13 on-the-trot!
Though Dravid underplayed India eyeing the record, a winning start is not going to hurt.
The teams (from):
India: Rishabh Pant (Capt. & wk), Hardik Pandya (Vice-capt.), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Venkatesh Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh and Umran Malik.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (Capt.), Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs, Rassie van der Dussen and Marco Jansen.
Match starts at 7 p.m.