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ABANDONED
1st T20I (D/N), Durban, December 10, 2023, India tour of South Africa
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South Africa vs India T20Is set to ring in holiday vibes

The financial boost for CSA from this entire tour is understood to be in the region of R1 billion (approx. US $52.7million)

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
09-Dec-2023

Big picture: With India comes the money

Summer is loading in the southern hemisphere. Dezember (with a Z because that's how we like to say it to convey holiday vibez) is in full swing. The end-of-year parties have started, and cricket will get in on the action with India's all-format visit, the only men's international cricket that will take place in South Africa this summer.
In many ways, that is as much a statement on the changing cricketing landscape as it is of the continued power of the game's major player - India. There's only space for so much international cricket, so it was about getting the most profitable and popular opposition. The first T20I in Durban has been sold out since the end of last month, the other white-ball games are expected to be well attended too, and the financial boost of the entire tour is understood to be in the region of R1 billion (approx. US $52.7million); and all that before we even get to the importance of the cricket.
These T20Is are the last competitive matches South Africa will play before they have to name their T20 World Cup squad, who will play three matches in the West Indies ahead of the tournament. India have these matches and one more series - against Afghanistan in January - before the T20 World Cup. So the importance of finding combinations is amplified for both teams, although they will also rely on performances in T20 leagues, especially the SA20 and IPL, where their mainstays play.
For fringe players, then, this series presents a massive opportunity. South Africa could have two debutants - both bowlers in left-arm quick Nandre Burger, and right-arm medium-fast Ottniel Baartman - and might give opening batter Matthew Breetzke a run in all three games. India don't have any uncapped players in their touring group, but four of their squad - Mukesh Kumar, Mohammed Siraj, Rinku Singh and Jitesh Sharma - have played 10 T20Is or fewer. We often hear that there's no substitute for experience, and some of the players mentioned above will get that over the course of the next two weeks.
The fixtures roll in thick and fast, with a one-day gap between each of the T20Is, and two before the ODIs start. By then, South Africa will have entered the belly of the holiday season, with mid-December the time for many to put their feet up, grab a cold one and watch some cricket.

Form guide

South Africa: LLLLW (Last five matches, most recent first)
India: WWLWW

In the spotlight: Reeza Hendricks and Ravi Bishnoi

The biggest beneficiary of Quinton de Kock's unavailability is Reeza Hendricks, who is expected to be given a long overdue run in both white-ball formats, albeit still without a guarantee of a T20 World Cup place. Hendricks was South Africa's fourth-highest T20I run-scorer in 2022 but played half the number of games of the second- and third-highest players, and three fewer than their top scorer. This year, Hendricks is South Africa's leading run-scorer. In his last 11 T20I innings, he has made seven half-centuries, and should be a certain pick for next year's T20 World Cup. A few more solid performances will confirm his place.
Ravi Bishnoi has enjoyed a dream December so far after finishing as the leading wicket-taker in India's recent T20I series against Australia, and rising to the top of the ICC's T20I bowling rankings. With his unusual run-up, he might pose a new challenge to a South Africa line-up that still struggles against the trickier legspinners, and who have not faced him in this format. Bishnoi played his only ODI to date against South Africa in October last year, where he took 1 for 69 in eight overs, but is expected to present more of a threat in the shorter format.

Team news: New faces for South Africa

Breetzke has been confirmed as Hendricks' partner at the top of the order, but not as the designated wicketkeeper. That leaves South Africa to choose between Tristan Stubbs and Heinrich Klaasen. There's a glut of allrounders available, but only two of Donovan Ferreira, Marco Jansen and Andile Phehlukwayo are likely to play. There could be a debut for Burger, with two spinners to add experience to a young attack.
South Africa (probable): 1 Reeza Hendricks, 2 Matthew Breetzke, 3 Aiden Markam, 4 Tristan Stubbs/Heinrich Klaasen (wk), 5 David Miller, 6 Donovan Ferreira, 7 Marco Jansen/Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Gerald Coetzee, 10 Nandre Burger, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi
It remains to be seen whether Deepak Chahar, who had missed the last T20I against Australia because of a medical emergency, is available for the series opener in South Africa. At the top, India will have to pick between the returning Shubman Gill and Ruturaj Gaikwad. And if India can accommodate just one spinner, there will be a toss-up between Bishnoi and Kuldeep Yadav
India (probable): 1 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 2 Shubman Gill/Ruturaj Gaikwad, 3 Shreyas Iyer, 4 Suryakumar Yadav (capt), 5 Rinku Singh, 6 Jitesh Sharma (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/Ravi Bishnoi, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Arshdeep Singh/Mukesh Kumar

Pitch and conditions

Veteran groundsman Wilson Ngobese is in his last season on the job after 48 years at Kingsmead, half of those as head curator. This will be his last international pitch. While Durban has slowed down in recent years, all three T20Is it hosted against Australia earlier this year had first-innings scores of 190 or more. But some morning rain could spice things up for the quicks. The drizzle should pass by the afternoon, but there might be heavy cloud over Durban for the duration of the game.

Stats and trivia

  • India have won two of their last four T20I series against South Africa, with the other two being drawn. The last time South Africa beat India in a T20I series was in October 2015, when they had won 2-0 in India.
  • Arshdeep Singh is India's leading T20I bowler this year, with 25 wickets at 23.68. From Full-Member countries, he is the second-highest wicket-taker in 2023.
  • There's very little riding on the toss at Kingsmead. In the 19 T20Is played there, teams batting first have won eight, which is exactly the same number as teams batting second. There has been one tie, between India and Pakistan at the 2007 T20 World Cup, with two games washed out.

Quotes

"Building up to the World Cup, there is a lot of cricket before that but not a lot of cricket for us as a team together. But as long as the guys understand the way that we want to try and play as a team, and keep that close to them in different leagues and tournaments, then hopefully by the time we meet up at the World Cup next year, they are used to that brand and to the way we want to operate as a team."
Aiden Markram is leading South Africa's entrance into the brave new world of limited bilateral cricket
"The guys who I'm watching right now in the T20s are expressive and they aren't having a lot of fear of failure."
Suryakumar Yadav, India's T20I captain, is in awe of the youngsters in India's side

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket