The Indian men’s cricket team’s primary focus for the calendar year now shifts to the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled to take place in Australia in October. With the Indian Premier League now in the rear-view mirror, the first international assignment towards that goal is the upcoming South Africa Tour of India.

The Rahul Dravid-Rohit Sharma combination at the helm was already under the process of developing the squad which could be suitable for the conditions in Australia and best equipped to handle the challenge of a high-pressure ICC event.

Offering rest to the superstar names evidently, and performances from the recently concluded IPL 2022, dictated who would make it to the squad for the upcoming series. But who retains their respective spots for the World Cup could will be decided after this series.

Here is a look at the three players who have plenty to gain from India vs South Africa T20 series, should they get their chances and grab them:

Dinesh Karthik

Dinesh Karthik | AFP

As Dinesh Karthik said, “This has been probably my most special comeback.” And understandably, a lot is riding on this series for the 37-year-old as India look to seal the lower-middle order spots with an able finisher. His performances at Royal Challengers Bangalore that included several heists as a finisher propelled his chances to make it to the squad. Now it is up to him to seal the deal.

Karthik wasn’t exactly in bad form for India the last time he played in the shortest format internationally. But his ODI World Cup run in 2019 somehow ended his time in T20Is too. Here’s a look at his scores in T20Is for India (when he batted) starting from the famous Nidahas Trophy final.

DK's last 8 T20I innings for India

Runs BF 4s 6s SR Pos Opposition Ground Start Date
8* 3 2 0 266.66 6 v Australia Bengaluru 27 Feb 2019
1 3 0 0 33.33 6 v Australia Visakhapatnam 24 Feb 2019
33* 16 0 4 206.25 7 v New Zealand Hamilton 10 Feb 2019
5 6 0 0 83.33 6 v New Zealand Wellington 6 Feb 2019
22* 18 1 1 122.22 6 v Australia Sydney 25 Nov 2018
30 13 4 1 230.76 6 v Australia Brisbane 21 Nov 2018
31* 34 3 1 91.17 6 v West Indies Kolkata 4 Nov 2018
29* 8 2 3 362.50 7 v Bangladesh Colombo (RPS) 18 Mar 2018
via ESPNCricinfo (*- not out) (Only innings where he faced at least one delivery)

In a conversation with RCB after he was named in the Indian T20I squad for the SA series, he added “A lot of people had given up on me and for me to come back and to do what I did and practice the way I did with my coach Abhishek Nayar... And so many special things that have happened in the lead up to the auction and how I practiced post that.”

He has said a couple of times, at least, that he dreams of being a match-winner for India at the World Cup. He has shown signs that he can do a very specific, high-risk role really well under pressure in the IPL this season. If he gets the nod for a few matches in this South Africa series, he can make a strong case to be included on that plane to the World Cup.

“It’s very clear that he has made a comeback based on the skills that he has shown in a particular phase of the game. At that backend, Dinesh has really been able to show great consistency for the last two to three years. He has been able to make a difference in whichever team he has played,” India head coach Rahul Dravid said on Tuesday.

“I don’t see it any different and that’s why he has been picked. He has been picked to bat in that kind of position and see whether he can replicate those kind of performances for India.”

Hardik Pandya

Hardik Pandya | Sportzpics

If you had a fully-fit Hardik Pandya, who is batting like a dream, bowling his quota of four overs and is determined to take on the World Cup challenge, the management would surely pounce on that. After an injury lay-off and some inconsistencies that plagued his form, the pace-all rounder was back with a bang at the IPL 2022, leading the Gujarat Titans to victory in his debut as captain. In the upcoming T20 series, he would want to replicate the same, albeit his batting role could be different in the India set-up.

Hardik Pandya batting stats in IPL

Year Mat Runs HS Avg SR 50 4s 6s
Career 107 1963 91 30.20 147.59 8 146 110
2022 15 487 87* 44.27 131.27 4 49 12

Hardik Pandya bowling stats in IPL

Year Mat Balls Runs WKTS BBM Ave Econ SR
Career 107 1052 1535 50 3/17 30.70 8.75 21.04
2022 15 183 222 8 3/17 27.75 7.28 22.88

On the night after leading his side to the IPL title in front of more than one lakh fans at his home ground, Pandya wasted no time in looking forward to the next mission.

On his goals after Gujarat Titans won the IPL 2022, he said, “Absolutely, to win the World Cup for India no matter what happens. I am gonna give it everything I have. Always been that kind of guy to put the team first... Long term, short term, I want to win the World Cup no matter what happens.”

Speaking on Tuesday before the series, Dravid said, “It is really pleasing to have him back. Hardik at his best is a fantastic cricketer with both bat and ball. He’s been very successful in white-ball cricket and has shown some really good form in this IPL as well.”

Dravid briefly spoke about how players might have to play different roles for the international side and the franchises sometimes.

“His leadership was very impressive in the IPL and he performed well. You don’t have to be designated as a leader to be part of the leadership group.

“At this point of time from our perspective it is a positive that he has started bowling again. It is really about ensuring that we can get the best out of him as a cricketer in terms of contributions.”

Arshdeep Singh

Arshedeep Singh | Sportzpics

Team India have options aplenty for the pace bowling department. While Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Harshal Patel are nearly fixed in the longer term plans, it wouldn’t hurt to have more options heading to a country like Australia.

Even in the second rung, there are plenty of options now such as Avesh Khan, Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh in this squad for the South Africa series.

But among all of them, what sets Arshdeep apart is his left-arm bowling at a miserly economy rate. He is not exactly a big wicket-taker as seen in this year’s IPL but he possesses pretty immaculate death bowling skills that could just be what the team needs to hold the other end from Bumrah.

The 23-year-old Punjab Kings bowler told Hindustan Times, “I have worked hard on my skills and maintained consistency. I believe in constant learning and improving. I don’t think much about too many things at one time. I will aim to do well against South Africa in the T20Is if given a chance and not think about ODI or Test team selection.”

When asked about Umran Mailk and his exciting raw pace, Dravid spoke about what the SRH pacer brings to the table but cautioned that there is no guarantee of playing time immediately. In the end, he mentioned Arshdeep’s name while speaking about the J&K pacer.

Even during the IPL, Arshdeep largely flew under the radar. But given his skillsket, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in action quite often during the SA series and if he takes those opportunities, he offers a wonderful option for the Rohit-Dravid think-tank.