Team India coach Rahul Dravid has gone on record to say that he wants to identify his core team for the tournament as soon as possible and by the end of the England T20Is in July, wants to have a fair idea about the 18 to 20-odd players he would be looking at ahead of the World Cup in Australia.
Some of the regular players were rested for the series against South Africa. Captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah were all rested. Surykumar Yadav was nursing an injury. KL Rahul was initially named the captain of the series before he got injured and Rishabh Pant was asked to lead for the first time.
TimesofIndia.com here looks at players who were given a full run in the series, that is, they played all the five matches against South Africa and how some of them capitalised on the chances, while others failed to make the most of the opportunities – the hits and the misses.
First a look at the players who made it count:
Ishan Kishan: The diminutive opener had a poor IPL as did his team Mumbai Indians, but he didn’t let those setbacks come in his way of his swashbuckling strokes. In fact Kishan roared back to form and ended up being the highest run-getter in the series.
With two fifties, Kishan smashed 206 runs in the series, with a highest score of 76 at a strike rate of 150.36. If he carries on with this form, it will be very difficult for the selectors to ignore or drop him as he would be a ‘good headache’ to have as he is a fine wicket-keeper too.
Hardik Pandya: With Hardik Pandya in the ranks, this Indian team has a different look to it. A finisher down the order, a big-hitter who can throw his bat around when quick runs are needed, a medium-pacer who can bowl at a decent pace, Hardik the all-rounder has marched right back into Team India and is looking good. He was the second highest run getter for India in the T20I series vs South Africa, with 117 runs in 4 innings.
And having just led newcomers Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in their maiden season, Hardik proved his captaincy credentials to one and all and is set to captain Team India in the two T20Is against Ireland on the 26th and 28th of this month.
Hardik finished as the third highest run-getter overall in the T20I series vs South Africa at a strike rate of 153.94. Hardik took India to a decent total more than once with his quickfire knocks. A proven performer, Hardik can be one of India’s biggest match-winners Down Under.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: With 7 wickets in the series, Harshal Patel finished as the top wicket-taker, but it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who was adjudged the player of the series for his impressive bowling performance against South Africa.
Bhuvneshwar took one wicket less than Harshal, but with an economy of 6.07 and a best bowling performance of 4/13, the veteran pacer was instrumental in containing the Proteas’ batsmen and prevented them from going slam bang when needed.
With Jasprit Bumrah going full throttle at the other end, Bhuvneshwar could provide the calming influence in the Indian bowling unit Down Under, sending down good length deliveries and will be more than handful in containing runs that will eventually lead to crucial wickets. Bhuvi seems to have reinvented himself and this is the version that the team management would like to see going ahead.
Now a look at the players who couldn’t make it count:
Ruturaj Gaikwad:Ruturaj Gaikwad scored 4 more runs than Dinesh Karthik (92) in the series, but when you are playing in the team in place of a proven performer, a batting great, at a spot where the team already has a handful of options, you have to pile up big scores to make your mark.
Barring one knock of 57 runs, Gaikwad failed to give the team fiery and flying starts that are much-needed in a T20 game.
The CSK opener displayed enough talent in the series but it is the number of big knocks that one scores that keeps a player in the playing XI and with the return of the regulars like Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, it will be tough for Gaikwad to hold on to his place.
He has impressed one and all in the IPL, but going ahead will have to make the most of the India chances he gets if he wants to be counted amongst the regulars.
Rishabh Pant: Form being criticised for his keeping to winning a historic Test series in Australia, Rishabh Pant’s career seemed to have come full circle when he was named the captain of the side when KL Rahul got injured.
Pant lost all the five tosses in the T20I series vs SA. While that of course was not in his hand, what was though was keeping a cool head and staying at the crease when his team needed him the most. But Pant was guilty of throwing his bat at wide deliveries and getting out to reckless and careless shots more than once in the series.
As a result, Pant could manage only 58 runs in the series with a highest score of 29 at a strike rate of 105.45.
But Pant is the country’s first-choice keeper-batsman and coach Rahul Dravid has also made it clear that he is an integral part of Team India’s plans going ahead.
The fact that India managed to come back from being 0-2 down to level the series at 2-2 will of course be a positive for Pant the captain.
Shreyas Iyer: That Shreys Iyer has oodles of talent is no secret, but he wasn’t really able to make the most of the opportunities this time. At a time when there is cutthroat competition for a berth in the Indian playing XI and a plethora of extremely talented players vying for a limited number of slots, Iyer will know that he needs to perform on a consistent basis.
Iyer scored 94 runs in the series, without a fifty at a strike rate of 123.68.
But Iyer has been a proven performer and though he is not part of the squad for the Ireland T20Is, he should be back in the squad for the T20I series against England. It will then be up to him to prove his worth to the team for a T20 World Cup berth.