South Africa In India 2015: Will MS Dhoni and India Be Able To Overcome South Africa’s Might, Even Though They Are The Hosts And Familiar With The Conditions?

South Africa take on the hosts India in the first of the three Twenty20 Internationals (T20I) at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) Cricket Stadium in Dharamsala this Friday, to kick start their 72-day long tour of India.

Official Promo Video Of Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Series

Both the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Cricket South Africa (CSA) have decided to name this series as Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Series, a decision taken on the basis of the histories shared by both the countries to attain independence. October 2nd, Friday, is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanthi all across India, to honor the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Father of the nation, and it is fitting, therefore, that the series named after Gandhi begins on this day. The 4-match Test series, which begins on the 5th of November at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium in Mohali, will be played for the Freedom Trophy.

Big Picture

When India and South Africa take to the picturesque HPCA Cricket Stadium in Dharamsala, it will be the 9th time that the two sides have faced each other in a T20I. In eight previous meetings, the Men in Blue have won on 6 occasions, with the Proteas winning just two. Four of India’s 6 wins have been by big margins, in the context of a T20, and going into this upcoming series, MS Dhoni’s men can say that they have had the wood over the South Africans so far.

This will, however, be the first time India and South Africa go head-to-head in a T20I in India, with the hosts also playing their first home series since playing in a One-Day International (ODI) series against Srilanka late last year.

The venues for the three T20Is – Dharamsala, Cuttack and Kolkata – will make for exciting viewing from the cricket fanatics’ perspective, as India and South Africa boast of great batting and bowling lineups that will look to harness the favorable conditions in which to play their exhilarating brands of cricket. India, being the home side, might have a slight edge over the visitors, who, led by Francois du Plessis, are well capable of trouncing the hosts at their own den if they play to potential.

The pitches for this upcoming series should be fresh and well prepared ahead of the new Indian cricket season. You expect the spinners from both sides to play key roles, but there would not be any ‘square-turners’ to speak of for the T20Is and ODIs, at least, and therefore, can be rest assured that it will be an even tussle between bat and ball.

This series serves as a great opportunity for both sides to prepare themselves ahead of the 6th edition of the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20), which is slated to be held in India during March-April in 2016. Winning this series, however, will be the primary focus for these two teams that reached the semifinals of the 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year and have been below par in their respective ODI and T20I assignments in the aftermath of the showpiece event.

India

The Indian selection committee, led by Sandip Patil, has picked the squad for the upcoming T20I series against South Africa with one eye on next year’s T20 World Cup.

Amit Mishra has been included in the squads for the T20Is and first three ODIs against the Proteas after his wonderful performances in the Test series against Srilanka last month, finishing with 15 wickets. Sreenath Aravind, the left-arm medium pacer from Karnataka, has also earned his first call-up to the national side in any format of the game, since 2011. Playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Aravind has taken 29 wickets from 19 games spread over three seasons. He bowls in the higher 120s, but has good changes of pace to suit the playing surfaces in India.

Harbhajan Singh finds himself retained for the T20Is against South Africa from the series against Zimbabwe this past July, when he bowled well but did not have too many wickets to show for his efforts – finishing with 6 wickets from three ODIs and the one T20I he played in. With four spinners on view, including Axar Patel, who was part of the Indian World Cup squad, the 2-1 series defeat to Bangladesh and the series win against Zimbabwe, and Ravichandran Ashwin, Dhoni and India will look to exploit the prevalent conditions back home against du Plessis’ men.

Mohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the only specialist seamers – with Aravind being more of a bowler who relies on pace variation – in the Indian side that otherwise has Stuart Binny as an all-rounder who can bowl nice seam-ups and give his captain an enviable bowling option. The batting lineup picks itself with Shikhar Dhawan also recovering in time for the beginning of the series against South Africa, after recovering from the hairline fracture he had suffered on his right hand in the 1st Test against Srilanka.

India’s squad in full, for the 3 T20Is against South Africa: Dhoni (C & WK), Virat Kohli, Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Harbhajan, Ashwin, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Aravind, Bhuvneshwar, Binny, Mishra, Mohit and Axar.

Looking at that squad, India’s batting, which though was found wanting in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, looks lethal and is one capable of scoring big runs against the South African bowling attack. Also, with Dhoni back for the limited-overs formats of the game, the hosts do not have to fret over playing a specialist wicket-keeper and subsequently, have the dilemma of whether to sacrifice a bowler or batsman – something that is a massive factor in their team selections in the Test format. The bowling does look a tad weak, even though it may suit the conditions in India. Ashwin will be the leader of the bowling attack, as he has been for the last 12 months.

India’s T20I form guide (most recent result first): LWLLW

South Africa

The Proteas’ squad is chock-a-block with players vastly experienced at the international level, but have many years of IPL experience behind them as well. Therefore, playing their first ever T20I series in India should not be new to them. Yes, their squad has a couple of new faces, but the spine of the team is simply fabulous.

David Wiese, who was originally picked in the 15-man squad for the 3 T20Is against India, has had to be withdrawn after fracturing his right hand, and been replaced by Albie Morkel, who is in the same mould as the 30-year old Wiese. The likes of Kagiso Rabada (right-arm fast bowler), Eddie Leie (leg-break bowler), Khaya Zondo (right-arm off break bowler) and Marchant de Lange (right-arm fast bowler) are the new faces in the South African squad that has great balance to it and is loaded with plenty of international experience.

South Africa’s squad in full, for the 3 T20Is against India: du Plessis (C), Quinton de Kock (WK), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, David Miller, Jean-Paul Duminy, Chris Morris, Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir, Rabada, Leie, Zondo, de Lange and Farhaan Behardien.

South Africa’s batting lineup comprising of Amla, de Villiers, du Plessis himself, Duminy and Miller should fancy batting against a weak Indian bowling attack with just two specialist seamers. Of the aforementioned quintet, only Duminy is not as proficient playing spin as others can. But with Amla, de Villiers and du Plessis expected to bat ahead of him; the southpaw could have his chance to play freely in the latter stages of his side’s innings.

In the bowling department, they have a ton of all-rounders who are capable of combining with the specialist bowlers well. It will be interesting to see if Tahir plays as the solitary spinner, or the likes of Leie and Zondo are paired with him. I think the visitors will play the 36-year old alone, as they might not want to expose an inexperienced spinner against the Indians. Kyle Abbott will lead the bowling attack that could have Rabada and Morris as the 2nd and 3rd choice seamers, respectively, while Morkel will give du Plessis four overs too, most probably. Duminy has bowled a lot in the last 12-18 months, and will no doubt be used a lot during this series.

South Africa’s T20I form guide (most recent result first): LWWWW

Final Thought

Before the series gets underway, it is fair to say that we are surely in for a great tussle between bat and ball and teams expected to play aggressively. There is not much to split between the two sides, with India continuing to have a batting lineup capable of tearing apart any bowling attack in home conditions. South Africa’s squad, on the other hand, has a balanced look, which has always been the case with them because of the number of all-rounders they have been able to produce over the years. It is very hard to say who starts as favorites for this three-match T20I series, which is sure to be a closely contested one.

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