March 25, 2023

You know those great rocket launch scenes where amid several shots of the vehicle all looking epic and the crew looking rock solid, there’s a disembodied voice going “T-minus…”. Just imagine…except instead of the wonders of space exploration, we’re talking about a bunch of people doing all sorts of things to get their hands on a cup that doesn’t even look like a cup…that they’re just a can hold for years. Two tops.

It’s time for the T20 World Cup countdown, baby!

India and South Africa are T-minus three games ahead of the big party down under. So a lot of the focus will be on things like, is our death bowling okay? Oh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar not? But didn’t he – it sounds ridiculous to even say it out loud, but didn’t he – bowl? wicket maiden left in the 19th to prevent the Mumbai Indians from winning a game in which they needed only 19 runs? Maybe a little rest will help. India will be looking to Arshdeep Singh and Jasprit Bumrah in the coming week to sort things out at the back.

And what about hitting? That’s fine, of course. Anyone can swing a piece of wood, right? Plus there’s the AB de Villiersisation of it all. Twenty-two-year-old kids think they can now walk into the park and hit every ball for six. Thirty-two-year-old veterans, meanwhile raised streets maidans of Mumbai, no longer care about showing that straight bat. They are scoopin, rampin and ballin.

That said, three games, so late, won’t provide much clarity on what to do and what not to do. The good only reinforces what they already know and the bad, well, that gets tossed in the trash because there’s no time for that. So in a way this series could be a bit of a free hit for both India and South Africa. One last chance to go out and have utter, almost no follow-up fun. And it starts in T-minus…

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Shape guide

India WWLWL (last five games completed, most recent first)
South Africa WWWWL

Of all the gin joints in the whole world, David Miller had to walk into one called Gujarat Titans. People had given up on him. That century he made against Royal Challengers Bangalore. That night when the words “in the arc, out of the park” were embossed in the cricket dictionary had already become a punchline for beating him every time he failed, especially at the IPL; he has always gone well for South Africa. But now, after I one of the biggest influencers of a title-winning campaign, Miller is a boss wherever he goes. In fact, it has gotten to the point where the franchise that let him go – Rajasthan Royals – has come after him and made him captain of not one but two of their other teams around the world.

Failure is the most likely outcome for a death bowler. It’s like playing Russian roulette with five bullets. And yet somehow Arshdeep Singh continues to beat the odds. So what’s his secret? How did he – at the age of 23 – become one of the best at one of the worst jobs in cricket. “Lots of reps of length ball and yorker. After doing it so many times in practice, you begin to understand where your ball will land if you run at this particular speed and angle..” There’s a chance that, if India the final of the T20 World Cup, and tries to defend a total, he will lead the way to knock over the final.

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With Hardik equipped and Deepak Hooda injured, India will have a job balancing their XI. Shahbaz Ahmed is the all-rounder they have called up, but he only spins bowls and that area is covered with Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal. So maybe the team management will bring back Rishabh Pant and roll the dice with five bowlers. It limits flexibility, but hey, the frontrunners will at least gain even more experience with the pressure situations they will be placed under in the World Cup.

India (probably): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Rishabh Pant, 6 Axar Patel, 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Arshdeep Singh, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

What does the return of Temba Bavuma from injury mean for Reeza Hendricks, who has hit four half-centuries in his last five innings as opener? Will he drop back to number 3, which sounds easy enough, except it means no place for Rilee Rossouw and that doesn’t make sense given his exploits in franchise cricket.

South Africa (probably): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Temba Bavuma (capt), 3 Rilee Rossouw, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 David Miller, 6 Tristan Stubbs, 7 Andile Phelukwayo/Dwaine Pretorius, 8 Marco Jansen, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Anrich Nortje, 11 Tabraiz Shamsic

The Greenfield stadium in Thiruvananthapuram has hosted just two T20Is so far – and one of them had been hit by the rain and reduced to eight overs. So it’s still a bit of an unknown. According to the weather forecast, there is a chance of showers on Wednesday night.

I remember we played here, the A side. To be honest I don’t remember much about the wicket – generally a good wicket, as it always is here in India. I think this field is a bit bigger than the other fields so probably a lot more running, a lot more holes available, but I think all the basics stay the same when you hit in India. You want to get through the new ball and then try to get that momentum into the innings.
Captain South Africa Temba Bavuma about what to expect from the conditions in Thiruvananthapuram

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