3 matches (Dharamsala, Cuttack, Kolkata)
It has arrived. The tour we all were waiting for. After two relentless years of playing overseas tests and being battered, bruised and butchered until the recent Sri Lanka series, India finally have the opportunity to host arguably the best all-around team in world cricket.
The Proteas are here, and they’re ready to extend their impressive record in India. They have taken to sub-continental conditions over the years far better than other giants like Australia, England or New Zealand. They have rarely lost a bilateral test series, but have been found wanting in the limited-over formats. Sachin Tendulkar’s 200* – the first double century in ODI cricket – came against them in 2009 in a 3-1 series victory. They continue to blow hot and cold over the ODI and T20 formats – their most recent disappointment being the 1-2 series loss in Bangladesh, after which India went on to lose by the same margin to the newly-reformed Tigers.
The first T20 game between India and South Africa will be played against the picturesque backdrop of Dharamsala – a place where, honestly, cricket has no business being played because there’s so much else to be enamored by. Nevertheless, this will be an appropriate first glimpse for the South Africans, and a fresh pure-air start to their long campaign – 3 T20s, 5 ODIs and 3 tests till December.
As we speak, their bowling attack has been torn to shreds by India ‘A’ players Mayank Agarwal and Manan Vohra – and they failed to defend a T20 target of 189 at a ground in Delhi. Losing a warm-up doesn’t bode well for them, but at least they have a feel of the conditions – and their batsmen, especially captain Faf Du Plessis and in-form JP Duminy, both with plenty of Premier League experience, seem to have clicked. The bowling attack, comprising of Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabda, Chris Morris, Merchant de Lange and Imran Tahir, didn’t do a good job, and one can sense that there perhaps could be one or two changes to this attack once the actual series begins. Also, Du Plessis retired after scoring 42 to give his other batters a chance to get acclimatized to the conditions. But India ‘A’ have every reason to be proud of their performance; it isn’t easy to defeat an international team with AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, David Miller and Imran Tahir – whatever the format, mood or intensity of the occasion.
They haven’t been the best T20 team over the years, and their individual stars – often big hits in domestic T20 leagues around the globe – haven’t combined to form the unbeatable team that they should be. Yet to reach a final of a T20 World Cup, Faf Du Plessis’ team will be aching to make a statement with a bowling attack that doesn’t have Steyn or Morkel. Instead, it will be up to the future of South African cricket – led by wily old Tahir – to pose some problems to the Indian batsmen. One thing I’ve never quite understood is the exact role of Farhaan Behardien in the side – he is a backup bowler and a lower-order batsman who rarely gets an opportunity to bat at 6. He isn’t quite the full-blooded all-rounder they need, and it’d do them good to instead include an extra bowler; they already have Duminy to roll his arm over as a part timer. Albie Morkel is also back, and could be a far better option than Behardien, considering he has loads of T20 experience in India – and is one of the biggest hitters in cricket. What’s more – he can bowl at a decent clip.
Once they fill this gap, no doubt a result of having a wicket keeper who can open the innings (De Kock), they will be a more complete team.
Expected T20 Lineup: Hashim Amla, De Kock, Du Plessis, De Villiers, Duminy, Miller, Albie Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris
X-factor: David Miller. He is perhaps the most destructive limited-overs left-hander in cricket right now, and the cleanest hitter. He has great experience in these conditions for Kings XI Punjab, and will serve as a crucial finisher if they are to beat India in India at their own game.
Thanks to their world-famous domestic league, India has always been one of the better T20 sides in cricket. They don’t have any individual superstars who can change the game within an over, but they combine well as a team and execute MS Dhoni’s strategies to the T. Their superb performance in last year’s T20 World Cup aside, this team has been relatively untested in 2015 in the format, and will perhaps be a bit rusty after a long gap since Mumbai won the league title back in May. Amit Mishra will have to battle it out with young Axar Patel – who has been in prime form – to have a role to play alongside first spinner R. Ashwin, while Rohit Sharma could once again come into his own in the third T20 at Eden Gardens – his favourite international ground.
Expected T20 lineup: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayadu, MS Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Bhuveneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sreenath Arvind
X-Factor: Suresh Raina. He is India’s most consistent and reliable T20 batsman, and he doesn’t take time to get started at the crease. His fielding and part-time bowling will be equally crucial if India has to challenge the mighty Proteas.