India gears up to take on South Africa in the first of the three T20 internationals at the HPCA stadium in Dharamsala on 2 October. Though the two teams are evenly matched, MS Dhoni-led India undoubtedly boasts an added advantage while playing in home conditions.
Both India and South Africa have a strong batting line-up comprising some of the most destructive strikers in modern-day cricket. The visitors will be counting on AB de Villiers and Francois 'Faf' du Plessis for quick runs, while India will look upon the likes of Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan to match the challenge.
The hosts enjoy an overwhelming 6-2 advantage over the visitors in the eight T20 internationals they have played so far. However, there are a few problem areas for the MS Dhoni side that can truly hurt their campaign in the series.
Here's a look at five reasons India might end up on the losing side in the 1st T20 against South Africa today:
The Achilles Heel for Team India will undoubtedly be their bowling against South Africa's strong batting line-up. Even in the IPL, the teams have preferred their foreign recruits over Indian bowlers to bowl the power play overs. However, there's no hiding for the Indian bowlers in international cricket.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar will surely be Dhoni's go-to bowler in the power play overs, but his challenge will be to find a couple of bowlers to partner him. India's fate in the T20 clash will be in the hands of Mohit Sharma, Stuart Binny and T20I debutant Sreenath Aravind. However, if they failed to hold their own, Dhoni will be bereft of ideas and options.
The return of India's trusted captain MS Dhoni is undoubtedly a big bonus for the home side. But, India's ODI captain definitely has not had the best time recently. Other than leading his side to a semi-final finish in the World Cup earlier this year, Dhoni has struggled in his role as skipper to get his team over the line.
'Captain Cool' had to face a lot of criticism after India lost the ODI series 1-2 against a spirited Bangladesh in June. Dhoni, who is returning to the team after three months, has not featured in any international tie for India. Though an experienced campaigner like him might not be affected by his long international hiatus, his approach towards the game in crucial moments could very well struggle.
Virat Kohli might have led India to a historic 2-1 Test series win over Sri Lanka recently, but the young captain has been missing out on runs in the shorter versions of the game. Ever since scoring 107 against Pakistan in the World Cup, the right-handed batsman has failed to go past 46 runs in his last 10 ODI innings.
Kohli's poor form was a the key reason India succumbed to a humiliating 1-2 ODI series loss against Bangladesh earlier this year. In the three ODIs against the Tigers, Kohli could only muster a mere 49 runs with the highest score of 25 in his three innings. In his last T20 international, Kohli did score a crucial 66 against England in a losing cause which dates back to September 2014.
The Proteas might have lost the ODI series and came out bereft of victory in the Tests against Bangladesh recently, but the Faf du Plessis led side has been on a roll in the shortest version of the game. The new CAB president Sourav Ganguly had also warned the MS Dhoni-led side to be wary of South Africa's superb away form.
The Proteas have not lost an away series since 2006. In the last five T20 internationals, the South Africans have won four games on the trot, beating New Zealand, Bangladesh and West Indies, on foreign soil apart from one loss against the Kiwis in Centurion. Overall, South Africa has won 26 out of the 44 T20 internationals they played overseas with a win percentage of 59.09.
If you thought South Africa were the visitors playing in alien conditions against India, then think again. The Proteas might have the challenge of surviving the 72-day rigorous tour, their longest in India, but they are definitely not the visitors and clearly not alienated to Indian conditions - courtesy IPL. India's T20 mega event has not just provided the much-needed exposure to the overseas players, but it has also allowed the foreign stars to understand the tactics while playing under their Indian captains.
Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, JP Duminy, Quinton de Kock, David Miller and Imran Tahir have been part of the IPL for quite some time now. The experience they gained with their respective IPL franchise will surely help them in getting used to Indian conditions quickly. The fact that Du Plessis has played under the captaincy of MS Dhoni for Chennai Super Kings, will help the South African captain to outfox the opposition as well.