Changing fortunes are a part of sport. A few weeks ago, if you were looking at Virat Kohli’s India and Quinton de Kock’s South Africa, you would have looked at the former as a team of the highest quality and the latter as one which was going downhill.
Recently though, the tables have turned slightly when it comes to form. After winning the T20Is 5-0 in New Zealand, the Men in Blue were whitewashed 3-0 in the ODIs and 2-0 in the Tests by the Black Caps. On the other hand, South Africa – after going almost a year without winning a series in any format – got the better of a strong Australian side by a 3-0 margin in an ODI series at home.
Despite recent results, many would have India as the favourites heading into this series, which begins in Dharamsala on Thursday (March 12). And it’s tough to argue with that because India at home is like Roger Federer playing tennis on grass in the late noughties. The level of comfort is sky-high. Out of the nine ODI series that they’ve played at home since the start of 2016, they’ve won eight. The only loss came against Australia last year, a series in which they were leading 2-0 at one stage, only to end up losing 2-3.
Interestingly, in those nine series, only once have India won by a margin of more than one win and have lost at least one match every time. While they’ve been incredibly dominant in red-ball cricket at home, they’d like to be more clinical in ODIs. The next 50-over World Cup is still three years away, but with the global event scheduled to be held in India, the Men in Blue will want to be start building a team that is more assertive in home conditions.
If we rewind back a decade, then-captain MS Dhoni had initiated the process of building a team for the 2011 home World Cup exactly three years before the event. Former captains Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were dropped from ODIs, making way for younger players to gain valuable experience. Hence, it’s pivotal for India to have a similar process in place now as it’s never too early to start. The inclusion of young batsmen like Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill with 34-year-old Kedar Jadhav making way does indicate that the selectors are thinking on those lines.
Meanwhile, South Africa will be buoyed by that series win over Australia. To say that the past year hasn’t been easy for the Proteas would be a massive understatement. An early exit in the World Cup, followed by Test series losses against India away and England at home came as huge disappointments.
Under new captain Quinton de Kock, South Africa have done reasonably well so far. Before the win against the Australians, they had drawn 1-1 with world champions England.
Recently, the biggest positive for the team from the Rainbow Nation have been the impressive batting performances of Temba Bavuma, Janneman Malan, JJ Smuts, Heinrich Klaasen and Kyle Verreynne – none of whom were a part of their 2019 World Cup squad. While they’ve played very few matches this year, four of the five batsmen are averaging 40+ and all five have notched up at least one 50+ score in 2020.
In the bowling department for South Africa, Lungi Ngidi has been the outstanding bowler. In his last three ODIs, he has picked at least three wickets in an innings every time – including career-best bowling figures of 6/58 in the third ODI against Australia. With the wicket at Dharamsala usually conducive to pace bowling, the visitors will be hopeful that Ngidi will get the better of a strong Indian batting order.
If there is no rain and we have a match on our hands, it sure promises to be an exciting contest with India attempting to bounce back from a rare slump while South Africa look to build momentum from their latest series win.
The return of Shikhar Dhawan and Hardik Pandya will come as a huge boost for the Indian team. While the former will strengthen the top order for the hosts, Pandya will bring balance to the side with his all-round abilities.
India Squad: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav
South Africa added Malan to the squad after his century in the second ODI against Australia. With Bavuma still doubtful for the first game, it’ll be interesting to see what the South Africa XI looks like. With de Kock, Malan, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Klaasen, Smuts and Verreynne all part of the squad, it’s a good selection headache to have for the Proteas.
South Africa Squad: Quinton de Kock (c), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Janneman Malan, JJ Smuts, George Linde, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kyle Verreynne, Heinrich Klaasen, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, Keshav Maharaj