Dharamsala provides scenic setting for mouth-watering first Twenty20 International
Snow-capped peaks, gorgeous cedar trees, fresh air and a lack of stifling traffic all contribute towards making Dharamsala one of the more beautiful cricket venues in the world, and reiterates that there is more to life than just work.
While that may be true, 22 professional cricketers will need to ignore scenic beauty for three hours and focus on the job at hand when they step on to the HPCA Cricket Stadium on Friday (October 2) evening for the first Twenty20 International between India and South Africa.
Each time they look skywards, they will be faced with the magnificent sight of the Dhauladhar mountain range, but the players will strive their utmost to keep their attention away from nature and on the game. Not only because the first tie is crucial to how the three-match T20I series pans out, but also because it gives the sides a chance to weigh each other in the lead-up to five One-Day Internationals and four Test matches. Further, with the ICC World Twenty20 2016 less than six months away, this is also the beginning of the final phase of identifying personnel going into that competition.
By the looks of it, India will stick to its first-choice T20 side with Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the helm. Barring the exclusion of Ravindra Jadeja and the inclusions of S Arvind, the Karnataka medium pacer, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh, there are no major changes made to the squad which featured in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 in Sri Lanka.
In that tournament, India beat South Africa by six wickets in the semifinal, driven by Virat Kohli’s 72 not out off 44 balls in a chase of 173.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma and Arvind will carry the burden of the pace department for India. The home side also has the option of Stuart Binny, the Karnataka allrounder, and in all likelihood will consider his medium pace more seriously owing to favourable conditions.
India is likely play three of these four men, which will leave the side with a dilemma when it comes to picking the spinners.
R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Harbhajan and Mishra are the specialist spinners in the squad but there could only be place for one, or at best two, as Dhoni seeks to get his balance right. Ashwin, on a high after the man-of-the-series performance against Sri Lanka, is a clear favourite at this stage to occupy one of those two slots.
South Africa is well equipped with pace options even in the absence of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who have been rested for the T20Is. They might not have the aura of the spearheads, but Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada can hold their own very well.
Rabada, who barely bowled during the nets on Thursday, might warm the bench while the other three, who worked fervently on death bowling, are likely to get the call. If South Africa does play three seamers, then Imran Tahir, the most experienced among the spinners in the running, should get the chance to turn his arm over as the lead tweaker. It also has Eddie Leie and Khaya Zondo to pick from should it need another full-time spinner. And even if neither is picked, JP Duminy’s offspin should serve the side well.
There are no perceivable pores in either side’s batting departments. India and South Africa both have dependable openers, a strong middle order and a sturdy lower middle to produce and chase down big scores.
That said, all it takes is one bad shot, a good ball or a brilliant piece of fielding for the game to turn on its head. Both sides will be aware of this and also mindful that not without reason are they both considered among the top limited-overs sides in the world.
Usually the team that doesn’t flinch when confronted by the moment comes out on top. It’s time to see who blinks first.
India: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny, R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Amit Mishra, S Arvind.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Chris Morris, Imran Tahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Kagiso Rabada, Albie Morkel, Khaya Zondo, Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange.