With the dust settling on a long Indian Premier League season, focus now shifts towards the Indian team, with a T20 International series against South Africa setting up a long year, which includes a lot of big events which will test the old and new of the side alike.
South Africa bring with them some of the names who had set the IPL stage on fire on different occasions, while India are fielding some of the names that had created so much sensation during the franchise league. There are also permutation and combination changes in the team which throw up some interesting questions for the immediate and also the long-term future of Team India.
One big note is the absence of the big guns – Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. While both had indifferent IPL seasons, their absence has been marked as an opportunity to rest them for bigger things to come, not least the postponed crucial Test match against England, which will decide the fate of the series with India now leading 2-1 in the five-Test series.
The T20I team, our immediate concern, is now being led by Rishabh Pant, the vice-captain, after the original skipper KL Rahul was declared unfit for the entire series, just a day before hostilities got underway. The Karnataka star had shown a lot of skill as captain of Lucknow Super Giants in the just-completed IPL and his form with the bat was something India will really needed, and will now sorely miss.
Pant had a middling IPL and sometime gave the impression that he’d rather be somewhere else than captain Delhi Capitals. His temper tantrums and run-ins with the umpires didn’t do much to attest to his abilities as a captain so it remains to be seen how he does.
Another player to follow is Hardik Pandya, the Gujarat Titans skipper and winner of the IPL in their debut season. He has shown fine form with the bat and did bowl a bit, though that is a big question mark still for India, given that Pandya could be an important part of the squad for the ICC T20 World Cup later in the year.
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The rest of the sides has some interesting picks, not least the fiery Umran Malik, who was such a sensation in the IPL for his searing pace. But how much of match time he gets will be a teaser.
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For South Africa, all eyes will be on two players – Quinton de Kock and David Miller. These two really set the cat among the pigeons in the IPL and it would be interesting how Rahul deals with De Kock, his Lucknow Super Giants opening partner, or when Pandya crosses swords with Miller, one of his Titans’ top guns.
The South African side also has a few others who were in action in Mumbai and did fairly well, not least Kagiso Rabada. They could all orchestrate quite a contest, beginning Thursday.
India: Rishabh Pant (wk/capt), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Deepak Hooda, Axar Patel, Dinesh Karthik, Yuzvendra Chahal, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Venkatesh Iyer, Arshdeep Singh, Avesh Khan, Ishan Kishan, Ravi Bishnoi, Umran Malik.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (capt), Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, 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.