South Africa has only ever lost one T20 international against India away. Their record reads: played six, won three, two no-results, and just one defeat – so the Proteas will be filled with confidence for the five-match series starting in Delhi today.
KL Rahul injured, Pant to lead Team India
Even more so considering Temba Bavuma’s men completed a one-day clean sweep over the Indians in SA just a few months ago. And that Indian team contained superstars like Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah, unlike the inexperienced squad the hosts have cobbled together for this series that was disrupted even further on the eve of the opener with the withdrawal of stand-in captain KL Rahul (groin) and Kuldeep Yadav (hand) through injury.
Rishabh Pant will now lead the home team with Hardik Pandya as his deputy.
Even with all of this, Bavuma was not taking the bait and still expects India’s young charges to provide stiff opposition, especially due to the jostling for places with the T20 World Cup on the horizon.
South Africa captain Bavuma’s take on India
“We were able to get the better of the Indian team a couple of months ago, but this is a different team, fresher, younger faces in their team who have a big point to prove and who would like to stake a claim for a place in the Indian team. They won’t be short of any motivation,” Bavuma said.
“We are not here thinking everything is going to happen the same way it happened in South Africa. We know we are going to have to play good cricket and prepare well, which I think we’ve done.”
It would be foolhardy to believe that any Indian team, particularly in the shortest format in their conditions, will be a pushover. The hosts still possess some of the finest IPL talents such as Chennai Super Kings batter Ruturaj Gaikwad, Lucknow Super Giants leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi and Sunrisers Hyderabad pace sensation Umran Malik.
Furthermore, the Gujarat Titans certainly showed in winning the IPL this season that it’s not always the big names that manage to achieve success, but rather role-definition and the ability to get players into the right mind space.
In this regard, the Proteas are a more settled T20 unit. They may not have played together since falling just short of qualifying for the T20 World Cup semi-finals in the United Arab Emirates last November, but they have the experience of winning 13 of their last 16 T20s over the last 12 months.
This can only be achieved when everyone knows what they need to do, and more importantly when they need to do it.
This series, and the five remaining matches against England (three) and Ireland (two), is, though, fundamental for the Proteas to solidify their top-order combination ahead of another crack at the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
There has been a tendency to squeeze three openers – and sometimes a fourth and fifth into the batting line-up, but it was refreshing to hear Bavuma’s confirmation that he will revert to taking on the new ball with Quinton de Kock at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium after shifting down the order after two early failures at the T20 World Cup.
“Within our batting line-up, that is something where we would like to create more solidity on; Quinton and myself at the top, and kind of extending that through to the World Cup,” Bavuma said.
“I think the middle order is quite settled… I think it’s an exciting series lined up.”