Touring India is an assignment that is as tough as it can get, especially for the SENA nations who play in very different conditions. Fresh from a World Cup campaign that can arguably be considered their worst-ever in an ICC event, South Africa were swept aside like a bunch of under-confident schoolboys the last time they toured India.
Half a year later, the teams meet again in India’s backyard, only this time South Africa appear a more confident side under a new captain, coach as well as an administration. Add to that, India are returning from their tour of New Zealand that fast went downhill after their 5-0 sweep of the T20Is, with Virat Kohli and Co’s struggles in the two-Test series mirroring that of South Africa in the 3-0 hammering that they were dealt with in October last year.
The Proteas went through one of their lowest phases in cricket since their readmission into international cricket, their disastrous World Cup campaign and tour of India followed by a 1-3 Test series defeat to England. Quinton de Kock's tenure as South Africa's limited-overs captain got off to a rough start with a tied one-day series and a T20I series loss against England. Australia visited next, and inflicted two massive defeats in three T20Is, before the Proteas bounced back in the one-dayers for de Kock to register his first series victory with an impressive 3-0 scoreline.
Despite missing out on the services of pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada, who has been ruled out due to a groin strain and also missed the ODI series win against Australia, the Proteas will hope to carry the momentum gained from their recent wins and put up a better fight against India this time.
Head coach and former wicket-keeper Mark Boucher singled out Faf du Plessis as one of the important members in planning in this series given the senior batsman and Test captain's experience.
Du Plessis, who is set for another season with the Chennai Super Kings in upcoming IPL, hasn't played an ODI since the World Cup. Faf had a lean patch in the recent T20Is against Australia, and will hope to regain form in the upcoming ODIs. Boucher reckons including him in the team will be a selection headache for the management, one they're willing to put up with for his experience.
"It's a good headache to have. Just him being around the squad will add a lot of value and experience as well. We will look at conditions and then put together combinations. Why you would want to have Faf is because he has done really well in those (Indian) conditions," Boucher was quoted as saying in the pre-departure press conference.
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 11, 2020
A similar sentiment was echoed by the captain a day before the first one-dayer at the picturesque HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala, urging the senior members of the squad to step up and show the way for what is primarily a young and transitioning South Africa team.
"We understand that we are coming here with quite an inexperienced side in these conditions but it's important Faf, me, David Miller to help out these guys around, lead the way," said De Kock.
India, on the other hand, have announced the return of hard-hitting all-rounder Hardik Pandya, opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan and swing-specialist Bhuvneshwar Kumar to their squad as they hope to shake off their recent defeats to New Zealand. Pandya, who was last seen in the T20I series against South Africa in September before undergoing a back surgery, has made a blistering return to competitive cricket in the DY Patil Cup.
His inclusion lends further stability to an Indian middle order that shone on the tour of New Zealand with the likes of Shreyas Iyer (who appears to have sealed the heavily-debated No. 4 spot), Manish Pandey and Ravindra Jadeja. His handiness with the ball also gives the team management an option to bring in a batsman in Rishabh Pant, who will likely be playing purely as a batsman if included, with KL Rahul having taken over the wicket-keeper's role.
Dhawan's selection makes the selection of the top three — without the services of regular vice-captain Rohit Sharma — all the more interesting in the build-up to the ICC T20 World Cup that takes place in Australia later this year.
The Delhi player will have to fight for the spot of Rahul's opening partner with Prithvi Shaw, who had a mixed run in the New Zealand ODIs and Tests, if he hopes to preserve his place in the side and make another appearance in an ICC event later this year. Shaw didn't help his case in New Zealand either, batting with unfettered aggression that led to dismissals after quick starts more often than not.
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 11, 2020
With Mohammed Shami rested for the one-dayers, there will be a toss-up between Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Navdeep Saini for the second seamer's spot, and Bhuvi is expected to be given the go-ahead. Like Pandya, Bhuvi is coming off an injury layoff that resulted in him missing out on most of the home assignments, and will hope to rediscover his rhythm.
The India-South Africa one-dayers are expected to go ahead despite fears over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has resulted in the cancellation or postponement of several sporting events worldwide and is a major threat to the Tokyo Olympics that take place later this year. More than 100,000 people have tested positive for the virus globally, with the death toll stretching past 4,000.
Players from both camps have been advised precaution, and like the Englishmen in Sri Lanka, they will be doing away with handshakes in the series, opting instead for fist-bumps. Bhuvneshwar even went ahead and stated the bowlers and fielders might do away with applying saliva to the ball in the series.
"We have thought about this thing (not using saliva) but I can't say right now we will not use saliva because if we don't use saliva then how will we shine the ball."
The furthest the BCCI and the state associations can go is to host the matches behind closed doors, something that they are currently planning for the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League, although the board hasn't sounded the alarm yet.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Virat Kohli (C), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Shubman Gill.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (captain, wicketkeeper), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Kyle Verreynne, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Jon-Jon Smuts, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj, Janneman Malan.
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Shukla had served as Kolkata's Sports and Youth Affairs Minister between 2016 and 2021 before quitting politics early this year. He was a TMC MLA from the Howrah Uttar constituency.