South Africa’s tour of India will get underway on Friday when the two countries go head-to-head in Dharamsala in the first of three Twenty20 internationals. For both cricket powers the three contests will act as key preparation for the World Twenty20, which is scheduled to take place between March and April next year.
India have particular reason to want to impress. Friday’s contest will see the return of limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after a more than three-month absence. Dhoni retired from captaining India’s Test side at the end of last year, and has also come under pressure to relinquish his leadership of the One-Day and T20 teams after a semifinal exit at the World Cup and ODI series defeat to Bangladesh earlier this year. Dhoni, as well as Test captain Virat Kohli and several other regulars, was absent as India went to Zimbabwe in July and claimed victory in a ODI series before splitting two T20I clashes.
Those were the only matches India have faced in the 20-over-a-side format in the past year. Yet Dhoni does not believe that lack of action will pose a major problem heading into the 2016 World T20.
“That's how the international schedule is,” he said, according to The Times Of India. “When international teams play each other, they usually play just one T20I or two T20Is. That has been the case, but the good thing is that we play IPL [Indian Premier League]. The players play a lot of T20 cricket there and we know what needs to be done.”
“It's a good thing that we're playing a number of T20s from January, which will be followed by the warm-up games and then the World Cup. It gives everyone a chance to get into form because you can rotate as you are not bothered too much by the result.”
Dhoni could hand a first international appearance to pace bowler Sreenath Aravind, who is back in the squad for the first time since his only previous call-up in 2011. India should also have Shikhar Dhawan back at the top of the order, after the batsman returned from a month out with a hand injury by hitting 150 off 146 balls in an India A side’s three-day contest with Bangladesh A earlier this week.
South Africa will be hoping that their pace attack can ensure a tough time and the rest of an India batting lineup that still has questions to answer. Without the rested Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, the Proteas’ bowling will be led by Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada, and supported by the spin of Imran Tahir.
Having again faltered at the Cricket World Cup, South Africa will approach next year’s World T20 looking to finally end their major tournament drought. And T20 captain Faf du Plessis has emphasized how important this three-match series in India will be toward that aim.
“I am excited for this tour because it’s in India, where we are going to play the World T20,” he said, reports ESPN. “There are a few guys who are getting opportunity, guys who can potentially make an impact in these conditions. If you look at someone like Eddie Leie, he is probably a left-field inclusion but it is to give guys who are not as experienced as playing in India through the IPL an opportunity. Everything that we do as a T20 side is geared towards that World T20 and there is no difference for this series.”
After the three T20I matches, South Africa’s tour schedule will see them contest five ODIs, followed by four Tests.
1st T20I start time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
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