It's time for the first round

It's time for the first round

Strands of history have bound India and South Africa together. The big cut-outs Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela at the gates of the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium stand as reminder to this compelling reality. Cricket has only kept the ties growing, with both the countries frequently involved in competitive bilateral duels. With the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup to be hosted in India, the long tour has gained its own significance.

The 75-day series, expectedly, begins with three Twenty20s, followed by five-ODIs and four Tests. It is also a pointer, perhaps, to the prominence the shortest format of the game has begun to gain because of its increasing popularity. The picturesque stadium here, which has only hosted two One-day Internationals so far, is likely to see packed stands with fans from the adjoining areas thronging to the tiny hill-station.

Things have rapidly changed in Indian cricket since the country last played at home against Sri Lanka in November 2014. Mahendra Singh Dhoni quit Tests in December last and a new era under Virat Kohli has ushered in. It would be the first time Dhoni would be leading the team at home only as its limited overs’ captain.

While Twenty20 has seeped into the veins of international cricket, thanks to the Indian Premier League, it would be a different story when the players get together under the national colours. It is strange but true that in the T20 format, Dhoni has played more with South Africa T20 captain Faf du Plessis in the last one year as his Chennai Super Kings teammate than most others in the Indian team.

That aside, one can’t take away the fact that India have always been a formidable T20 unit. The batting has always given them the edge with the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina forging a formidable combination. Dhoni himself is a formidable T20 specialist, playing the role of a finisher to perfection in recent years, but it would be interesting to see if he would take the No 4 spot in the series.

True to their strengths, India have included four spinners in their T20 squad — Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Axar Patel. The seam attack appears a little short on experience but it would be headed by a wily Bhuvaneshwar Kumar who has had a good IPL this year and a confident outing against Zimbabwe. He would be effective with the new ball and also in the death overs with Mohit Sharma. An uncapped Sreenath Aravind and Stuart Binny are the other two seamers.

South Africa have their own demons to beat, having played little cricket since the World Cup. Most seniors are familiar with the conditions here but it is the youngsters like Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo, and Eddie Leie who would be tested.

Spin has never been their forte. AB De Villiers spent an extended time at the nets against the spinners, and facing a good amount of flighted deliveries from a specially-invited net bowler.

The pitch here has always played true, which can be helpful to both bowlers and stroke-makers. Du Plessis felt it would play to their advantage. However, it is the dew in this evening encounter which would be a factor. To combat it, the South Africans spent a significant time playing with wet balls at the nets. Their start to the tour with the warm-up match might not have been ideal but then the South Africans are known to be the best travellers and the real battle will begin from Friday.

DH News Service

The teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicket-keeper), Sreenath Aravind, Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis(captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Imran Tahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo.

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