South Africa litmus test awaits for India's young T20 World Cup hopefuls
With seniors like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli sitting out during the white ball series, India's young guns could face their biggest test yet in South Africa.
India may not have had too much luck in winning ICC tournaments since 2013 but they have been a formidable side to face in bilateral series across formats in this period. Since they won the 2013 Champions Trophy, India have lost an ODI bilateral series, home or away, 13 times. They have lost just eight T20I series as well in Test cricket, apart from recording regular victories over sides like West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka home and away, they broke a glass ceiling by beating Australia at their home and then went on to repeat that feat despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds. They also drew a Test series in England, one that most commentators agree they would've won had the final Test not been postponed and had the final day of the first Test not been washed out.
Names like Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara have been the driving forces for India in this period, as were MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh to a certain extent, with the latter three retiring from the sport in this period. Among those still active in these names, Dhawan, Pujara and Rahane will be absent when India go tour South Africa starting on December 10. However, Kohli, Rohit and Bumrah will be there only for the Test series that starts on December 26 and it will be pretty much a new guard for India when they play the three ODIs and T20Is before that.
High standards to match
It might be slightly inaccurate to consider the players who will feature in the white ball series as complete freshers but the fact remains that this will be the first time that most of them will be facing South Africa at their home, which is one of the great challenges in international cricket regardless of the format. There were doubts over whether South Africa are as competitive as they were in the previous years but Temba Bavuma's side put those thoughts to rest with the kind of performances they put in during the 2023 World Cup.
In the T20I series, South Africa have largely gone with quite a few experienced candidates while India have retained much of the young side that played Australia recently in a five-match series. It means that Shubman Gill, himself playing in South Africa for the first time, could be the most experienced campaigner in their top order. Captain Suryakumar Yadav himself has just played one ODI in South Africa in his career and never faced them at their home in a T20, the format in which he is considered the best in the world. Rinku Singh's rising reputation as one of the most efficient finishers in the game will be put to test. The bowling lineup has some experience in the form of Siraj and Kuldeep Yadav. Kuldeep in particular was one of the architects of India's 5-1 victory in the 2018 series in South Africa, having taken 17 wickets and finished as the highest wicket-taker.
It never really looked like India are devoid of their biggest stars in the series against Australia, although the fact remains that the opposition themselves had rested a number of their main players after the succesful World Cup campaign. With there still be uncertainty around whether the likes of Kohli or Rohit could play in the T20 World Cup next year, most players in the Indian squad for the South Africa tour can safely consider themselves to be contenders for a spot in the side that travels to the West Indies for the tournament.
They have all proven themselves in the IPL and in the chances they have got to play for India but it won't be too much of a stretch to say that this upcoming tour could be their biggest litmus test.
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