Many gray areas remain to be tackled, but a young Indian team, with an admirable collective temperament, will start on Sunday as the favorites in the decisive fifth T20 International against South Africa in Bengaluru. In a span of eight days, this Indian team has played four matches. It played an identical XI, which is in sync with Rahul Dravid’s “school of continuity” given the low in the first two games, only to break its own record of highest margin of wins over the Proteas – with 47 runs in the third game and with 82 runs in the fourth.
With Dinesh Karthik doing exactly what is expected of him and Harshal Patel and Avesh Khan also hitting the belts, Indian fans would like to see Yuzvendra Chahal perform a few tricks on his IPL home pitch in a match that matters most.
Therefore, when the teams take to the grass of M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the side that looked jaded and overcooked in the first two matches will start out as overwhelming favorites as the South Africans have already lost the lot.
If Temba Bavuma cannot recover, they will miss a leader more than the batter. And suddenly in the last two games, the batting looked iffy on variable bounce courts, making this Indian attack look that much more deadly.
Call it strangely pleasant but the fact remains that in this series many things have not quite gone according to plan, yet India managed to level up the series after falling 0-2.
A young captain who might have wanted a few days in his hometown in Rourkee if one of the stakeholders hadn’t been pressured to have at least a few stars for lack of safe ‘checkout’ bets like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma or Jasper Bumrah.
Pant’s captaincy hasn’t been exceptional either and his similar layoff pattern hasn’t instilled confidence, but India has somehow managed to push through.
If they eventually win the series, the young man in that leadership mix would sit alongside Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul when the next transition in Indian cricket takes place after the 2023 ODI World Cup.
If coach Dravid wanted to see if there was an opportunity to tinker with the existing top three, the troika of Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shreyas Iyer didn’t exactly fit the jigsaw puzzle.
Gaikwad, with his current technique, would fall nine times out of ten against a quality attack on better pitches, with sporadic appearances here and there. In top level cricket, he doesn’t get those few uncapped domestic bowlers he can intimidate. On the contrary, he could be bullied by too fast a pace.
Ishan Kishan has a limited number of strokes and one should not rely on the number of runs scored in this series as the extra bounce and pace on Australian wickets will be a difficult proposition.
Shreyas Iyer got a full run but he should be the first to admit he screwed up with both hands and when India next faces Ireland in Malahide his place will go to Suryakumar Yadav who is considered one much better T20 trailer.
There is something about big ICC event years and Karthik stepping up his performances.
He’s already going to put on the big gloves in Ireland and the way he’s proving to be an asset at the back, no one should frown if he becomes the designated goalkeeper-batter by the time India plays Pakistan at MCG last week of October.
Among the bowlers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is once again swinging the new ball and Avesh Khan who has developed a well-disguised bouncer along with the ability to bowl fuller and hit the hard lengths is also a contender among the five pacemakers India could carry Down.
The spinners in this series, despite an improved effort, were below par. Axar Patel has blown hot and cold, but more importantly, he looked one-dimensional, while Chahal, in his attempt to move faster through the air, turned out to be riotous.
The series was not one of the best in India, but somehow the ‘Men In Blue’, like top teams, have found their way to win matches under pressure. That bodes well, because Pant and his men want to finish the series in the ‘Garden City’.
Teams (out): India: Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Venkatesh Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal , Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs, Rassie van der Dussen, Marco Jansen.