After winning their first-ever One-Day International(ODI) series in South Africa, an optimistic Indian team with Virat Kohli as the captain hopes to carry its winning streak and momentum forward against the South African team in the first Twenty20 International(T20I) short format match at Johannesburg on Sunday. With a picturesque winning record in 2006 against South Africa, followed by the historic World T20 triumph under the former captain MS Dhoni a year later, India has won seven out of ten T20Is till date. All eyes though would be trained at Suresh Raina as he makes a return to the national team after a year away.
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With Raina, KL Rahul and Jaydev Unadkat as new additions to the team, the Indian contingent expects much from the trio, as they had a two-hour net session at Centurion before the start of the sixth ODI and also have an optional practice session lined up on Saturday at the Wanderers.
In the absence of Kohli and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the prior T20 engagement against Sri Lanka, Shreyas Iyer, Mohammed Siraj, and Washington Sundar were elected to get an outing at the international stage. Of the three, only Iyer has made it to the current squad while it still remains unconfirmed if he would be included in the playing eleven. With a score of 18 and 30 at Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth respectively in the ODIs, there is a likelihood for Iyer to lose his spot to the returning player, Raina.
Many questions have arisen at the return of Raina especially after his absence from the T20I set-up during the 2017-18 home season. The player scored 104 runs in three matches, including a half-century when he last played T20I series against England but got ignored by the selectors entirely in the 2017 IPL for Gujarat Lions despite scoring 442 runs. Having cleared the mandatory ‘Yo-Yo’ fitness test in December and placing sixth on the runs chart (314 runs in 9 matches including one century and two half-centuries) for Uttar Pradesh during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the player is all set for his comeback to this season.
Another trump card for the Indian team in this format, Unadkat was the highest paid Indian player (at Rs. 11.5 crores) at this year’s IPL auction. Since New Zealand’s trip in October, India has used the left-armed pacer in four out of six matches in their T20I eleven. It would be intriguing to watch India’s first choice for pace attack with all Unadkat, Bhuvaneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah in the running, meanwhile, they face competition from Shardul Thakur, with a career best of 4/52 in the sixth ODI.
With Hardik Pandya and the two wrist-spinners as the most certain players in the playing eleven, the only question remains as to Rahul’s inclusion in the batting line-up, especially when Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have both had good runs in the ODI series. It is going to be a fascinating selection for sure.