India, along with every other side in the world, have spent much of the last year dedicating their full focus to ODI cricket, deprioritizing T20 cricket in a 50-over World Cup year.
However, with the ODI World Cup done and dusted, and with a T20 World Cup starting in six months, it’s role reversal time now as 50-over cricket braces itself to take the backseat, with no ICC event scheduled until 2025.
On Sunday (December 17) in Johannesburg, team India will play their first ODI since the dreaded World Cup final, and one look at the personnel they’ve left out should tell you where exactly their focus lies: no Kohli, no Rohit, no Bumrah, no Jadeja, no Siraj and well, no Rahul Dravid either.
It’s a squad devoid of seniors, but, at the same time, the situation presents a golden opportunity for youngsters and those on the fringes to shine in a low-pressure environment, something that’s very rare at the international level.
The likes of Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh and Ruturaj Gaikwad are all T20 superstars, but these three ODIs present them an opportunity to get a solid taste of 50-over cricket and make their presence known in the format.
On the other hand, it is also a great platform for out-of-favour players such as Washington Sundar, Sanju Samson & Yuzvendra Chahal to throw their name in the hat (again), remind the management and the entire world of their quality.
It won’t be easy to shine against South Africa in South Africa (definitely a 'mushkil' task), but the absence of names such as Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Marco Jansen should come as a relief for the visitors. And oh, let’s not forget Quinton de Kock, who, last month, officially played his last ever ODI for the Proteas.
The hosts will enter the series as certain favorites, but these three ODIs present a great chance for KL Rahul and his men to have some fun, with not too much at stake.
Things to watch out for
Sanju Samson or Rinku Singh - who will get the nod at #6?
With Shreyas Iyer, Tilak Varma & KL Rahul set to be locks at #3, #4 and #5, respectively, for the first ODI, there’s only one middle-order spot remaining. One of Rinku Singh or Sanju Samson will be taking that but who gets the nod could tell us a lot about the side’s plan for the future.
Seniority-wise, Samson should get the nod. Not only does he possess an impeccable ODI record, but the 29-year-old was very unfortunate to miss out on the ODI World Cup squad. Considering his experience and his numbers, it’ll only be fair if Samson finds his way back into the XI.
At the same time, however, the management might also be tempted to give Rinku the nod due to how well he’s donned the ‘finisher’ role in T20s. While Samson will be slightly out of position at No.6, Rinku will fit like a glove due to being a natural lower-order batter. Not to forget, the left-hander also possesses an impeccable List A record, averaging close to 50 while striking at 93.98.
With one eye on the 2025 Champions Trophy, don’t be surprised if the management start to groom Rinku for the finisher’s role.
Reeza Hendricks’ chance to make QDK’s spot his own
Despite cracking T20I cricket to an extent, Reeza Hendricks is yet to figure out ODI cricket, evident by his average of 29.58 after 31 ODIs.
Many felt Hendricks should have finished the 50-over WC as de Kock’s partner, but with the left-hander’s retirement opening up a slot at the top, this series presents an opportunity for Hendricks to cement himself as a starter in 50-over cricket, something he’s never been able to do since making his debut in 2018.
But not only Hendricks, young Tony de Zorzi will also have his eyes on the prize, especially being a left-hander himself. 2023 has seen de Zorzi debut in both 50-over and Test cricket but a breakthrough series here could just help the 26-year-old take off at this level.
The first ODI on Sunday (December 17th) will be played at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, the same ground which hosted the third T20I that India won by 106 runs.
Of late in 50-over cricket, the Wanderers has proven to be a surface that starts off as a batting paradise but gets tougher to bat on, with time, favouring the team defending the total in the second innings.
Three of the last four ODIs at this venue have seen the team batting first post 300+, with them winning on every single occasion. In the last ODI here, between Australia and South Africa in September, the Proteas bowled the Aussies out for 193 after posting 315 batting first.
Considering how tough batting second proved to be in the third T20I, don’t be surprised if the captain winning the toss opts to bat first. The weather is clear, too.
> South Africa have no first-choice pacers at their disposal, but still expect the likes of Nandre Burger & Lizaad Williams to torment Shreyas Iyer with short balls. Iyer averages just 20.40 in South Africa, and all his dismissals against pace have come against either short balls or short-ish length balls.
> Hendricks averages just 18.9 vs left-arm pace in ODIs, his lowest against a bowling type. He has a dismal record against in-swingers vs left-armers, averaging just 9.3 while striking at 51.9. Expect India to attack the right-hander up front with Arshdeep Singh.
India likely XI: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Sai Sudharsan, Shreyas Iyer, Tilak Varma, KL Rahul (c & wk), Rinku Singh, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Mukesh Kumar, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh.
South Africa likely XI: Reeza Hendricks, Tony de Zorzi, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), David Miller, Wiaan Mulder, Andile Phehlukwayo, Keshav Maharaj, Lizaad Williams, Nandre Burger.