1st T20I: India face SA challenge on the road to T20 WC

A formidable South African side is set to pose challenging questions to a young Indian squad as they kick off a three-match T20 international series starting on Sunday.
With captain Hardik Pandya sidelined due to injury until the beginning of the IPL, key pacer Jasprit Bumrah taking a break and uncertainties surrounding Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma’s T20 future leading up to the World Cup in June, evaluating the team’s success or failure in South Africa becomes a complex task.

A young Indian outfit will be asked tough questions, answers to which might not be readily available, when it faces a sturdy South African side in a three-match T20 International starting here on Sunday.

With injured skipper Hardik Pandya out till the start of IPL, lead pacer Jasprit Bumrah taking a break and not much clarity over Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma’s T20 future ahead of the World Cup in June, one wouldn’t be able to read much into either success or failure of the team in South Africa.
The absence of a clear picture about India’s T20 World Cup core will persist until after a month of the IPL, where form and fitness will dictate the selection criteria.

If Rohit and Virat return to be part of the squad, the team’s core will undergo a significant transformation compared to the current squad touring the ‘Rainbow Nation.’
Under the leadership of Suryakumar Yadav, the Indian side convincingly defeated Australia 4-1 on batting-friendly tracks at home. However, even the most loyal Indian fans acknowledge that the series held within 72 hours of the World Cup had less at stake. Australia rested its core bowling attack, and some seniors departed after the third game, having spent nearly nine weeks in India.

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In this context, the South Africa series represents the last major international T20 series for India before facing Afghanistan in mid-January.
Despite the Proteas missing key pace bowlers like Kagiso Rabada (rested) and dealing with injuries to Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi, they remain a formidable opponent on their home turf.
Batting Combination conundrum
India have brought along a squad of 17 players for the T20 series, with only Shreyas Iyer, Mukesh Kumar and Ishan Kishan being part of the 50-over format as well.
Several points of contention arise, particularly concerning the openers and the No. 3 position, urging a departure from the outdated safety-first approach that has plagued India in previous T20 World Cups.
Yashasvi Jaiswal has already demonstrated his competence at this level, and Shubman Gill is now a consistent choice across formats. Ruturaj Gaikwad, following his impressive 52-ball 100, becomes hard to overlook.
The challenge arises as Ishan Kishan isn’t an ideal option beyond No. 4 if Jaiswal, Gill and Gaikwad form the top order. At No. 4 sits India’s premier T20 batter and captain Suryakumar Yadav, an automatic choice for the T20 World Cup.
The wicketkeeper’s slot presents another dilemma, with Kishan facing competition from Jitesh Sharma, who is evolving into a reliable finisher at No. 6.
Shreyas Iyer, expected to occupy the No. 5 slot, is not a typical aggressive starter but faces the challenge of handling short-pitched deliveries from bowlers like Marco Jansen, Gerald Coetzee and Andile Phehlukwayo.
However, if Iyer is included, there’s no room for Rinku Singh, another designated finisher, who has stated his intention to bat at No. 5.
If Kishan doesn’t secure a spot in the top four, Jitesh becomes a viable option at No. 6.
For players like Ruturaj, Jaiswal, Rinku and Jitesh, the extra bounce at Kingsmead will present a unique challenge, with superior back-foot play becoming crucial.

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Bowling picks are easier
Australia consistently challenged the Indian bowling attack in most games, but in South Africa, the importance of length becomes even more critical as the younger players may be tempted to exploit the extra bounce by delivering shorter deliveries.
Although Quinton de Kock won’t be part of the mix anymore, the presence of Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, captain Aiden Markram, power-hitter Tristan Stubbs and the emerging batting sensation Matthew Breetzske could pose challenges for the Indian bowlers.
While Ravindra Jadeja is the vice-captain in this series and is expected to bat at No.7, Axar Patel, who hasn’t been picked for the series, will certainly be around when squad for the marquee event is selected.
The second spinner is expected to be the googly specialist Ravi Bishnoi, currently the world’s No. 1 ranked T20 bowler.
In the pace-bowling department, the straightforward choices are expected to be Deepak Chahar, Arshdeep Singh and Mukesh Kumar.

India: Suryakumar Yadav (C), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (wk), Jitesh Sharma (wk), Ravindra Jadeja (VC), Washington Sundar, Ravi Bishnoi, Kuldeep Yadav, Arshdeep Singh, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Deepak Chahar
South Africa: Aiden Markram (c), Ottniel Baartman, Matthew Breetzke, Nandre Burger, Gerald Coetzee (1st and 2ndT20Is), Donovan Ferreira, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen (1st and 2nd T20Is), Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs, and Lizaad Williams
(With PTI inputs)

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