India's ongoing tour of South Africa enters its last leg as the two sides meet in the first game of the three-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series in Johannesburg on Sunday. However, it is the Indians who enter the series as favourites and not the Proteas, unlike what it was ahead of the Tests and one-dayers.
India showed great character to bounce back from the Test series loss to hammer the hosts 5-1 in the ODIs. Not only is it the first-ever series win in South Africa for the visitors, but is also the second time the Proteas have lost five or more matches in a bilateral ODI series at home.
As a result of the dominant performances in the 50-over competition, the Indians enter the shortest format with the same all-conquering mindset that made them the No 1 side in the world in both Tests and ODIs.
The Proteas, though, have named a relatively inexperienced side for the T20Is with JP Duminy as their leader, a sign of their intent to keep some of their senior players fit for the Australia tour that begins on 1 March. Add to that the pensive mood that must have clouded the dressing room after the ODI humiliation, and we have an unsettled bunch of players that already have the odds heavily stacked against them.
The biggest talking point ahead of the first T20I would be a certain individual in the Indian camp who earned a recall into the side after more than a year, with his poor form and fitness being the reason behind his decline in recent times. Suresh Raina was once a vital cog in the Indian batting line-up, and thrived as an all-rounder under the leadership of MS Dhoni both in the Indian team as well as Chennai Super Kings.
There will be a lot of discussion over his inclusion in the XI, which will force the think tank to choose between Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik. Fans will hope he will have learned to play the short ball better in the months he spent in exile from Team India, as the Wanderers track promises pace and bounce like it did in the pink ODI.
Also under the spotlight will be Jaydev Unadkat, who had a memorable outing in the Sri Lanka T20Is at home, which then led to an intense bidding war in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction last month that eventually led him to earn a Rs 11.5 crore-contract with the Rajasthan Royals.
Having proved himself on home soil, Unadkat will need to make it count in South African conditions should he get an opportunity at the cost of either Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah.
For the Proteas, the lack of experience in the ranks effectively means that the seniors will have to stand up and deliver. The prime responsibility in this regard falls on AB de Villiers, who looked somewhat out of touch in the three chances that he had in the one-day series, undoing his good work in the Tests.
Also in focus will be David Miller — who is yet to get a half-century in the series despite getting off to good starts — as well as Heinrich Klaasen, who had a superb debut ODI series and will now look to make his first T20I outing equally memorable.
Given the number of uncapped players in their squad, South Africa could be handing maiden caps to a number of players during the series. Junior Dala has had a consistent run in the recent limited-over fixtures for the Titans, and could very well earn his debut in the very first game itself as one of the team's frontline seamers.
The Wanderers, where the female counterparts of the participating teams face off earlier in the day in the third T20I, has been a venue of mixed experiences for the Indians so far. It was at the Bullring where Virat Kohli and company bounced back in the Test series despite plying their trade in a pitch treacherous enough to earn three ICC demerit points. The one-dayer saw a much better track, which had pace and bounce but was easier to bat on.
Given the amount of outrage that the Test caused, it is unlikely that the pitch curator will prepare anything different from the one used in the pink ODI, which could witness some tall scores being made on Sunday.
Captain Duminy has a huge task ahead if he is to inspire his team to a turnaround after a harrowing couple of weeks. Kohli, on the other hand, has a team that mirrors his relentless attitude, and the visitors are not likely to show any signs of slowing down in the shortest format, as they look to check into their flight back home with two trophies in hand.
India: Virat Kohli(c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey, Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: Jean-Paul Duminy(c), Farhaan Behardien, Junior Dala, AB de Villiers, Reeza Hendricks, Christiaan Jonker, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Chris Morris, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, JJ Smuts.
Where: The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg.
Time: 2.30 pm local time | 6 pm IST