India captain Virat Kohli wants his side to be ruthless as they take on a new-look South Africa, as the two sides squared up for the first of three T20Is in the series, starting in Dharamsala on Sunday.

Fresh from a dominating show against the West Indies in the Caribbean, India are playing their first home series after the World Cup in England earlier this year.

“We want to win every game, whether it’s home or away, any format – we just want to go out there, play our best cricket and win,” Kohli said at the pre-match news conference.

The South African side is looking to regroup after a disastrous World Cup where they were knocked out in the league stage.

Focus on T20 World Cup

The focus for both sides will be, of course, preparing for the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia. And with that in mind, Kohli also had to take a barrage of questions on the future of Mahendra Singh Dhoni who has been left out of the T20 squad. The former captain has not played since the World Cup 2019 semi-final exit and there is a lack of clarity over his future with India.

Young Rishabh Pant continues to be backed as the selectors look to groom him as the team’s first-choice wicketkeeper.

Asked if Dhoni, 38, would be considered for next year’s World T20 in Australia, Kohli did not give a direct reply.

“As long as he is available and continues to play, he is going to be very valuable,” he said.

There will be close to 20 matches for captain Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri to build the perfect combination going into the marquee T20 event next year. There are many questions that the team management will have to answer in the next 13 months during which Indian Premier League will also be held.

Despite the success of the world’s most popular T20 tournament, India have not quite adapted to the shortest format in the international arena. After winning the inaugural edition in 2007, India are yet to win the tournament in the IPL era. That has largely been due to the team treating T20Is as a platform to test ODI players, except for the lead-up to World T20 2016.

As long as he is available, he is going to be very valuable: Virat Kohli on MS Dhoni’s India future

Save Kohli, his deputy Rohit Sharma, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and premier pacer Jasprit Bumrah (rested for this series), at least seven slots in playing XI and four more in the 15-member squad are up for grabs, with some bold steps on cards.

The focus, as it always seems to be with this Indian team, is on the middle order. KL Rahul has been in stellar form as an opener in IPL but has struggled in India’s colours across formats and it seems, for now, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will remain first choice followed by Kohli at No 3.

Further down the order is where concerns lie. Rishabh Pant’s indiscretions couldn’t possibly make life easier for Kohli and Shastri. In the West Indies series, he threw his wickets in the first two matches before hitting a classy half century in the third game, summing up the pros and cons of his style. But, for now, there is no doubt that he is a talent worth backing at No 4.

Manish Pandey has been in and around for years now and despite the kind of quality he possesses, the Karnataka batsman has not inspired highest confidence in the chances he got. So will it be Pandey or Delhi Capitals captain Shreyas Iyer, who was in fine form during the Windies one-dayers, remains to be seen.

Batting depth

One of the most interesting revelations from the Kohli presser was that the idea to look past his wrist-spin weapons for the want of a deeper batting line-up. It is pretty much certain now that Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have not been rested, but rather India have decided to look at options who are also useful contributors lower down the order.

Rajasthan leg-spinner Rahul Chahar is a young talent and is being billed as one for the future. But the focus will be on the in-form Krunal Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja with Kohli not shying away from playing both in the line-up. Not to forget, India have a backup finger spinner in young Washington Sundar, who in his U-19 days was a hard-hitting top-order batsman.

South Africa will like to put pressure on India’s inexperienced pace trio of Navdeep Saini, Khaleel Ahmed, and Deepak Chahar during the three-match T20 International series, visiting side’s assistant batting coach Lance Klusener said.

The trio has together played 16 T20 Internationals between them and the former South African all-rounder sensed it as an opportunity for the Proteas as their new-look team tries to settle into a groove.

“Looking at the Indian team, that [inexperienced bowling attack] is an area we are going to take advantage of just as I suppose, you look at opposing teams and at areas, which you can take advantage of,” Klusener said.

Deepak Chahar will be a certain pick, given his impact in the first spell and usefulness with the bat. With Hardik Pandya also returning, the batting depth that Kohli wants seems to be shaping up quite well on paper.

Inexperienced South Africa camp

South African batsman David Miller said the revamped team under Quinton de Kock had quite a few new faces but they were up for the Indian challenge. According to ESPNCricinfo, in fact, the entire South Africa squad has played fewer T20Is than Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan combined.

“We’ve got a lot of energy amongst the squad,” said Miller. “There are actually a lot of guys who have played a lot of cricket, in the A side and domestically. So, all of us are really, really experienced in each department and it’s just a great stepping stone.”

South Africa are ranked third in T20s, one rung ahead of India. But, after a disastrous World Cup campaign, the Proteas have rung in the changes for the shortest format too.

Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and David Miller will be the key players for Proteas, given their extensive IPL experience and familiarity with Indian conditions. A good spell from Rabada or a cameo from David Miller could pose a challenge for the Indians, while some of the others like Test specialist Temba Bavuma or Anrich Nortje will like to prove their credentials in absence of Faf du Plessis or Hashim Amla.

All said and done, this series promises to be a good challenge for the men in blue in their preparations for next year’s World Cup. In the next 13 months, Kohli will seek all the answers as India try to figure out the T20I puzzle.


India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini.

South Africa: Quinton de Kock (captain), Rassie van der Dussen (vc), Temba Bauvma, Junior Dala, Bjorn Fortuin, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukyao, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, George Linde.

Match Starts 7 pm IST

With PTI inputs