India vs South Africa: What India will be looking to gain from five-match T20I series

After the conclusion of the 2022 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the attention of cricket fans shifts quickly to the upcoming five-match T20I series between India and South Africa, starting from Thursday.

As the road to Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November this year resumes, India will be eager to finalise their squad and offer a chance to newbies to showcase their skillsets. Here is what to keep an eye on as far as the hosts are concerned:

Newcomers in pace attack

With no Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami for this series, India have brought in tearaway right-arm quick Umran Malik and left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh. Amongst the plethora of uncapped Indian pacers who made a splash in IPL 2022, Malik and Singh earned their maiden T20I squad call-ups.

There is an element of excitement in what the young pace duo brings to the table. Malik, 22, has sheer pace, consistently clocking speeds above 150kph and was used as a middle-overs enforcer by Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2022, picking 19 wickets in that phase, something which the Indian team would have taken note of.

At the other end, Singh, 23, isn’t as quick as Malik. But Singh, a left-arm pacer, brings superb death-bowling skills to close out an innings, as his death-overs economy rate of 7.58 in IPL 2022 shows, which is second-best in the tournament after Bumrah’s 7.38.

Singh and Bumrah also shared the honours of bowling the most yorkers in the tournament — 38. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Avesh Khan and Harshal Patel in the squad, India have got a fast bowler for almost every scenario ahead of the series against South Africa.

What about Dinesh Karthik the finisher?

After earning a call-up to India’s T20I squad, veteran wicketkeeper-batter Dinesh Karthik had described his return to the national side in the shortest format of the game as ‘most special comeback’. In IPL 2022, Karthik literally grabbed the eyeballs of fans and national selectors as a specialist finisher for Royal Challengers Bangalore, making 242 runs at a strike rate of 220 in the death overs phase.

But how does he fit into the playing eleven? Since the time India crashed out of Men’s T20 World Cup in the UAE last year, they have used Venkatesh Iyer (six times), Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant (four times each) the most in T20I finishing duties.

With Hardik Pandya back in India’s scheme of things on the back of all-round show and captaining Gujarat Titans to the IPL 2022 trophy, the national think-tank has got a happy headache over who would be their ideal finishers in the run-up to the T20 World Cup. Should Karthik get a fair run against South Africa, it would be a prime chance for him to show the team management his finishing skills and get himself ahead in the race for finishers.

Time for southpaws to step up

In last year’s T20 World Cup, India had an all-right top four in Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Suryakumar Yadav, which made life simple for a Shaheen Shah Afridi to dismantle them. In their next must-win game against New Zealand, India had reshuffled their top-order, getting Ishan Kishan to open alongside Rahul, a move which backfired spectacularly as the batting never got going against a tight Blackcaps bowling attack.

Though India tried to get Kishan open the batting against West Indies and Sri Lanka, the left-hander’s returns in IPL 2022 (418 runs at an average of 32.15) were far from his fluent self as a mid-tournament slump hit him. Venkatesh Iyer was hit by the second-season syndrome, making just 182 runs at an average of just 16.55. Rishabh Pant didn’t get anything beyond a fifty in his returns of 340 runs at an average of 30.91.

In a batting order where KL Rahul, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer and Deepak Hooda had decent IPL 2022 seasons with the bat, India would be hoping that the swashbuckling southpaws find their groove and deliver the goods against South Africa.

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