India look to continue experimentation in the three-match series against South Africa
Of course, the experimentation was already set in motion with the tour of West Indies, and this upcoming three-match series against the Proteas is seemingly an extension of the same.
In the coming 13 months, the Men in Blue will be busy playing quite a few T20Is. Starting against South Africa this Sunday in Dharamsala, then Bangladesh and West Indies at home, New Zealand away early in 2020, Sri Lanka away mid-year, followed by the Asia Cup (in T20 format) plus preparatory series against England (at home) and Australia (away) – that’s anywhere between 22-27 matches in the build-up to the T20 World Cup next year. Of course, the experimentation was already set in motion with the tour of West Indies, and this upcoming three-match series against the Proteas is seemingly an extension of the same.
NO BUMRAH OR BHUVI: Jasprit Bumrah was rested for the T20Is in West Indies, and the selectors have gone a step further by resting Bhuvneshwar Kumar from this series. If fully fit, Bumrah-Bhuvi are two sure-shot names on the team-sheet across white-ball formats, and so, the team management is arguably looking for a third-choice pacer in T20 cricket. On paper Khaleel Ahmed takes the lead, on account of his experience in Australia last year. But his strike-rate on the international level (21.82 in 11 matches) hasn’t matched his IPL strike-rate (11.95 in 10 matches) with less variation in economy (8.78 compared to 8.59, respectively). Although Virat Kohli likes a left-hand pacer on account of bowling angle, it is all about returns.
This is where Deepak Chahar and Navdeep Saini enter into the fray. Handling the new ball ahead of Ahmed in West Indies, the duo made a serious impression in individual capacities. With both Bumrah and Kumar missing, it is a serious opportunity for one (even two) of these three youngsters to nail down a spot for the coming months and stake a claim for next year.
HARDIK PANDYA IS BACK: It is interesting how the selectors (and team management) intend to use the mercurial all-rounder. He was rested from the West Indies’ tour, was picked for the T20s against South Africa and has been left out of the Test series to follow. It is more about horses-for-courses at this stage, than giving him rest, seemingly. The underlying point about his inclusion herein is about the change in team dynamics.
He could straight away walk into the side as Kumar’s replacement, as a seam bowling option and lower-order batsman. It further strengthens India’s six-bowler theory in T20 cricket – three pacers and three spinners, inclusive of all-rounders Washington Sundar and Krunal Pandya. The question remaining is if the five-batsman theory, strong enough on paper, works out on the field.
THE BATTING STRIKE-RATE: India have a problem of plenty at the top. They need to pick three out of Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Kohli. It is ponderous, in that the latter two pick themselves while Dhawan’s record in limited-overs’ cricket cannot be denied. Yet, this trio — Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli — isn’t a quickscoring one by T20 standards.
While their T20/IPL strike-rates oscillate between late 120s-130s, crux of the matter is in how they start — taking their sweet time, getting set and then taking charge of the situation. It is a problem carrying over from the ODI format — if it works, it works splendidly.
On the off chance, it doesn’t work, like in that semi-final against New Zealand, India get knocked out.
So, where do they find power-hitters? Rahul has the highest strike-rate of these four toporder batsmen, not to mention, he is a quickstarter although he lacks consistency.
Rishabh Pant is a power-hitter, so is Hardik Pandya, but they bat deeper in this T20 order. Should India go with a top-order rejig, bringing in Shreyas Iyer at number four, even at number three, with Kohli opening the batting with Rohit? Brazen as this idea might sound, it is perhaps too early for even the otherwise trigger-happy Indian skipper.
FRESH START FOR SOUTH AFRICA: That the Proteas needed a fresh start after another World Cup debacle is beyond questioning. Even so, it was surprising when the powers that be chose Quinton de Kock for the job. There is merit in this thought, yes. He is an exciting batsman, and in his dual role as wicket keeper, he is an obvious selection for the near future. The one criticism against de Kock is his temperament. During the World Cup, he termed Mumbai Indians’ latest IPL victory as the biggest emotional high point in his cricketing career. It was a comment that garnered widespread surprise and even condemnation. So, how does a cricketer, who doesn’t rate representing his country on the international stage higher than playing franchise T20 cricket, lead his national team out of an abyss? Like everything to do with South African cricket, this is a quandary without many possible answers.