While Bhuvneshwar Kumar is skipper MS Dhoni's go-to man, his challenge will be to find a couple of partners, writes Aakash Chopra
In spite of hosting one of the best T20 leagues (Indian Premier League) in the world India always shied away from playing too many T20 international matches outside ICC events. But that's going to change in the next six months. India is lined up to play a lot of T20 cricket leading up to the World T20 it hosts in 2016, a move that deserves to be lauded, for T20 is no longer a format that's too unpredictable.
Video: Dhoni says India ready to take on South Africa ahead of T20 opener
India pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Pic/AFP
In 2007, when India won the inaugural World T20, nobody knew what to expect and how to crack the format but that's not the case nearly a decade later. Now, there's a specific method to the madness, and that demands intense preparation. So, if India wants to repeat the heroics of 2007, it must play a lot of T20 to cement the strengths and iron out the flaws.
Long home season
India is starting their long home season with three T20s against South Africa followed by five ODI. There's no format that respects impact players like T20 and both teams are glittering with proven match-winners, and hence it is only fair to expect some high quality cricket and close contests.
Dressing room rift? Dhoni takes apparent dig at 'aggressive' Kohli and Ishant
India's strength, as always, will be its explosive batting line-up. Dhawan-Rohit at the top followed by Kohli, Dhoni, Raina and Rayudu at 3,4,5 and 6. T20 batting orders simply can't get better
All of these batsmen can bat the entire quota of 20 overs if needed and also have the explosive ability to take the game away from the opposition in a matter of few overs. It's unnatural not to feel for Rahane's absence in the playing XI but Rayudu is likely to win the toss-up between the two, for he's better suited to bat at No 6.
The Achilles Heel for Team India will be its bowling department, for this aspect of Indian cricket gets hidden in the IPL. The crucial power play overs in the beginning and five overs at the backend in an IPL game are mostly bowled by the overseas recruits but there's no hiding place at the international level.
While Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be Dhoni's go-to bowler in these stages of the game, his challenge will be to find a couple of bowlers to partner him. Every over in a T20 game is 5% of the innings and 25% of a bowler's quota and hence just six balls yield the power to change the fortunes of the game.
I suspect India's fate in at least two out of the three T20s will be in the hands of Aravind, Mohit and Binny. If they failed to hold their own, Dhoni will be bereft of ideas and options. Batting will win a game or two but to win a series of three T20s, the bowling must stand up.
SA light in bowling dept
On the other hand, South Africa, for once is a little light in the bowling department. Their standout bowler will be Imran Tahir who concedes fours/sixes only in 6.4% of his deliveries and that's remarkable in this format. It'll be interesting to see how Indian batsmen fare against him. Otherwise, it could well turn out to be a contest between two batting-heavy units.
India's win percentage against South Africa in T20s. Dhoni & Co have won six and lost two
Number of Twenty20 internationals India have played against South Africa at home