NEW SEASON, NEW HOPES
Threat Of Rain And A Wet Outfield Expected To Be India’s Main Bugbears Against SA In First T20I Clash
Dharamshala: It’s drizzling on Saturday afternoon, a day before India’s T20I opener against South Africa. The HPCA Stadium ground is a sea of blue tarp. The hydro-soppers work furiously but it rains just enough to interrupt the start of India’s first training session ahead of a new home series. Frustrated, some players head to the indoor nets to get a knock behind closed doors.
Just an hour earlier, the South Africans had enjoyed a full session, and an hour later, the sun is out. Coach Ravi Shastri, who has waited patiently for the covers to be removed, decides to take an intense first look at the pitch. He is joined by Rohit Sharma, who shadow-bats for a few seconds then nods at Shastri, as if to suggest he is satisfied. The rest of the preparation will have to come out in the middle on Sunday evening.
The threat of rain, a wet outfield and evening dew are expected to be India’s main bugbears against a new-look South African side, led by a new skipper in Quinton De Kock.
“We have been here for a week. We’re here to stamp our authority,” David Miller said, not entirely without conviction. It’s a far cry from the starstudded side which chased down 200 in a T20I at this venue in 2015 but as Virat Kohli suggested, South Africa can be surprisingly resilient opponents.
For the next few games, Kohli will be busy checking out some new dials on the team’s T20 machinery. Preparations for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia have begun with the shedding of long-established notions: out go the legspin twins, in come the bowling allrounders.
Kohli was forthcoming on the decision to rest Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, saying India want some more batting meat in the tail. “If all teams are batting at No. 9, 10 why can’t we? You need to take those calls at one stage.”
What this means is a shift back to a combination of finger and wrist spin. The trial run has already taken place in the West Indies but these aren’t the only changes. Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar and Khaleel Ahmed are the new pace face of this team in the absence of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar. Shreyas Iyer gets a look-in to beef up the middle order. Add a formidable top order, the maverick Pant-Hardik Pandya touch and a wagging tail, and the perfect T20 recipe may emerge.
South Africa are planning something similar with bowling allrounders, as assistant batting coach Lance Klusener said. “A few years back it was all about spinning allrounders, so it’s great to see some seam-bowling allrounders. We have young allrounders who can be in the top five in the next year.”
The likes of Dwayne Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo have enough potential to excite Klusener, and Kohli is hoping for a similar spark from some of the new faces. “As far as a roadmap is concerned, whenever there is a world tournament coming up, it’s like a milestone (around which plans are set) and you start preparing from backwards. Every team will go through the same process.”
Kohli has assigned three key player attributes he will watch out for: ability, character and composure. “It’s exciting for a captain to try out different combinations and new players. It’s exciting when these new faces express themselves.”
The clock has begun ticking on cracking the T20 code. It’s time to try out the passwords.
LET IT ROLL: South African skipper Quinton de Kock trains in Dharamshala on Saturday