India have finally entered the final bend of their long endless tour. Usually that’s cue for home-sickness, counting down the days and a general bit of going through the motions. But there was a surprise spring in the players’ steps on a Saturday morning that had little to do with the miracle powers of coffee and more with their recent turnaround in on-field fortunes. Virat Kohli’s calls to “embrace the South African challenges” hadn’t fallen on deaf ears and the tourists could thus bounce back from a gruelling Test series win to take the ODI leg by an emphatic 5-1 scoreline.
And so the teams move on to a little bout of T20 jostling, so that the game’s stakeholders earn the dividends from the sport even if it lends itself into a more relentless schedule for the teams. The three-match 20-overs-a-side bonanza will begin at the Wanderers and go to Centurion again before culminating where it all started, in Cape Town. All in a space of six days.
Yet this leg brings a palpable sense of relief. Both teams have little to nothing riding on the eventual outcome and could thus afford to test their wingspan a bit. The hosts have Australia around the corner and have rightfully rested their big boys while India have offered an entry to one of their old-timers to push for a comeback.
The spotlight will hover on Raina for a reason. After playing the consummate team-man to perfection for several years, the Uttar Pradesh batsman endured a rapid decline in form and fitness post the home ODIs against South Africa in 2015. Having voiced his intention to contend for a place in next year’s World Cup squad, Raina will hope to make most of his chances here. Not only does he add variety to a right-heavy line-up, he can bowl, field and ideally replace Kedar Jadhav’s No.5 slot in the ODIs, should the Maharashtra man slip up.
Meanwhile, Duminy, a player with very similar attributes to Raina, faces an uncertain future himself in the ODI setup if South Africa continue to put their weight behind Aiden Markram when the others return. There’ll be more than just brownie points up for grabs if he can demonstrate strong leadership qualities in a youthful-looking South African squad.
The last four T20Is at the Wanderers have been won by the team batting second. Targets of 232, 205 and 172 have been chased down.
– Virat Kohli needs 44 runs to become the third player to score 2000 runs in T20Is after Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill.
– Suresh Raina scored 314 runs from nine innings at 39.25 and a strike rate of 146 with a hundred and two fifties in the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
India : Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli(c), Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni(wk), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Lokesh Rahul, Jaydev Unadkat, Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur Cricbuzz
South Africa : Reeza Hendricks, JJ Smuts, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy(c), David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen(wk), Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Junior Dala, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Farhaan Behardien, Christiaan Jonker, Tabraiz Shamsi
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