India vs South Africa: The long and short of it
NEW DELHI: The first T20I on Sunday in Dharamsala will mark the start of a long journey for India, on a road that will eventually culminate on the shores of Australia next year. And toeing expected lines, both the Men in Blue and South Africa have almost an unrecognisable look to them this time around. Still smarting over their early World Cup ouster, a fully revamped Proteas squad have made their way to India for the three-match series, carrying as many as four debutants. Even the home side have Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya, but they also have quite a few who are yet to fully cement their place in the national scheme of things.
With the T20 World Cup next year and the Men in Blue playing as many as 28 T20Is before the start of that big-ticket event, now is the ideal time to try out different combinations before landing in Australia.
“These are opportunities where we can try various combinations with new people around; check their ability, character and composure to perform at the international level.
From that point of view, it is exciting for a captain to try different players and check out combinations. We have all come through that process. I feel happy when I see these new faces emerging, trying to express themselves,” Kohli said on the eve of the match.
Bold calls regarding batting, spin-bowling all-rounders as well as pacers need to be taken if India are to zero in on the ideal combination. The No 4 slot remains an issue across shorter formats and Shreyas Iyer — who had a solid series against Windies — and Manish Pandey — who has been around for a long time — will look to make a case for themselves.
“It is baffling to see this continue till the present day,” said former India coach Anshuman Gaekwad. “Pandey has tried but has never performed consistently. Even before the World Cup, there were calls to include Iyer. He has the talent. Now it is up to him to prove and grab opportunities with both hands.”
Sans Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, even India’s bowling has an experimental look to it. The captain spoke of how he wants his team to bat deep and hence the choice to not pick both wrist-spinners. “That was one of the reasons to give opportunities to the guys who have done well in the domestic format, T20s and IPL. If all teams across the world are batting till No 9 and 10, why can’t we?”
Goes without saying that this series is also a chance for Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar and Krunal Pandya to use their long handle and keep things tight with the ball.
“These players have proved themselves on the domestic stage,” observed Gaekwad. “On the international stage, it is all about handling pressure and showing the management that they can perform whenever they get the chance.”Mental strength and character will go a long way for all these men over the next eight days, going by Kohli’s aim for the next year.