It’s T-minus 130 days until the start of the T20 World Cup, but it looks like only one of these two sides has seriously started their countdown, and it’s not India. They have chosen to rest new captain Rohit Sharma, former captain Virat Kohli and give the pace of spearhead Jasprit Bumrah for the five match series against South Africa, who have chosen their strongest suit despite some suggestions that they might not. Now KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav have also lost to injury.
Test captain Dean Elgar hinted that the players who chose to go to the IPL rather than stay home for the Bangladesh tests should not expect the doors to reopen, but that is exactly what happened. All – except Faf du Plessis and Dewald Brevis – are included in this squad, which is led by a first-choice pace pack. Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen and fit-again Anrich Nortje are all available, while all-rounders Dwaine Pretorius and Wayne Parnell take South Africa’s seam options to six.
That could make for one of the series’ matches, between the quicks and Dinesh Karthik, who is making an international comeback after more than three years of absence. Perhaps the more intriguing encounters come from watching those who have worked well together at the IPL – Hardik Pandya and David Miller, Kagiso Rabada and Arshdeep Singh – will go head to head as the national rivalry has resumed. But most interestingly, this is the first series to be played in India without Covid-19-related restrictions, which several players said affected their mental health.
Players can enter and exit hotels and stadiums, and matches are played in five different locations across the country, with full attendance allowed. Over 100,000 people came to watch the IPL final, and both teams are excited to get back together again, so this could be the series that not only marks the start of World Cup preparations, but the start of things going back to normal.
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In the spotlight
After leading Gujarat Titans to the IPL trophy, all eyes are on the newly minted vice-captain Hardik Pandya, both in terms of where he hits and how much he bowls. At Titans, Hardik was used at number 4, with great success. He averaged 44.27 and scored four fifties in the season. For India, he hit just four times in that position in 54 games. With Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav absent from this squad, the door could open for Hardik to hit higher, but that would leave India one finisher light. His bowling will also be key. Hardik scored an average of two overs per game at the IPL, which hopefully India will prove to them as well as he continues to solve a long-standing problem.
David Miller was part of Hardik’s championship team and was also in a different batting position. Miller was used at number 5 for Titans, but usually ranks at number 6 for South Africa, often with too little time to make the kind of impact he had at the IPL. It looks like there’s an easy fix for that and South Africa could just take Miller one spot higher, but their team is stacked with top options and a lack of finishers and it can be tricky to fit them all in. Miller may be battling for time in the middle with Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen or newcomer Tristan Stubbs, but he’ll hope his experience means he can make it through the ranks.
With Rahul, the stand-in captain and first-choice opener, offside, India will be led by Rishabh Pant and will most likely have Ruturaj Gaikwad at the top of the order. Meanwhile, international cricket may have to wait for IPL sensations Umran Malik, who finished fourth in the overall list of wicket takers, reaching 150km/h at will, and Arshdeep Singh, who proved himself in death. Despite their breakthrough seasons at the T20 showpiece, Indian coach Rahul Dravid hinted that they would have bid their time for now, with Bhuveshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel and Hardik ready to take on the bowling duties. If Hardik moves back to the finisher’s spot at number 6, that could create room for Karthik in the top five. He should replace Deepak Hooda.
South Africa will likely keep the top four for most of the 2021 T20 World Championship, meaning there could only be room for two van der Dussen, Miller, Heinrich Klaasen and Stubbs. Pretorius is the preferred all-rounder, over Parnell, but South Africa could still have left arm pace in Jansen. Nortje’s return means South Africa may have to choose between Jansen and Lungi Ngidi for Seamer’s third place and could lose both if they choose two spinners.
South Africa: (possibly) 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Reeza Hendricks 3 Temba Bavuma, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Rassie van der Dussen/Tristan Stubbs 6 David Miller, 7 Dwaine Pretorius, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Anrich Nortje, 10 Marco Jansen/ Lungi Ngidi, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
Location and conditions
In six T20I games in the Kotla, the captains have won the toss and fielded five times, but there isn’t too much evidence that a decision gives a clear advantage. Three games were won by hitting first and three by chasing at this location, which has an average score of 156 in the first innings. Expect a low bounce but not much turn. The weather in India has been sweltering for the past month and while South Africa isn’t trying to show that, some of them, like Tabraiz Shamsi, have been feel it† There is no interruption on match day with temperatures peaking at 43 degrees Celsius.
Statistics and trivia
India has won 12 consecutive T20Is, a joint record with Afghanistan and Romania and has lost only one of the last 10 bilateral T20I series they have played in – to Sri Lanka last July. Since December 2019, they have beaten West Indies (twice), Sri Lanka (twice), New Zealand (twice), Australia and England.
South Africa has played two T20I series in India and has not lost either. They swept the 2015 series 2-0 and played out the 2019 series 1-1.
Rabada needs one wicket to reach fifty in T20Is. He will become the fourth South African to reach the milestone after Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn and Shamsi.
“Honestly, we didn’t think about the record, we don’t really pay attention to it. It’s nice to win matches. But we don’t worry about creating records or creating numbers. We want to win and try to win every match to win match we play so we want to prepare well we want to practice well we want to hit the ground with our tactics good and sorted and try to execute it on the day if it happens that’s great .” India has not placed special emphasis on the possibility of a record 13th consecutive win in the T20I, according to the coach Rahul Dravic
“We expected it to be warm, of course not so hot. We are lucky that the games are played at night. At night it is bearable. But during the day guys try to take care of themselves as much as possible. Drink a lot more water and the normal beer that the boys drink at home. And just keep it mentally as fresh as possible.” Hydration Tips to Beat the Heat Courtesy of Temba Bavuma
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South African correspondent