"Navdeep is a rarity with his raw pace. We can only hope he kicks on from there"
"With the new ball, his (Deepak Chahar's) skills are right up there (with Bhuvneshwar's), swinging it both ways and getting a lot with the new ball in any conditions."
There was a time when Indian cricket desperately craved for a quality pacer. Now they have them in abundance. The current Indian pace attack has metamorphosed into one of the best in the world fraught with variety, skill and aggression. While Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma have been wreaking havoc in Tests, the T20Is in West Indies provided a glimpse into the future and the bench strength.
Virat Kohli was impressed with debutant Navdeep Saini and a relatively new-comer Deepak Chahar. He described Saini as 'rarity' after Player of the Match performance in the first T20I with figures of 3/17 while putting Chahar's new-ball skills on par with Bhuvneshwar Kumar after the third T20I after he confounded the West Indies batsmen with prodigious swing.
Navdeep impressed with his raw pace and guile at the death while Chahar, in the one match he played, showcased what he was capable of with the new ball something which he has been consistently doing for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.
The West Indies series was a platform for the newcomers and comeback men to shine on the first audition as India looked to build for T20 World Cup. They are open to infusing fresh faces along with the core. And that is one of the reasons why they haven't made too many changes to the T20I squad for the South Africa series as well.
The selectors have made just one change with Hardik Pandya, who was rested for the WI tour, coming in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Bhuvneshwar spearheaded India's bowling attack against the West Indies and in his absence, the South Africa series at home will be a big test of mettle for the inexperienced pace battery formed by Chahar, Saini and Khaleel Ahmed.
The trio will look to build on their performances in the West Indies and further strengthen their claim for a permanent slot with Bumrah being the only automatic pick in the T20I squad.
On flat pitches, it will indeed be a big challenge but the experience of having consistently played in the high-voltage scenarios of the IPL and on similar pitches, will come in handy. The pitches at Dharamsala and Mohali might have something in it for the pacers though. They will, however, need to make the most of opportunities as not all of them might get to play in all three matches.
While Chahar and Saini are relatively new to the international, Khaleel, who has been around for a year or so, would look to take his game one step ahead. He's averaged 31.90 with an economy at a slightly higher side at 8.77 in T20Is. The left-armer with his angle would look to forge consistency in the upcoming series.
South Africa have already plotted the strategy which will furthermore alert the Indian pace attack.
“Looking at the Indian team, that [inexperienced bowling attack] is an area we are going to take advantage of just as I suppose, you look at opposing teams and at areas, which you can take advantage of,” said Lance Klusener, Proteas' assistant batting coach, on the eve of the match.
“They are great cricketers and we are not taking anything away from that and our focus will be on ourselves and little areas that we can take advantage and maybe that’s one of them,” he added.
It's not just the newcomers, the seasoned campaigners too will be battling out to take a step towards cementing their spots. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan are competing for the second opening slot. Dhawan struggled in the West Indies series and averaged just nine from three matches. Since the start of the year, he's averaged just 15 from seven innings. Rahul scored 20 off 18 in the one match he played in the Caribbean, but overall, he has better numbers than Dhawan in the shortest format. He's sparkled in patches on the international stage but needs to convert it into consistency. The axe from the Test squad might just act as a catalyst for him in the T20I series.
With India experimenting with an all-rounder heavy side, the return of Hardik Pandya presents a selection headache, albeit a good one for Kohli and the team management. Krunal Pandya was the Man of the Series against the West Indies. Ravindra Jadeja has the momentum on his side, since the World Cup while Washington Sundar, on his comeback after a long injury lay-off, was an effective Powerplay bowling option. Washington or Jadeja might have to make way for Hardik.
The other middle-order conundrum will be Shreyas Iyer or Manish Pandey? Iyer didn't get a game against the West Indies in the T20Is, but grabbed his chances in the ODIs. Though he batted at 5, he might well be the answer to the dreaded No 4 problem. Coach Ravi Shastri has said that he is going to be at No 4. While it would be harsh on Pandey to be dropped after just three innings including one where he got just five balls in the middle and remained unbeaten on two, the fact that India may be looking at Iyer as a consistent No 4 in all white-ball cricket could hand him an opportunity ahead of Pandey in the series.
