India have just six T20Is left to identify their best XI before next year's World Cup in the West Indies and USA, but Suryakumar Yadav, who is their captain for the three-match series in South Africa, isn't too perturbed by the limited game time. Suryakumar added that IPL 2024, which will precede the T20 World Cup, will help India's team management nail down their combination.
"I feel there are limited T20s going forward, before the T20 World Cup, but then we play 14 league games in the IPL as well," Suryakumar said on the eve of the series opener against South Africa in Durban. "And players who have been playing in these T20 internationals... they've played a lot of games, and they have a lot of experience under their belt. So, we don't think there will be an issue or any problem in selecting the squad because everyone knows their roles really well and responsibilities really well - [like] how to play in different situations."
Like India, South Africa have only six T20Is lined up before the 2024 World Cup. In addition to having the advantage of playing three T20Is in the Caribbean in the lead-up to the marquee tournament, South Africa could pick players from the SA20, which will run from January 10 to February 10.
"It's a strange one," their captain Aiden Markram said. "Not ideal that we have only six games [before the T20 World Cup] but we're fortunate that there's still a lot of T20 cricket, in terms of SA20 and the domestic T20 competition just after that. Hopefully, everyone can be fit and ready to go for us when it comes down to selecting the World Cup squad, which we will keep all our fingers crossed for. But guys will be playing T20 cricket and ultimately we will be able to get a good gauge of what our best squad is that we can send out for the World Cup."
For India, the spotlight is on their new finishers Rinku Singh and Jitesh Sharma. Both batters have lit up the IPL with their middle-order firepower and showed glimpses of that firepower in the recent T20Is at home against Australia. This tour presents an opportunity to strengthen their cases for selection for the T20 World Cup.
"See, the number Rinku and Jitesh have been batting at, at the IPL and for their state teams, is the same number they are being given an opportunity here," Suryakumar said, "And they are being told to do the same thing they do for their states and their franchises; [it's] nothing different. That's what they have done too; whenever we were in trouble in the T20 series [against Australia], they showed a lot of character, which was the demanded of the team. All I told them was that whatever you think, just think of the team first and then about your personal milestones. That will make the situation better."
Another area of potential concern for India is the absence of a reliable sixth-bowling option with Hardik Pandya out injured. India didn't use the part-time spin of Yashasvi Jaiswal or Tilak Varma in the T20I series at home against Australia, but Suryakumar was pleased with the options at his disposal. Tilak bowled in five of the seven matches he had played for Hyderabad in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20 tournament.
"We do have a sixth-bowling option," Suryakumar said. "There are lots of people to bowl. When the time is right, you will see. Not just six, there could be seven or eight too."
None of the men in India's current squad have played a T20I in South Africa, but Suryakumar backed them to adapt to the conditions. At Kingsmead, the venue for the first T20I, the square boundaries are fairly short, and the pitches are more conductive to seam bowlers than spinners.
"I think the key to success playing on such wickets will be to be yourself," Suryakumar said. "The boys are really prepared - we've just come out of a nice T20 series, and we played on all fast tracks in India and we're really equipped for it. Regarding the strokes, the batters have batted on these kinds of wickets and I'm sure they will enjoy playing here in South Africa."