Virat Kohli will begin a new chapter in his cricketing career on Wednesday when he takes the field as just a batsman in the first ODI against South Africa in Paarl.
Within the space of a few months, Kohli has relinquished the role with India's T20 side, quit the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL captaincy, then lost the ODI leadership before giving up the Test reins after a series defeat to South Africa.
Now, for the first time since 2016 Kohli will be playing just as a batsman and not captain of any format. He will be playing under KL Rahul, who was named captain for the three-match ODI series in South Africa after Rohit Sharma was ruled out due to injury.
With the burden of captaincy off his shoulders, Kohli can now turn his attention on regaining his form with the bat.
His task won't be easy as the Proteas are on a high after their inexperienced side came back after losing the first Test to win the next two convincingly against a near full-strength and top-ranked Indian side.
However, the Indian contingent will be buoyed by the fact that the first ODI in Paarl will be played on a surface that is expected to be low and slow. Captain Rahul said South Africa should be ready for a trial by spin.
Rahul believes the returning Ravichandran Ashwin and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal will be a handful for the hosts in the first two games, with the third to be played in Cape Town on Sunday.
“We have practised for a couple of days at Boland Park and the pitch does look like it might offer a lot more for the spinners than what we saw in the Test series,” Rahul said. “We have quality spinners. Ashwin is coming back into the one-day team and we all know what quality he brings. And Chahal has been a great performer for us for a number of years.
“If there is any help from the pitch, I know these two can exploit it. So they become really important for us.”
Meanwhile, South Africa captain Temba Bavuma believes the hosts can take momentum from the surprise 2-1 Test series win into the ODIs.
“It is a different format that involves a different skill set, but from a momentum and confidence point of view, we will be leaning on that to help inspire the other new guys to get us through the challenges and pressure we will be facing in the next three games,” he said.
The series marks the return of wicketkeeper batsman Quinton de Kock's for the first time since becoming a father and having announced his retirement from Test cricket. He fell to two indifferent shots in his final Test match and South Africa will be hoping for a return to the free-flowing batsman who hit three centuries in successive matches against India eight seasons ago.
The series is not part of the ICC's World Cup Super League but South Africa will be keen to record their first one-day series win since beating Australia 3-0 in March 2020 before cricket was effectively shut down by the pandemic.