With the long Indian Premier League coming to an end, with varied degrees of success for teams and individuals alike, it is now time for the concerned players to look at their India colours and how they will address the challenge at hand and also keep an eye on their prospects for the World Cup, not too far away. The South Africa T20 International series is the first assignment for Team India, albeit a new-look one, as the five matches will show if the gains of the IPL were for real or have been washed away along with the end of the event.
One major change that strikes straightaway is the absence of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli from the squad.
It would be fair to say that both the senior men need their breaks, which is just as well, since on form alone both would likely not make the squad. India tends to lean towards reputation more than real-time form almost all the time, so the option of ‘resting’ players is a great one, especially when it comes to keeping the senior ones out of action for a while, so that they can get their acts together.
So, the onus now lies on KL Rahul to lead the side into the five-match series. While it is still T20s, the format in itself puts the side in a situation. The big names that were in your camp will now be facing off with every intent to stare you down.
So, Rahul will have Quinton de Kock behind the stumps, egging him to make a mistake, instead of being at the non-striker’s end, extending support. Similar equations will also be played with David Miller, Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada and the others who were in the IPL fray coming in as a challenge.
India, on the other hand, would like to think that they have some seriously rejuvenated players, specifically Hardik Pandya, fresh from leading Gujarat Titans to the IPL title, to Kuldeep Yadav, once again being put faith in.
Rahul has the guns to fire, and with the exciting new lot of Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh being rewarded for the IPL efforts, it will be quite something to decide a playing XI.
Then of course, there is the Purple Cap holder Yuzvendra Chahal, the evergreen Dinesh Karthik and the mercurial Rishabh Pant, who will be Rahul’s deputy.
The likes of Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Hooda should add meat to the batting while Avesh Khan will bolster a rejuvenated Bhuvneshwar Kumar, along with Harshal Patel.
One needs to see how much bowling Pandya does, which could be a definite plus. Conversely, it could also be an issue.
Axar Patel adds his all-round abilities as does Venkatesh Iyer, while Ravi Bishnoi will be Chahal’s back-up.
Quite a varied side, so it will be a challenge to pick an XI, though some players would be an automatic choice on current form. All said and done, this will be a test for all concerned, not just to do well in this series, but also to cement their places for the tour of Ireland, followed by England and then of course, the big one, the World Cup.
(This article was first published on india.com)