NEW DELHI: A new-look India top-order will be keen to show intent even as Rishabh Pant gets ready to add another leaf to his already happening career, this time as the national team captain for the five-match T20I series against South Africa that begins here on Thursday.
The host was dealt a body blow ahead of the series opener as KL Rahul, who was supposed to lead the team in the absence of regular skipper Rohit Sharma, suffered a groin injury that has ruled him out of the assignment. If the Pant-led side outwits the visiting South Africa team on Thursday, India will create a men’s world record of 13 successive victories.
Rahul’s absence has paved the way for Ruturaj Gaikwad, who will look to make full use of the opportunities at the top of the order. With Ruturaj, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer, India will have a new-look top-three, at least for the first T20I.
For head coach Rahul Dravid, the primary objective over the next 10 days will be to identify some core group players for the T20 World Cup. Shreyas, who was terrific at No.3 in the home series against Sri Lanka in February, is expected to hold on to his spot while Deepak Hooda may be given a chance in the middle-order.
Newly-appointed vice-captain Hardik Pandya could resume the duties of a finisher, although he batted higher up the order in the IPL. Bhuvneshwar Kumar will spearhead the attack alongside death-overs specialist Harshal Patel, with speedster Avesh Khan likely to take the third pacer’s slot. Following Kuldeep Yadav’s injury on the right hand – the left-arm chinaman has also been ruled out – Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi and Axar Patel are the spin-bowling options.
Meanwhile, South Africa has not lost a white-ball series in India since 2010. For the Temba Bavuma-led visitor, the in-form David Miller could hold the key along with Quinton de Kock and Aiden Markram in the batting department.
The pace combination of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje as well as spin twins Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj will shoulder the bowling responsibility.