Pandey though has been in decent form of late with scores of 102 not out, 58 not out, 53 not out in Karnataka Premier League last month and an average of 44 against South Africa A in the 'unofficial' ODIs with a match-winning 81 off 59 balls under pressure striding out at 26/3 at Thiruvananthapuram. Pant, who finally switched on the finisher mode in the final T20I against West Indies, would be looking to improve his consistency. The team management might ponder dropping him from 4, where he batted in the West Indies series, to 5.
Rahul Chahar's chances might increase considering he is the only wrist spin option available among two left-arm spinners and one off-spinner.
South Africa, on the other hand, would be looking to bounce back after the World Cup disappointment. They have a youthful squad led by a new leader in Quinton de Kock. The new captain will face an uphill task of beating India in their own backyard while also preserving their winning run. The Proteas have been unbeaten in their last four T20I series. Things have changed however as they don't have the services of the experienced Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Chris Morris or Imran Tahir.
De Kock and Miller, the fulcrum of the batting line-up, will play lead roles in the batting department and utilise the vast experience of playing in the IPL. Apart from the two experienced players, the Proteas have some exciting talent in their batting arsenal with the likes of Reeza Hendricks, who has been their highest run-getter in the last one year (265 runs from 7 innings at 37.85). He also has had a positive start to the India tour, finishing as the leading run-scorer in the ODI series against India A (239 runs from 5 innings at 59.75). Behind him is Rassie van der Dussen, who was the shining light in South Africa's dismal World Cup campaign averaging 62.20. Just eight months into his international career, Dussen has been elevated to vice-captain for the T20 series against India, achieved a central contract and is the second-highest run-getter (253 at 36.14) for SA in T20s in the last 11 months. He also won the CSA International Men's Newcomer of the Year.
Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and uncapped George Linde will fill the all-rounder's spots. Phehlukwayo has been their highest wicket-taker in the last one year (16 wickets at 13.37).
South Africa's strength lies in their pace bowling department with Kagiso Rabada spearheading the attack. The Protea pacer would be looking to bounce back after a tough time at the World Cup where he also copped a bit of criticism for playing in the IPL ahead of the mega event.
Rabada has played just three T20Is since the 2016 World T20 but he would aim to bring in the experience of playing in India. He was the vital cog of Delhi Capitals' run to the Play-offs. Uncapped Anrich Nortje and Junior Dala also add to the raw pace of the fast-bowling group. Nortje finished as the joint-highest wicket-taker in the ODIs against India A (seven wickets at 25.85) however, his economy was on the higher side at 7.59. Dala would have happy memories of his international debut where he hustled with pace and ended up as joint-highest wicket-taker in the T20I series against India (7 wickets at 15.71). However, one area he would look to improve upon is his economy rate which is 9.40 in T20Is and 8.29 in T20s.
If he does play, his battle with Rohit Sharma will be an intriguing one. In his debut series, he dismissed Rohit in all three matches. Rohit, on the other hand, has been the second-highest run-getter against South Africa in T20Is with 341 runs at 37.88 and a strike rate of 136.40.
Their spin department is their weak spot. Tabraiz Shamsi has played 14 T20Is and averaged 38.70 with 10 wickets and an economy rate of 7.74 while Linde and Bjorn Fortuin haven't played international cricket yet.
While De Kock would know the enormity of the task on his full captaincy debut, the young generation also brings in excitement.
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Rohit also played his 150th game for Mumbai Indians and he said that the support of his team-mates in this journey was instrumental.
Young Ruturaj Gaikwad (65 not out off 51 balls) showed his potential with a maiden fifty but skipper Dhoni wouldn't be wrong in thinking that it came too late in the day when the 'Yellow Brigade' is all but out of the play-off reckoning.
Going by Rabada’s admission, the UAE conditions have been “tricky”, the silver lining being the fact that they have something on offer for “all facets of the game”.