Having spent the majority of 2019 in New Zealand, England and West Indies, India are now set to embark on their home season which will start with a three-match Twenty20 International series against South Africa from Sunday (September 15). The T20 World Cup is still more than 12 months away, but it won’t be wrong to say that India’s quest and preparation for their second T20 title already began in Florida and West Indies last month.
The Men in Blue went with a fairly young squad and still managed to smash West Indies 3-0. Apart from Hardik Pandya coming in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have named the same squad for the forthcoming series and will try to give these young players as many opportunities as possible.
Meanwhile, despite all their worries in the 50-over format, South Africa actually have a pretty decent record in T20Is since 2018. In this time scale, they have played 13 T20Is and have won eight of them. However, South Africa did lose a series against India on home soil in February 2018. On paper, India look a formidable unit but they have been slightly inconsistent in the shortest format of the game. On the other hand, Quinton de Kock will be leading a South African squad whose combined experience is 210 T20Is, with most of the players yet to prove themselves at the elite level.
Here, we compare both squads and look at which team holds an edge over the other in different aspects of the game.
While Indian skipper Virat Kohli and his deputy Rohit Sharma have been in solid form in T20Is, Shikhar Dhawan - who was India’s highest T20I run-getter in 2018 - has only managed 105 runs in seven encounters this year. Dhawan has the tendency to struggle against pacers who bowl over 140 kmph and has got out to Lockie Ferguson, Jason Behrendorff, Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas. The 33-year-old often gets caught on the crease and ends up getting bowled or caught-behind against such pacers. Dhawan will have to be careful against Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje and Junior Dala as the trio can generate some serious pace on any surface. Making his return from a finger injury, Dhawan looked rusty against West Indies and could only score 65 runs in five limited-over games.
India will most probably start with Rohit and Dhawan against South Africa, but with KL Rahul waiting in the wings, the left-hander will be under some pressure. Apart from Rahul, the selection committee will also have eyes on young players like Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw who have done well at the domestic level. Time is running out for Dhawan in this format and if he fails to deliver in this series, the team management won’t shy away from looking at other options.
Meanwhile, Rohit averages almost 38 against South Africa and has also scored a century against this team. India will rely a lot on Rohit and Kohli. The latter has only played five T20Is this year but has operated at an average of over 50.
For South Africa, de Kock will have to play a crucial role. The recently appointed skipper, however, has only featured in five T20Is since 2018, averaging just over 17. The wicketkeeper-batsman often tends to struggle against spinners. He averages less than 20 against spinners and operates at a run rate of just 6.63, compared to 8.39 against pacers. De Kock, however, had an outstanding IPL 2019 for Mumbai Indians in which he scored 529 runs at a strike rate of 132.91 and will now be expected to do the same in T20Is.
South Africa have left out their regular captain Faf du Plessis for the series against India, but the 35-year-old is expected to carry on till next year’s World T20. Despite all the captaincy talks, South Africa will need much more from de Kock the batsman. He will have good support from Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen. While Hendricks had an amazing 50-over series for South Africa A against India A, van der Dussen has already proven his worth ever since making his debut in October 2018. More importantly, both Hendricks and van der Dussen are very good players of spin bowling.
MIDDLE ORDER AND ALL-ROUNDERS
India tried Shreyas Iyer against West Indies in ODIs, while it was Manish Pandey who played all the three T20Is. While Iyer had a couple of terrific outings, Pandey once again failed to impress at this level. Pandey has been simply outstanding in domestic T20s this year, but it’s Iyer who’s making more waves in international cricket. The right-hander led Delhi Capitals to the 2019 IPL playoffs and played the role of a constructor who held the innings together. He managed 463 runs at a strike rate of 119.94, but Iyer can be equally destructive when required.
Meanwhile, Pandey has his own way of scoring runs and is effective against both spin and pace. Both batsmen come with similar ingredients and India can afford to play only one of them. The two will get equal opportunities in the coming months and the onus will be on them to make the most of it. And if they fail, India can always play Rahul at No. 4 who is a way too good batsman in this format to sit out.
India don’t really have someone in the middle order who’s consistent. We all know what Rishabh Pant is capable of, but the wicketkeeper-batsman has a habit of making ridiculous mistakes. His biggest battle isn’t with spinners or pacers, but it’s with himself. If he can somehow convince himself to spend some time in the middle, Pant can turn out to be India’s biggest match-winner in white-ball cricket. Out of his 17 innings, Pant has failed to touch the 10-run mark as many times.
