After facing a washout of the first Twenty20 international match in Dharamshala on Sunday (September 15) without a ball being bowled, the South Africa tour of India has now turned into a two-game tournament from a three-match series.
India on Wednesday (September 18) would look to seize the advantage in the second T20 game against South Africa in Mohali where special focus would be on wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant’s form being an important sub-plot of the two-match affair.
With the T20 World Cup coming around in 12 months, there is nothing called ‘a lot of time’ for preparations. Indian captain Virat Kohli has already detailed his plans and expectations from the youngsters in the side.
The skipper did not expect to get a bagful of opportunities when he arrived on the international scene and believes the current crop of youngsters also need to make it count in the limited time they are going to get.
One of them is 21-year-old Rishabh Pant, who can’t be bracketed as a “youngster” anymore having made his debut back in February 2017.
Though even the toss was not held in the series-opener there was enough action taking place on the sidelines and most of it was focused on Pant.
In a chat with the host broadcaster, the message for Pant from the team management was loud and clear: he can’t repeatedly throw his wicket away and if he does “there will be a rap on the knuckles”.
“We’ll let him be but at times when you see a shot, like the first ball dismissal in Trinidad (during the tour of West Indies), if he repeats that, then he will be told. There will be a rap on the knuckles, talent or no talent,” said head coach Ravi Shastri ahead of the series-opener.
Pressure on Pant will be even more now since he has to do justice to his rich talent and with Kohli very much on board with having Mahendra Singh dhoni on board, Pant will not get many chances to prove his worth.
Considering the circumstances, it was not a surprise that Pant had a hit in the nets right after the team flew here from Dharamshala on Monday (September 16).
Mounting pressure will also be on leg-spinner Rahul Chahar and off-spinner Washington Sundar, who were picked ahead of the star duo KulCha — Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal for the second straight series.
With 20-odd games to go before the World Cup, the Indian team wants to boost its batting which will require number 8, 9 and 10 to score runs on a regular basis, something which has never been India’s strength.
Now only time will tell if a heavy batting line-up will compromise on India’s ability to take wickets in the middle overs.
Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey, who were brought to solidify the middle order will also play and important role in the series, not just for the team but also for their future in the squad.
The game will also be an opportunity for Shikhar Dhawan to play a substantial knock, having endured a lean tour of the West Indies by his standards.
It’s a ground he is fond of, having scored a memorable 187 on his Test debut and more recently a 143 in the ODI against Australia in March this year, albeit in a losing cause.
On the other hand, it will be an uphill task for South Africa to beat this Indian side, which has been on a roll for the most part.
Time in the middle for a team in transition would have been valuable but rain robbed the Proteas of that opportunity in Dharamshala.
The Kagiso Rabada-led attack would have to bowl really well to contain the Indian batsmen especially skipper Kohli, who played one of his best knocks against Australia in March 2016, the last T20 played here, to take India to the World T20 semifinals.
Kohli, in a recent tweet, summed up what that knock of 82 off 51 balls meant to him as he struck the winning runs with Dhoni at the other end.
Though his followers failed to read his words, Kohli will be aiming for an encore on Wednesday (September 18).
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (c), Rassie van der Dussen (vc), Temba Bauvma, Junior Dala, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukyao, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde.
Match Starts 7 pm IST.
(With inputs from agencies)