South Africa are back in India for the third leg of their tour, having sprung a surprise in the T20Is and folded meekly in the Tests last year. The ODI leg is taking place amid coronavirus (COVID-19) fears, but they have put precautions in place. Their recent form, though, is pretty encouraging: South Africa are coming off a 3-0 whitewash against Australia at home. But facing a near full-strength India team in India is a different challenge, even though Virat Kohli's men have been swept 3-0 in the ODIs and 2-0 in the following Test series in New Zealand earlier this year. South Africa's three-match ODI series begins in Dharamsala, and then moves to Lucknow and Kolkata. ESPNcricinfo picks out the major talking points ahead of the series.
Focus on India's comeback men
Hello again, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Shikhar Dhawan. The last time the trio played an ODI together was against Australia in the World Cup in the UK last year. Pandya, India's premier allrounder, has since undergone surgery for a long-standing back problem, and Kumar too underwent an operation for hernia. As for Dhawan, his World Cup ended after that Australia game, and subsequently, he has had some freak injuries, the latest being a shoulder complaint. But all three players have tuned up for this series by playing in the 20-over DY Patil tournament, an invitational event, in Mumbai.
The big question is, can the trio cope with the heavy demands of international cricket immediately on return? Jasprit Bumrah, who had come back from injury against Sri Lanka in January, is still feeling his way back into international cricket. With the IPL to quickly follow this three-match series, Pandya, Kumar and Dhawan will look to prove their fitness and form as the T20 World Cup in Australia nears.
Shaw v Gill
Prithvi Shaw got decent starts in all three ODIs in New Zealand, but could not make them count. His recent history of fitness isn't great, and he was run-out for 40 in the third ODI in Mount Maunganui last month, when a relatively easy double was on the cards. Despite all of that, Shaw will be the frontrunner to partner Dhawan at the top, and might find life easier on the flatter one-day tracks at home against a South Africa attack that is missing both Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi.
Meanwhile, Shubman Gill has been out of the ODI side for over a year, having made his debut in New Zealand in 2019. Gill has the game and gears to slot into the middle order too - as he has done for India A and Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL before - but there isn't enough space there, especially considering the return of Pandya and the form of both Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey. Therefore, Gill might have to wait for his turn at the top.
Bavuma v Malan
Much like the India's team management, South Africa's too will have to make a choice at the top. Temba Bavuma had missed the entirety of the T20I series at home against Australia and was later rested for the last ODIs as he continued his rehab after sustaining a hamstring strain. He has reinvented his white-ball game over the summer, and made some particularly strong contributions opening the batting in the T20Is against England. He had also been in good nick in the Mzansi Super League, hitting 232 runs in six innings at a strike rate of a just a shade under 135 for Jozi Stars.
When Bavuma was on an injury-enforced break from the South Africa side, Janneman Malan made his ODI debut against Australia, and bagged a first-ball duck. However, in his second outing, he bounced back in spectacular fashion, making an unbeaten 129 in a velvet-smooth chase for South Africa. Malan had a more productive MSL than Bavuma, and was in fact the second-highest scorer in the league, with 358 runs in nine innings at a strike rate of nearly 150.
Is Klaasen now the real deal?
Heinrich Klaasen had missed the cut for the World Cup last year, and his ODI record before the recent series against Australia read: 14 matches, 251 runs, a solitary fifty-plus score, at an average of 22.81. Then came the series against Australia, and three fifty-plus scores, including a maiden century, saw his average and international stock skyrocket. Klaasen also has the reputation of being an excellent player against spin; just ask Yuzvendra Chahal. South Africa's middle order is packed with options - former captain Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen are back for this tour - but Klaasen has made himself undroppable.
South Africa's inexperienced attack
No Rabada, who is recovering from injury. No Shamsi, who also has IPL experience and is on paternal leave. Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm fingerspinner and a Test regular, has now been thrown into the ODI mix after a chart-topping 16 wickets in the Momentum one-day Cup. Maharaj performed the holding role quite well and even took the new ball against Australia, but might be expected to attack more in India. However, he has played a mere seven ODIs and George Linde, the other specialist spinner, is still uncapped in limited-overs cricket.
On the pace front, however, South Africa can count on Lungi Ngidi, who is fresh off a career-best 6 for 58, and his good friend Andile Phehlukwayo, who also has some deceptive variations in his repertoire. It remains to be seen if Anrich Nortje, who can consistently hit speeds north of 140kph and generate steep bounce, can create the kind of impact that Kyle Jamieson did in New Zealand. Lutho Sipamla, the Warriors quick, is another promising prospect, but the overall inexperience in South Africa's attack is quite glaring.