India played him at No. 4 against West Indies and he did slam 65* in the final match, but Pant’s game-style is much more suited at No. 5 or 6 where he can bat with a free mind-set. Also, it will make very less sense to bat someone like Iyer or Pandey below No. 4. The team management knows how frustrating it can get to handle someone like Pant and they will hope that the swashbuckling left-hander learns from his mistakes and creates more impact down the order.
India’s biggest strength is their all-rounders. The hosts will be delighted with the return of Hardik Pandya who was rested for the entire West Indies tour where the likes of Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja and Washington Sundar tasted a fair amount of success. Krunal has slowly and steadily cemented his place in India’s T20I side in less than 10 months. The all-rounder from Baroda has already won three Man of the Match awards and was also named the Player of the Series against West Indies.
Just like Krunal, Jadeja and Washington have proven their worth in the bowling department but with the return of Hardik, in the coming months, India can’t afford to play two spin-bowling all-rounders. Krunal can easily bat at No. 4 or 5 like he does for Mumbai Indians and he will hope that he gets some batting time to prove his credentials with the bat in hand. With the T20 World Cup scheduled to happen in Australia, these three will basically be competing for that one spot in the playing XI.
Meanwhile, South Africa need David Miller to fire. The left-hander is their most experienced player but his graph has only gone down in the last few years. Miller has played 70 T20Is but has managed only three 50+ scores. In his last four years, he hasn’t played one whole season for Kings XI Punjab and that tells you a story about how inconsistent he has been. He played 10 games in the last edition but only scored 213 runs. South Africa need one batsman in the middle order who can hold the batting unit together and Miller will either have to step up, or he will be forced to make way for someone who can.
Apart from Miller, South Africa also have Temba Bavuma, Andile Phehlukwayo and George Linde in their arsenal. Linde was part of the South Africa A squad and did reasonably well in the four games that he played. The left-arm spinner scalped five wickets and also smoked a 25-ball 52* batting down the order in the second 50-over match. If he can find a way to carry forward his form, Linde can provide South Africa that much-required firework in the latter stages of the innings.
India will need at least one paceman to support Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the World T20. Both senior fast bowlers have been rested for this series which will serve as the perfect platform for the likes of Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed to push forward their case. These three also featured in the T20I series against West Indies and managed to impress everyone with their various skills. Saini took five wickets at an economy of 7.09, while Khaleel operated at an economy of 6 in the two games that he played. Deepak played only one game but that was enough for him to make a solid impact. He took three wickets with the new ball and was named Player of the Match in the third and final T20I.
The trio were picked for the West Indies series on the basis of their performance in IPL 2019. Deepak has the ability to move the ball both ways and ended up taking the most number of wickets inside the Powerplay overs. While he finished with 22 scalps, Khaleel took 19 wickets in just nine encounters for Sunrisers Hyderabad. The left-armer often ends up leaking runs but he makes up for it by picking up wickets at regular intervals. Khaleel, who brings variety to this Indian attack with his left-arm angle, has an economy close to 8 runs per over in 36 T20s but has also taken 59 wickets at an impressive average of 18.08.
Saini only claimed 11 wickets in 13 games at an economy of 8.27, but the right-arm fast bowler has that pace and aggression which Kohli admires. India will go back to Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar by the time the World T20 comes around and the onus will be on Khaleel, Deepak and Saini to make every opportunity count. They will have to be consistent and if everything goes well, one of them could even challenge Bhuvneshwar for a spot in the playing XI.
In the absence of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, the 20-year-old Rahul Chahar too has a chance to force his way into the T20I squad in the coming months. The leg-spinner only played one game in the West Indies, but he was Mumbai Indians’ breakout star in the last edition of IPL. He took 13 wickets in as many games at an economy of just 6.55. If Rahul can keep up the good work, he could very well leapfrog Kuldeep Yadav who has had a terrible 2019 in this format. The left-arm wrist-spinner has only managed six wickets in 10 games this year and has given away runs at an economy of 8.43.
There’s not much to differentiate between the two sides when it comes to bowling. South Africa will be boosted by the return of Kagiso Rabada who has played only three T20Is since the 2016 World T20. Rabada, however, had an amazing IPL this year where he scalped 25 wickets at an average of less than 15. He will find good support from Junior Dala, Beuran Hendricks and Anrich Nortje who all have been impressive in domestic T20 leagues around the world.
South Africa are without their frontline spinner Imran Tahir and it will be up to Tabraiz Shamsi, Bjorn Fortuin and Linde to take up responsibility in conditions that will assist their bowling.