India are going with a good mix of newcomers and experienced players for the home ODI series against a strong South African side, starting Thursday. The T20 World Cup squad will leave for Australia on same day to kickstart their preparations for their campaign on October 23. It meant Shikhar Dhawan was called in to lead the side with World Cup reserves Deepak Chahar and Shreyas Iyer also set to get some game time before joining the squad Down Under.
The squad had a surprise call-up in the form of Bengal pacer Mukesh Kumar who did exceptionally well in the Irani Cup against Saurashtra besides having domestic numbers to back his selection. Shardul Thakur will miss Mumbai’s opening two games in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy while Rajat Patidar got a well-deserved maiden call-up after piling runs in the Ranji Trophy and for India ‘A’.
With the focus completely on the T20 World Cup, the ODI series will offer the team management some interesting headaches to sort out.
The 16-player squad has five opening options with Dhawan set to be fixture at the top. For the middle-order there is a need to spread out their batters with vice-captain Shreyas Iyer most likely to bat at No.3.
India have picked four frontline seamers, a fast-bowling allrounder in Thakur, a spin-bowling allrounder in Shahbaz Ahmed and two spinners – Ravi Bishnoi and Kuldeep Yadav. Shahbaz gets more weightage ahead of Bishnoi and Kuldeep due to his batting ability while India will look to keep Deepak Chahar for useful runs and opening spells.
Dhawan’s opening partner
India’s tour of West Indies followed by ODI series against Zimbabwe in July and August saw Dhawan open with Gill in four of the six matches. It had great results as the left-hand right-hand combination put up three 100-plus partnerships as India swept all six matches.
Gill is one of the brightest ODI prospects for India and has proven himself with his first ODI hundred after scores of 64, 43, 98 not out, 82 not out and 33. These came against teams that are still trying to find their footing and combinations right. Against Proteas at home, this just might be the time to lock on Dhawan-Gill combination.
However, then there is Ishan Kishan. The left-hander possesses all the ability to win games single-handedly with his hard-hitting, but has been low on confidence. So far, he has never opened innings in ODIs and was moved around in the upper middle-order. Despite scoring a 50 in his last ODI against Zimbabwe, Kishan now has to compete for the No.4 slot with Rahul Tripathi and Rajat Patidar. However, the need for a left-hander in the upper middle-order might just prompt India to go with the southpaw.
Ruturaj Gaikwad is fresh off a match-winning innings of 108 and 94 against New Zealand A in India A’s unofficial Test series. The Pune batter is yet to receive his first ODI cap after being part of the India set up for over a year now. This series might offer that chance, but he has never batted below No.3 in his List-A career which might see him get the shorter end of the stick.
Sanju Samson is the utility man of the team who has proved his value across the batting order in different conditions. The Kerala right-hander looks to be a good fit for No.6 in ODIs, but is very much an opener by nature. Promoting him up the order might be a good surprise tactic.
Patidar or Tripathi, who will debut first?
For long, India’s ODI teams struggled with the unavailability of a good No.4 until Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer emerged and Kishan emerged as the back-up. For the South Africa series, it will be interesting to see who among Patidar and Tripathi will be used at No.5. Both are uncapped but have been part of elite dressing rooms for a while now.
Patidar’s 600-plus run tally in the Ranji Trophy and a big 176 for India A recently has a common element – he can dictate the scoring rate, can play shots all around the ground, and is also adept at building partnerships in case of a collapse.
Tripathi’s ability to build a big innings earned him the national team call-up but similar skillset in the team has kept him from making his international debut. How soon will that happen is yet to be seen.
The leg-spinner and the third pacer
India are most likely to go with two spin options for all the three ODIs with a varied pace attack. Shahbaz Ahmed’s batting abilities makes him a good fit for the No.7 slot besides his left-arm spin. Kuldeep Yadav is coming off a superb one-day series against New Zealand A where he picked up seven wickets from three matches. He has also been economical against Zimbabwe while picking up three wickets and could be given the nod ahead of uncapped Bishnoi.
For the pace combination, India will look to give Deepak Chahar all the game time with Mohammad Siraj likely to be his new-ball partner. Avesh Khan's recent struggles in the Asia Cup might not count for much since he is the only pacer to hit 140 kmph consistently. Mukesh Kumar is most-likely to be the back-up pacer unless the team management decides to play four fast bowlers.