India aim to put ODI loss behind, start afresh in T20Is against South Africa

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86,174. The number keeps coming back, and it is hard to neglect it for years to come. That’s the crowd attendance when India played a T20I match last. It was more than a year ago. Since the pandemic struck, India, the runners-up in the T20 World Cup, have not played any T20Is.

And now, as they prepare for the three-match series against South Africa on Saturday(March 20), India are the eighth team to return to T20Is from among those who participated in the global tournament. This time, they will be playing in front of restricted crowd attendance, thanks to the pandemic.

Going into the series, a majority of the squad have been a part of the 1-4 ODI loss against the tourists. Though Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami are going out, a significant number of players have got at least some game time before the T20Is.

The hosts will be without skipper Harmanpreet Kaur, who suffered a hip abductor muscle injury in the final ODI, and has been ruled out of the first T20I. Smriti Mandhana will lead the team in her absence.

One of the exciting aspects is that Shafali Verma will be back at the top, opening with Mandhana, followed by Jemimah Rodrigues at number three. The teenager was not a part of the ODIs and will be playing her first international after a year. Opening partnerships were a bit of concern for India through the ODI series as they did not have a single 30+ partnership for the first wicket. With Verma coming in, they would hope that the duo could impose some authority on the South African bowlers early on in the powerplay. That could provide ample time to settle in for Rodrigues, who looked out of sorts in the ODI.

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If the top-order gets out early, they would have to figure out who are the players to be trusted in the middle-order to resurrect the innings and put them in a winning position. More so, with Kaur missing in the line-up.

The major concern for India is with the ball, as Shikha Pandey is not in the squad. Arundhati Reddy is likely to be their lead pacer along with Mansi Joshi. There are a few exciting names in the squad – Monica Patel, who made her debut in ODIs, Ayushi Soni and Simran Dil Bahadur. At some point in this series, one might see a couple of them getting their India caps.

However, a lot will depend on the conditions. After the ODI series, India coach WV Raman said that they preferred to play on flatter pitches as those are the conditions their spinners are likely to get when they travel abroad. If the conditions are similar to that of the ODI series, it will have a significant impact on team-selection as to which seamer or spinner to play.

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Kaur and Co. have two options for every slot. They have Rajeshwari Gayakwad and Radha Yadav for left-arm spin, Poonam Yadav and C. Prathyusha for leg-spin. With Poonam going wicketless in the ODI series, whether Prathyusha gets her T20I cap as well is something to be seen.

South Africa, on the other hand, looks a lot more settled than the hosts. Tazmin Brits, who opened with Lizelle Lee during the Pakistan series, is not available since she flew back due to personal reasons. Laura Wolvaardt might most likely slot in at the top, like it was in the ODIs. With Luus, Marizanne Kapp, Mignon du Preez and Lara Goodall to follow, their batting line-up has very few chinks.

As it has been seen, even on flatter wickets, both Kapp and Shabnim Ismail have been able to provide breakthroughs with the new ball. To watch Ismail run into the audacious Verma would be a contest to witness. Nondumiso Shangase has done well in the ODIs, but come the T20s, one might see a lot more of Sune Luus with the ball than we have so far. She could be crucial for them with the ball in the shortest format.

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While there are not any specific issues are concerns for the tourists, the format as such is unpredictable, and it all comes down to who does better on a given day. The Indian batters got better as the ODI series progressed. However, those who scored runs are not a part of a T20I setup, and they would be hoping that the couple of fresh faces who come in can lift the team spirits from the word go.

Will the pitches support spin more than they did in the ODI series? If it doesn’t, can the Indian spinners adapt and restrict the South Africans?

Though South Africa is away from home, touring India, here, at the moment, the hosts have a lot more to think about ahead of the T20I series. If they get it right, we are in for some cracking contest between two competitive teams.

Squads:

India: Smriti Mandhana (c), Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Deepti Sharma, Richa Ghosh, Harleen Deol, Sushma Verma (wk), Nuzhat Parveen (wk), Ayushi Soni, Arundhati Reddy, Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Poonam Yadav, Mansi Joshi, Monica Patel, C. Prathyusha, Simran Dil Bahadur

South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune

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