World T20 auditions start: Accidental captain Pant takes centre-stage

New Delhi, 8 Jun: A new-look Indian top-order will like to show more intent even as Rishabh Pant gets ready to add a new leaf to his already happening career, this time as national team captain in the five-match T20 International series against South Africa, starting here on Thursday.
KL Rahul, who was supposed to lead the side in the absence of Rohit Sharma, suffered a groin injury which has now ruled him out of the entire series.
For Pant, leading the team to a victory in the opening game would make him and his team part of a world record of 13 successive T20I victories.
Rahul’s sudden absence will pave the way for Ruturaj Gaikwad to replicate his Chennai Super Kings form in the national jersey.
But more importantly, with Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan and Shreyas Iyer, India will have a new look top three which will also give coach Rahul Dravid a chance to check some permutation and combinations ahead of the T20 World Cup.
For Pant, who has been termed as one of the potential future India captains, this is a God-sent opportunity to prove his leadership credentials in the shortest format.
As a captain, it will help me a lot (having led the Delhi Capitals.) When you keep doing the same things over a period of time you tend to improve and keep learning from it and I think that will help me, Pant said ahead of his first international assignment as skipper.
However, for head coach Dravid, the primary aim over the next 10 days will be identifying some of the core group players for specific slots.
And, he couldn’t have hoped for a better opposition than a gritty South African side which has seen its stock rise recently.
Rahul’s absence gives Kishan a chance to showcase his consistency at the top which was missing during his recently concluded IPL campaign for Mumbai Indians.
India currently face problems aplenty and that is about having too many players for each batting slot but the team management is yet to put a finger on the perfect combination.
Shreyas Iyer, who was terrific at No. 3 against Sri Lanka in February, could hold on to the spot, in the absence of the injured Suryakumar Yadav. Deepak Hooda, who has been in fine form, could also be given a chance since his impressive batting in the same position for Lucknow Super Giants.
Pant is expected to come in at No.4 with his new deputy Hardik Pandya at No. 5 and it will be a toss up between young Hooda and comeback man Dinesh Karthik for the No. 6 spot.
While Pant will be keen to rediscover his touch, it is to be seen if Karthik, who dazzled in the role of a finisher for RCB, can replicate his IPL form with the national side and stay in contention for a World Cup spot if given a chance.
Pandya is likely to resume his duties as the finisher despite a splendid run while batting at No. 3 and 4 in the IPL. But the best part is, he is expected to bowl at least two over per game.
“Without giving too much away sometimes, the role that you play for your franchise matches with the role that you play for India, but sometimes you have to play slightly different roles for different teams,” Dravid said in the lead up to the series opener.
The seasoned Bhuvneshwar Kumar will spearhead the pace attack alongside death overs specialist Harshal Patel and both would hope to prove their prowess given that only Jasprit Bumrah is a sure-shot pick for the World Cup among the fast bowlers.
Avesh Khan is likely to fill in the third pacer’s spot but if he falters, Arshdeep Singh, who impressed in the IPL with his ability to bowl yorkers, could be handed a debut over fellow rookie Umran Malik.
However, Dravid has made it clear that it will be difficult to provide game time to all the available payers.
Left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav was also ruled out of the series due to an injury on his right hand, which he suffered during training on Tuesday.
Kuldeep’s injury means India will have to wait longer to see him and Yuzvendra Chahal bowl in tandem. But Axar Patel will be the spin-bowling all-rounder in the setup.
With the injured Ravindra Jadeja expected to be a sure-shot selection for the T20 World Cup and Chahal, who has reinvented himself, unlikely to miss out, Ravi Bishnoi will have to make a strong case for themselves.
South Africa have not lost a white-ball series in India since 2010. The Proteas have come with their best possible side.
For the visitors, a rejuvenated David Miller with his pyrotechnics will hold the key along with the flamboyant Quinton de Kock and Aiden Makram.
In the bowling department, the onus will be on spin twins Tabrez Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj and the pace duo of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje.
The South African T20 side will be playing together for the first time since the World Cup last year and skipper Temba Bavuma said the Proteas will also be looking to identify players for specific roles for the Australia edition. (PTI)