From the tranquility of Thiruvananthapuram, the Team India atmosphere, suddenly, wears a chaotic look — much like the traffic of Guwahati, thrown out of gear in the midst of Durga Puja rush and construction of flyovers.
Bumrah was expected to play a key role in Indian team’s campaign in the Australian conditions but his “back stress fracture” has ruled him out of the ICC flagship event, starting in three weeks’ time.
The ongoing series was originally planned as the final tune-up for Rahul Dravid’s team but Bumrah’s absence from the remaining two T20Is has now thrown more questions than answers.
Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Siraj have been added to the squad as injury replacements but they do not figure in the World Cup-bound squad, as of now.
The burning question is, will the two remaining T20Is give the team management scope to test Bumrah’s replacement.
The seasoned Mohammad Shami, who is in the World Cup squad as stand-by, is not here for the South Africa series.
Shami has recovered from COVID-19 and has more chances of making it to Australia because of his experience Down Under.
If that’s the case, he might end up having little game time before their World Cup warm-up fixture against the reigning champions on October 16.
For the SA series, the team has a fit-again Deepak Chahar who also figures in the World Cup standby.
Chahar (4-0-24-2) looked in fine mettle when he along with young left-arm pace gun Arshdeep Singh (4-0-32-3) reduced the Proteas to 9/5 inside the power on the Greenfield track as India took a 1-0 lead.
But swing will be out of equation in conditions Down Under and Chahar is more in the mould of Bhuvenshwar Kumar, who is in the World Cup XI along with Arshdeep.
Siraj, on the other hand, has struggled of late and has inspired very little confidence.
It’s a different debate altogether that Bhuvneshwar, who is short on experience — three T20Is — in Australia has started leaking runs and no longer holds the ace, as it was seen in their Asia Cup elimination last month.
Ditto for World Cup-bound Harshal Patel as it remains to be seen how the think-tank manages to arrange the jigsaw.
In the past, they have overcome bigger hurdles, like when in 2020-21 they won a back-to-back series in Australia with their fifth or sixth choice bowlers.
The Axar effect
Thankfully, it’s not the case in the spin department.
Axar Patel has been a revelation after Ravindra Jadeja’s knee surgery finally cemented his spot. From struggling to find a spot, Patel, a like-for-like replacement for the ace Indian all-rounder, has ticked all the boxes.
He was the top wickettaker — eight wickets at an average of 7.87 — in India’s 2-1 win over the world T20I champions in their last series here.
And against South Africa too he was at his miserly best — 1/16 — bowling in the middle-overs along with Ravichandran Ashwin as it’s a department that looks sorted.
For someone who has a career strike-rate of 136-plus from 30 T20Is, it’s his batting that has inspired confidence in skipper Rohit Sharma: “I would like to see him batting as well.”
But India will head to Australia with their star-studded batting providing the big confidence. The top four, including their star batter Virat Kohli, look in their zone.
That KL Rahul also returned among runs with a slow but steady fifty in the first T20I was a big confidence-booster.
It’s just that their middle-order with the likes of Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik seemingly looks short on game time.
Pant, who is likely to be the X-factor in Australia, has not got any batting opportunities at all since returning from the Asia Cup where he had a mixed campaign.
Karthik, the designated Indian finisher, on the other hand has faced nine balls in last seven games as pushing them higher would not be a bad ploy.
Elusive series win in sight
From the series’ perspective, India will be chasing their first ever victory over the Proteas in the format at home soil and a win will seal it. It’s a different thing that it would hold little significance in the bigger picture.
That they have struggled in the world tournaments is not a secret and the 2007 champions, who last made the semifinal in 2016, would hope to avoid a repeat of 2021 UAE edition when they failed to make the knockouts.
Boasting the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, the South African bowling lacked the sting after the duo dismissed Rohit and Kohli cheaply.
Bavuma would hope that they put up a much-improved show and also the toss of the coin comes in his favour so as to test the Indian batting up front.
India: Rohit Sharma (Captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Arshdeep Singh, Harshal Patel, Deepak Chahar, Umesh Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Shahbaz Ahmed and Mohammad Siraj.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (Captain), Quinton de Kock (wk), Bjorn Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs.
Match starts 7pm IST.