Imagine saying that a three-match ODI series is of monumental importance to a team before a crucial T20 World Cup. You would be astonished to hear that, wouldn't you? Also, you would naturally assume how on earth this team got into this position.
In short, that has been the fate of South African cricket in the recent past. In lieu of boosting the newly conceptualized SA20 league, the Proteas had some tough decisions to take, including forfeiting a three-match ODI series against Australia, giving away 30 points. With just three series for them to play, each one ultimately becomes a do-or-die.
While all of this is happening at one end, the other end is an Indian team who are taking this series as an avenue to test out their plans for the showpiece event later next year. There are some A-listers but plenty of new names are waiting for their headline moment.
It would be interesting to see how India take this series, and is it possible for any bowler – Avesh Khan, Deepak Chahar or Mohammed Siraj – to stake a claim for the global T20 event Down Under?
South Africa’s chance to grab points
While India will still have a plethora of options to choose, it won’t be wrong to say that the Proteas will go into this series as favourites. South Africa’s template in the 50-over format has been dicey, so much that they have been on the wrong side of results, in three out of their last five series. They have lost series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Not to forget their drawn series against England and Ireland.
But with the return of Temba Bavuma, the Proteas might finally be aiming to bring home all the points required for them to have an automatic qualification for the event next year. In eight matches, if there aren’t any slow over penalties, South Africa can attain maximum points of 129. That will happen if South Africa whitewash India in the upcoming series and England in February and win both their matches against the Netherlands.
So, this series becomes extremely crucial for the Proteas to grab by the neck. And, what a better way to head into the three-match ODI series after a thumping win in Indore. Interesting puzzle for the Proteas to crack.
India’s chance to find new stars
India have a major headache at the top of the order, there is Shikhar Dhawan, whose place is sealed. But then there is the incumbent, Shubman Gill, there is the waiting presence of Ruturaj Gaikwad and then there is Ishan Kishan. So, picking an opener alongside Dhawan might be extremely tricky. Having said that though, Gill should walk in on the back of the form he showed in the West Indies. Plus, the fact that he can smoke the pace, he becomes an automatic pick against South Africa.
The middle order is really where a debate will be interesting. Going by India’s pick in the West Indies, Sanju Samson is naturally set to feature. Shreyas Iyer is yet again indispensable, which makes a place for one or two batters. Rajat Patidar, who has shown form in the domestic scene might get the nod ahead of Rahul Tripathi.
Patidar has an average of 34.80 with a strike-rate of 94.99 but his form in this year’s IPL and for India A might get him a place in the XI. Shahbaz Ahmed is all set to make his Indian debut. Ask why? With a batting average of 47.28, a strike-rate of 92.45, and a bowling economy of 4.50, it will be nonsensical for India to look past a man at his peak form.
Shahbaz has shown time and again that he can be a key-factor to a team’s success, ask RCB fans. It might be a great chance to test out the Bengal all-rounder in the series.
An audition for Chahar, Siraj and Avesh
India pretty much are set for the T20 World Cup. Okay, sorry about that. Jasprit Bumrah’s injury has really upset India’s plans, so much so that some consider Mohammed Shami as an automatic starter. But Shami hasn’t really been available for selection, with COVID ruling him out. So, this series really then becomes an audition for the others – Chahar, Siraj and Avesh.
While there is Mukesh Kumar, who was a surprise pick, based on his recent run of form, the Indian management will closely monitor the form of Chahar and Siraj. The 30-year-old, who returned to the setup against Zimbabwe, averages 27.66 in the format. But more importantly, India would want the right-arm swing bowler to be at his wizardry best.
The thing about Siraj is that India trust him but do they trust him enough? That is a question that has remained unanswered. Hear me out, India until last month, didn’t have Siraj in the scheme of things for the event in Australia. But now with uncertainty around Shami, the 28-year-old will need to really make a statement with his bowling.
One last guy, Avesh. You remember him, don’t you? Until the Asia Cup, he was perhaps in the reckoning to make it to the T20 World Squad in Australia. But he has lost out on that. He has only played two ODIs but as aforementioned, this series hardly matters for India, considering they are the hosts for next year. So, all that India will want is for the Indore-pacer to be cracking.
While cricket makes a well-awaited return to the venue, the Rain god might have to be more than considerate for the match to happen. There are definite chances of the ODI being delayed and ruined by rain in the city. As AccuWeather says, there is a 96% chance of precipitation and a 58% probability of thunderstorms. Umm, not so good signs.
Team Combinations and Predicted XI
South Africa will miss the services of Rassie van der Dussen, who has been their highest run-scorer in the last two years. But will be bolstered by the return of Bavuma in the ODI format, even though his T20 run was poor. Expect the Proteas to feature their strongest XI
Predicted South Africa XI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Janneman Malan, Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius/Wayne Parnell, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi
India, on the other hand, might go with an interesting mix of youth and experience. So, expect them to really spring a surprise or two in the middle-order.
Predicted India XI: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Rajat Patidar, Sanju Samson (wk), Shahbaz Ahmed, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar, Kuldeep Yadav, Avesh Khan, Mohammed Siraj