An upbeat India will look to continue their dominance over the South African team in the first Twenty20 International (T20I) match at Johannesburg on Sunday. Having scripted history by winning their first-ever One-Day International (ODI) series in South Africa, Virat Kohli and his team would aim to carry the momentum and intensity forward into the shortest format. Focus, though, will be on Suresh Raina as he makes a comeback into the national team after a year away. When it comes to T20s, India have enjoyed playing in South Africa, having won their first ever match back in 2006 followed by the historic World T20 triumph under former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni a year later.
Since the 2017 Champions Trophy, India have played 10 T20Is, winning seven of those matches. As such, they have a stable formula to rely on in the shortest format as well.
Raina, KL Rahul and Jaydev Unadkat are the new additions to the Indian contingent for the T20I series. The trio had a two-hour net session at Centurion before the start of the sixth ODI. There is also an optional practice session scheduled on Saturday at the Wanderers.
In their last T20 engagement at home against Sri Lanka, Kohli and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were the two key players who were rested. In their absence, the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Mohammed Siraj and Washington Sundar were able to get an outing on the international stage. Among the trio, only Iyer has made it to the current squad and it remains to be seen if he is included in the playing XI.
Iyer, who scored 18 and 30 at Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth respectively in the ODIs, might lose his spot to the returning Raina, who is a particularly handy all-rounder in this format.
Raina's return is the most intriguing aspect of the T20 series from an Indian point of view. He hasn't played ODI cricket since 2015, and last featured in a T20I series twelve months ago against England. He scored 104 runs in three matches, including a half-century, but didn't bowl enough overs.
It did fuel aspirations of a possible return to the ODI set-up with the Champions Trophy in sight, but the selectors ignored him despite scoring 442 runs in the 2017 IPL for Gujarat Lions.
His continued absence from the T20I set-up during the 2017-18 home season raised eyebrows but it was revealed that he had missed the now obligatory 'Yo-Yo' fitness test and hence missed out on selection.
He cleared that test in December and finished sixth on the runs chart (314 runs in 9 matches inclusive of one hundred and two half-centuries) for Uttar Pradesh during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Unadkat is the other player who will be under the radar. Since New Zealand's trip in October, India have featured a left-arm pacer in their T20I eleven in four out of six matches. After Ashish Nehra retired, Unadkat was called up when Bhuvneshwar was rested against Sri Lanka.
With the tag of being the highest paid Indian player (at Rs 11.5 crore) at this year's IPL auction and 24 wickets in the last edition of the cash-rich league, Unadkat could be India's trump card in this format.
He has enjoyed a resurrection of sorts since then, and it will be interesting to see what is India's first-choice pace attack with all three Unadkat, Bhuvneshwar and Jasprit Bumrah available for selection. Shardul Thakur, who picked a career-best 4/52 in the sixth ODI, cannot be ignored either.
Hardik Pandya and the two wrist-spinners are a virtual certainty in the playing XI.
Regarding the batting line-up, the only question mark is over Rahul's inclusion. Rohit Sharma cannot be left out, and Shikhar Dhawan has enjoyed a good run in the ODI series.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: JP Duminy (captain), Farhaan Behardien, Junior Dala, AB de Villiers, Reeza Hendricks, Christiaan Jonker, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Chris Morris, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, Jon-Jon Smuts.
(With PTI Inputs)