Dharamsala, Oct 1: Limited-overs skipper MS Dhoni will be back at the helm as India will look for a winning start against formidable South Africa in the first Twenty20 International, here tomorrow (October 2).
The choice of venue for the tour opener has surprised the visitors as the cool weather in the picturesque HPCA Stadium will suit their pace battery.
The visitors though had a rude awakening in Delhi when they lost their T20 practice game against India A. (Kohli, Raina in race to set record)
The India A team, which did not have any regular national player, managed to chase down a 190-run target at Palam and that should be encouraging for the hosts. The conditions here though would be very different and more to Proteas' liking.
Dhoni, who has quit Tests, is back in the side after three months and for him the series will be start of the preparation for next year's World Twenty20, which will be held in India. Newcomers like Sreenath Aravind are in the side and the charismatic skipper may test their utility, keeping in mind next year's extravaganza.
Apart from three T20s in this series, India are slated to play four more against Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup too will be played just before the World Twenty20. In this series though it might turn out to be a battle between the batsmen of the two sides.
The visiting line-up is full of hard-hitters such as skipper Faf du Plessis and one of the most ferocious hitters in AB de Villiers. They have the ability to blast any attack in the world.
Then there is the ever-dependable Hashim Amla, dangerous David Miller and Jean-Paul Duminy, who give a lot of solidity to their batting order. Plus, the visiting captain and many a Proteas player is not alien to the conditions nor the rival players thanks to their IPL stints.
Du Plessis has in fact played under Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings and he is well versed with the style and strategies of the captain cool. Having Michael Hussey in their coaching staff is also a big plus as the former Australian batsman has played a lot against India and in the IPL with Dhoni. His inputs will surely matter help Proteas prepare well for the 72-day long series.
India also will be relying on their batting arsenal. Having fully recovered from his hand injury, left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan hit the right notes with a strokeful century against Bangladesh A.
It will be interesting to see who his opening partner would be as Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane will be vying for the spot. The middle order looks set with Test skipper Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni himself.
It will not be a surprise if Dhoni promotes himself up the batting order in this series, considering that he has been looking to bat more freely in recent times. For one player the series has a lot of significance and that is senior spinner Harbhajan Singh.
Since Ravichandran Aswhin is doing a great job for the team he was man-of-the-series against Sri Lanka it will be a challenge for Harbhajan to come into the side. Even though the pitch at HPCA stadium is likely to assist swing bowling, Dhoni may field two spinners in the side.
So it will be fight between Ashwin and Harbhajan even as Dhoni has Amit Mishra and Axar Patel as worthy options. India's biggest concern is the fragile pace attack. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not played in the last six months and the series will be a test of his confidence.
Mohit Sharma and Aravind will fight for a place as second seamer. Stuart Binny may make it to playing XI thanks to conditions suiting his style of bowling plus his batting can be handy in this format.
The visitors' attack is packed with T20 specialist bowlers like Kyle Abbott and Chris Morris. Leg spinner Imran Tahir has also emerged a big force. Albie Morkel is also in the side thanks David Weise's injury.
But the bowlers will certainly be under pressure after receiving a bashing at the hands of India A batsmen in the lone warm up game.
Du Plessis has also made it clear that this series will be an ideal start for their World T20 preparations.
"I am excited for this tour because it is in India, where we are going to play the World T20. There are a few guys who are getting opportunity, guys who can potentially make an impact in these conditions. If you look at someone like Eddie Leie, he is probably a left-field inclusion but it is to give guys who are not as experienced as playing in India through the IPL an opportunity," du Plessis has said.
"Everything that we do as a T20 side is geared towards that World T20 and there is no difference for this series."
India: MS Dhoni (captain and wicketkeeper), Sreenath Aravind, Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis(captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Imran Tahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo.
Match starts at 7 PM IST
Live on Star Sports