It must be easy being Shikhar Dhawan in the context of Indian cricket in 2022. He knows he’s going to play every ODI series that India contest in a T20 World Cup year, and chances are he will be made the captain (and, randomly, even demoted to vice-captain suddenly as we saw when KL Rahul was passed fit for the tour of Zimbabwe this year). Closing in on 37, Dhawan is only used by India for the one-day format and ahead of next year’s home World Cup the experienced opener still looms large as a vital cog at the top of the order. And starting today in Lucknow, Dhawan will lead a second-string Indian cricket team in the three-match ODI series versus South Africa – less than two days from the end of a three-game T20I contest between the two countries.
While you can scratch your head at the logic of three ODIs just weeks away from the T20 World Cup, it is what it is – how crammed is cricket’s calendar these days? – and despite the low-key nature of this series there are players who will be itching to push their cases for further selection in the format ahead of next year’s World Cup. Shubman Gill, for instance, who in 2022 averages 112.50 from six ODI courtesy scores of 63, 43, 98*, 82*, 33 and 130. India still rely on Rohit Sharma and Dhawan when the regular players are around, but given that Rohit is all-formats captain and 35 and Dhawan will be almost 38 when the 2023 ODI World Cup starts, the selectors and management need to identify a younger opener. Gill, on form, looks to be that player.
In the current squad are others jostling for attention, as well as Gill’s spot as opener; Ishan Kishan, the left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman; Ruturaj Gaikwad, uncapped in ODIs but with nine T20Is against his name; and Sanju Samson, who only this year has started to find his way at this level (many will say he is unlucky not to be heading to Australia). For these three batsmen, as well as the uncapped Rahul Tripathi, Rajat Patidar and Shahbaz Ahmed, these three ODIs are a massive opportunity because each of them know that when Rohit, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant and Deepak Hooda are back they will be back playing domestic cricket.
So too for bowlers such as Avesh Khan, given lots of chances this year in T20Is but whose stock has fallen; the wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav, out of favour in T20Is but still capable of taking wickets in ODIs; the in-form Shardul Thakur who believes he should be playing T20Is for India as well; the uncapped Bengal seamer Mukesh Kumar, handed a maiden India callup despite not having played an IPL match; the aggressive Ravi Bishnoi, who is India’s sixth-highest wicket-takers in T20Is this year but not in the T20 World Cup squad; and the pair of Mohammed Siraj and Deepak Chahar, both jostling with Mohammed Shami to take Jasprit Bumrah’s spot in the World Cup squad. A dull, irrelevant ODI series, did anyone say? Don’t tell this to the members of India’s squad.
As for South Africa, these games are their first in the format since March when they were beaten at home 2-1 by Bangladesh. Already under the scanner for earlier this year deciding to withdraw from a scheduled three-ODI series in Australia that sparked debate about the shifting landscape of cricket, as well as left South Africa’s qualification process for next year’s World Cup firmly into focus, Bavuma’s team has to up their game significantly even against a weakened Indian squad.
The fact that Siraj and Chahar are in this ODI squad suggests they won’t travel to Australia just yet, even though the latter is part of the reserves. Same with Shreyas Iyer, who flopped on return to the T20I lineup on Tuesday but will bat at No 3 in these three ODIs. Bishnoi and Kuldeep could be tried together, which gives India two wicket-taking options. The uncapped Shahbaz is set to play his first match for India, slotting into the middle order and capable of offering some handy left-arm spin.
Probable XI: 1 Shikhar Dhawan (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Shreyas Iyer, 4 Ishan Kishan, 5 Sanju Samson (wk), 6 Shahbaz Ahmed, 7 Shardul Thakur, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Ravi Bishnoi, 11 Mohammed Siraj
With essentially the same squad as for the recent T20Is, South Africa will need to balance workload as well as their best chances of winning the series. They won the third T20I on the might of a superb century from Rilee Roussow, and should have won the second match thanks to David Miller’s frenetic 106* off 47 balls. With white-ball captain Temba Bavuma seriously struggling for runs – he made just one off 19 deliveries face in three T20Is – the management has to get Reeza Hendricks into the 11 somehow. But with Janneman Malan, de Kock, Bavuma, David Miller, Aiden Markram and Heinrich Klaasen around, the question is: how?
Probable XI: 1 Janneman Malan, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Reeza Hendricks , 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Aiden Markram, David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Wayne Parnell, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Tabraz Shamsi
PITCH & CONDITIONS
Lucknow’s Ekana Cricket Stadium has hosted just three ODIs, all between Afghanistan and West Indies in 2019, and on the basis of those matches there is some bounce off the surface and enough to suggest that spin will have a role under lights.
The second ODI shifts to Ranchi, where in five matches the highest total is 313/5 and the lowest 155, between 2013 and 2019. The venue is known to be batsmen-friendly, so getting the right bowling combination is most imperative there. The last match will be held at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi, a ground where batsmen have often struggled on that slow and low surface.
India’s series to lose, despite a squad containing six uncapped players and others in and out of the white-ball setup. They have talent and home advantage and lots of cricketers bristling with confidence and hunger, so despite a stronger opponent in South Africa, this should go to Dhawan’s team. But as in the T20Is, expect South Africa to run this Indian side close and also take one of the ODIs on the basis of their batting strength.