It is going to be a season of firsts as the Indian cricket team would take on the South African cricket team, come October 2nd. While this would be the first time that South Africa will play an International T20 series in India against India, this would also make way for the first four-match Test series between these two countries. Adding to the many firsts, this would also initiate the first Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela bilateral series between the two teams.
The 72 day extravaganza marks South Africa’s longest tour in India with the teams playing three T20’s, followed by five ODIs and four Tests. While Team India would be looking forward to a win on their home soil post a big win away from home in Sri Lanka, Team South Africa would hope to make the most out of the series keeping in mind the 2016 T20 World Cup, which will be held on Indian soil.
The two teams clashed at the semi final stage in the last T20 World Cup in Bangladesh with India emerging victorious, only to lose to Sri Lanka in the finals. As both teams enter the home stretch before the World T20 which begins in March next year, they would look to finalize their combinations and also give a chance to players who might fill the gaps efficiently.
While India is at number 4 on the ICC’s T20 rankings, South Africa is at a lowly sixth. In fact, South Africa has never progressed beyond the semi final stage at the T20 World Cup. India, on the other hand, won the inaugural edition in 2007, and reached the finals in 2014.
While Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be back in the saddle as captain after missing the series against Zimbabwe, South Africa would be led by Faf du Plessis, who missed their last series against New Zealand owing to a knee injury.
While the Proteas drew the two match series against New Zealand, India also drew the two match series in Zimbabwe where it was led by Ajinkya Rahane. The three match T20 series kicks off in Dharamsala on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.
With most of India’s big guns returning after missing the tour of Zimbabwe, the top 6 would more or less be the same as the one that played in the last World T20. However, it is the bowling side of things where places are still up for grabs. While R Ashwin will assume the mantle of the lead spinner, the second spinner could be any one of Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel or Amit Mishra with Patel being the front runner after his strong showing in Zimbabwe.
With Mohammed Shami still missing from action due to the knee injury he picked up at the World Cup this year, India have not picked any bowler who can consistently bowl at speeds in excess of 140 kph. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma and Sreenath Aravind are all medium pacers and Aravind will hope to get an opportunity in the series with the fast bowler’s spots in the team still not being certain.
This is Aravind’s maiden call up to the Indian team. He was first called up to the one day side which was to face England in 2011 but had to drop out from the team after suffering from a knee injury. The injury had a serious impact on his career as he dropped out of national contention and it was only last season in the Ranji trophy that Aravind regained his form.
He continued his impressive showing in the IPL where he represented the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Aravind took 8 wickets in 5 games in the IPL and played a key role in turning around the fortunes of the team, which eventually finished 3rd. Aravind was also a part of the India A team that took on Bangladesh earlier this month and finished with 5 wickets in 3 matches.
South Africa, on the other hand would look to move up the rankings table and target a finals appearance in the World T20 next year. While South Africa has not played a single T20 in India, most members of their squad are regulars in the IPL and have played regularly in India during the IPL as well as the Champions League.
South Africa would be without Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and it will be interesting to see how the young duo of Marchand de Lange and Kagiso Rabada step up to the plate. Imran Tahir, who has already been marked as a player to watch by Sachin Tendulkar, will lead the spin attack and should do well with his variations and guile. He would be supported by legspinner Eddie Leie who has made a promising start in his young career.
The three match series will provide both teams with a sound check of their strengths and weaknesses and the gaps that need to be plugged before the World T20 next year.