Focus on young India pacers for South Africa T20 series as Rishabh Pant named captain

Hosts without almost half of their first-choice players for five-match series that begins in Delhi on Thursday

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A considerably weakened Indian team will look to get their preparations for the T20 World Cup under way against a full-strength South Africa in a five-match series that begins in Delhi on Thursday.

The five T20 games will give both teams a chance to get an idea of the form of their personnel heading into the World Cup cycle, which makes the hosts' job tricky as they will be without almost half of their first-choice players.

Captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah had already been rested from the series after a gruelling season. Then on Tuesday, it was announced that stand-in captain KL Rahul had picked up a groin injury and was out of the entire series, along with wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who took a hit to his hand in training.

That has allowed wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh Pant to take over the captaincy reins, with fit-again all-rounder Hardik Pandya named his deputy.

"It's a great feeling, especially getting an opportunity like this in your home town, [no] bigger opportunity than that and I will make the most of it," Pant, 24, said.

Pant added that his performance would be bolstered by the experience of leading Delhi.

"It will help me a lot because when you keep on doing the same thing over a period of time you tend to improve," he said. "I am someone who keeps learning from my mistakes, and I think that's what is going to help me in the coming days."

Also of significance is the return of wicketkeeper batsman Dinesh Karthik to the Indian team after three years, with the 37-year-old now having reinvented himself as a finisher and power hitter in white-ball cricket.

Also in the spotlight will be uncapped fast bowlers Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh, who will be hoping for a maiden international outing after a stellar IPL 2022.

South Africa's players attend a practice session at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi. AFP

Right arm quick Malik consistently bowled at well over 150kph throughout the IPL and is easily the quickest bowler in the country, with former India coach Ravi Shastri eager to get him playing international cricket as soon as possible. Singh, on the other hand, was the one of the most economical bowlers in the death overs during the T20 league and among the few quality left-arm bowlers in the country.

However, current coach Rahul Dravid hinted at making the two wait as other, more established, seamers are ahead of the them in the pecking order. That means proven bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel and Avesh Khan could get the nod.

For South Africa, it is a chance to extend their good recent form against the team in blue after they dominated a full-strength India at home in the Test and ODI series, winning both comfortably, earlier in the year.

Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and David Miller bring their tremendous form from the IPL into the series, while fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje will give the visitors the edge in the bowling department.

Updated: June 09, 2022, 4:05 AM