The most anticipated series alongside the Ashes, at least as far as South Africans are concerned, has arrived. It has been a long time coming if you consider that in 2013, India were initially scheduled to visit South Africa for a lengthy period of time but boardroom battles saw the tour cut short. Now, compensation has come.
South Africa are on their longest-ever tour of India, which will stretch over 72 days and will include their first four -Test series in five years, since the 2009-10 home series against England. Sensibly, the tour has been structured so that main attraction takes place last, after the teams have both acclimatized and sussed each other out. That’s what these opening rounds are for.
The T20s have the added purpose of serving as preparation for next year’s World T20, which will be played in India. For South Africa, it is the ideal way to strategies for the tournament, and will give them an opportunity to see whether they need to make changes in personnel or game plans as they go in search of ICC silverware, yet again. For India, it is a return to a format they have not seen much of in the last year, with ODIs and Test cricket dominating their schedule. They may not need to plan with regard to conditions as much as other teams – the World T20 is taking place in their home after all – but they will want to kickstart a period of consistency in the build-up.
For cricket supporters, it barely gets much bigger than this. Rankings aside – India sit at fourth and South Africa have slumped to sixth on the T20 charts – the rivalry between these two sides always makes for riveting viewing. Sit back and enjoy.
In the spotlight Axar Patel was the second highest wicket-taker in the recent triangular A series between India, South Africa and Australia and the highest wicket-taker in the unofficial Test series. He might be unleashed against the visitors given the perception that the South African middle-order is vulnerable against spin. Axar has played only two T20s, against Zimbabwe, and is the junior-most spinner in the India squad, but could use this opportunity to push for a place in next year’s World T20 plans.
With Faf du Plessis fit to resume duties as captain, AB de Villiers will be able to assume his new role at the top of the order. South Africa’s new strategy seeks to give de Villiers as much batting time as possible and the ploy might work in India. De Villiers was the fourth highest run-scorer at this year’s IPL – the top-scorer for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, a team that also included Chris Gayle – with 513 from 14 innings at 46.63 – and seems to relish batting in the shortest format on the subcontinent. He may not have to keep wicket, if Quinton de Kock is given a chance to show whether he his lean run has ended but if Hashim Amla is preferred, de Villiers will have to perform a dual role.
MS Dhoni did not reveal much about his team combination, saying he would have to look at the conditions – especially the dew factor – on the evening of the game before deciding.
India (probable): 1 Ajinkya Rahane, 2 Shikhar Dhawan 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Stuart Binny, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Axar Patel/Harbhajan Singh, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Mohit Sharma/S Aravind.
AB de Villiers will open the batting with either Quinton de Kock or Hashim Amla, who joined the squad late and may need time to settle in. South Africa’s top four are familiar and solid, but David Miller, at No.5, will need to find form to avoid losing his place to the uncapped Khaya Zondo. There will probably only be room for one specialist spinner, with South Africa likely to give the experienced Imran Tahir a game ahead of Eddie Leie, who may get opportunity later in the series.
South Africa (probable): 1 AB de Villiers, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis (capt), 4 JP Duminy, 5 David Miller, 6 Farhaan Behardien, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Kyle Abbott, 10 Marchant de Lange, 11 Imran Tahir
Pitch and conditions:
Spin has been the buzzword from South Africa but the surfaces in the limited-overs series may not lend themselves to a significant amount of it. Instead, runs are going to be in abundance on surfaces the bowlers will have to work hard on. At least they will have one of the most picturesque backdrops in world cricket with the Himalayas providing the view. Already, South Africa’s squad have shared several pictures on social media expressing their awe at the environment in which the series opener will be played. The weather is expected to be mild, with temperatures at 25 degrees and cloudless skies, but dew could play a big role.
This match can be watched on the following live streams: