1st T20I: Team India’s preparations for T20 World Cup hit the final stretch

South Africa series is India’s last chance to address shortcomings before the T20 World Cup next month
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Every Indian player had a smile on his face after the Men In Blue wriggled out a comeback T20 series victory against the Australians. The series victory on Sunday was an important one for Rohit and his men after their premature exit from the Asia Cup earlier this month as it gave them the much-needed fillip going into the World T20 in three weeks’ time.
Now, India’s preparations for the World T20 is hitting its final stretch. South Africans have replaced Australians as their rivals for their last three T20 matches before that big tournament Down Under and the two teams will square off in the first of those games at the Greenfield stadium, Thiruvananthapuram here on Wednesday night.

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Much like a trip on Kerala roads these days, India’s ride towards the World T20 has been a bumpy one.
Despite the series victory, the matches against Australia and their Asia Cup performance earlier have exposed India’s shortcomings. The series against South Africa will give the team management one final opportunity to address those before they board the flight to Australia.

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The two back-to-back successful run chases in Nagpur and Hyderabad against the Aaron Finch-led side have helped India camouflage their vulnerability in defending targets against big teams. In fact, since they started to field an almost full-strength squad from the Asia Cup onwards, India have lost three out of the five matches where they have batted first, with their victories coming against minnows Hong Kong and Afghanistan.

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The performance of the Indian bowlers, especially during the end overs, has copped a fair bit of criticism. Even the usually reliable Jasprit Bumrah was guilty of leaking runs in the death overs at Hyderabad though it was just his second game on his comeback.

The series against South Africa gives the Gujarat pacer the chance to get his mojo back. While Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s form has been a major worry for Rohit, he gets some time to analyze his performance at the NCA as he would miss the series against the Proteas. This should give young Arshdeep Singh another opportunity to present his case.

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Axar Patel’s brilliance with the ball was the biggest takeaway for India in the Australian series. Given leggie Yuzvendra Chahal‘s indifferent form off late, it would be interesting to see if the team management fields offie Ravichandran Ashwin in the playing XI here.
The Indian batting looks more-or-less settled. Both the openers, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, played one quality knock each in the series against Australia. But their tendency to be over aggressive have cost them their wickets as poor shot selection has led to their downfall in the recent past, something they would like to correct against the Proteas.

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Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav look settled at No. 3 and 4. Dinesh Karthik showed yet again why he is the designated finisher in the side with a six and four off successive balls against Australia in the second T20 in Nagpur.
The absence of allrounder Hardik Pandya, who has been rested for this series, is likely to see Rishabh Pant replacing him in the playing XI.

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Skipper Rohit has indicated that he would like to give both Karthik and Pant more time with the bat before they head to the World Cup which means that a shuffle in the batting order looks a distinct possibility.

Like the Australians, the South Africans too would come hard at the Indians as they showed when they came visiting earlier in the year and drew the T20 series 2-2. With Quinton de Kock, Heinrich Klassen, David Miller being joined by South Africa’s new T20 league’s millionaire boy Tristan Stubbs, the Indian bowlers will have their work cut out.

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