Injured Rahul and Kuldeep out of South Africa T20I series, Pant to lead India

Hardik Pandya, who recently led Gujarat Titans to the IPL title, will be the vice-captain

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
KL Rahul and Kuldeep Yadav have been ruled out of the five-match T20I series against South Africa because of injuries. While Rahul, who was named captain of the side in the absence of Rohit Sharma, has picked up a right groin injury, Kuldeep was hit in his right hand while batting in the nets at Delhi's Arun Jaitley Stadium, where the first game will be played on Thursday.
In Rahul's absence, Rishabh Pant, the designated vice-captain, will lead the side, and Hardik Pandya, who recently led debutants Gujarat Titans to the IPL 2022 title, will be the vice-captain.
This is the first time Pant will captain at the international level but he has the experience of leading Delhi Capitals at the IPL. He has captained them in 30 games, winning 17 and losing 13.
"It's a great feeling, especially getting an opportunity like this in your hometown," Pant, who plays domestic cricket for Delhi, said. "There is nothing bigger than this. It didn't come under very good circumstances but I will try to make most of it and give my 100%.
"I think it [having captained in the IPL] will help me a lot because when you keep doing the same thing over a period of time, you tend to improve. I am someone who keeps on learning from my mistakes and that's something which is going to help me in the coming days as well."
Without going into the specifics, Pant also hinted at India playing a different brand of cricket in the coming days. "As a team, we have certain goals that we want to achieve and we are continuously working on them," he said. "At the end of the day, we have the [T20] World Cup [in October-November] at the back of our minds, so we are preparing with an eye on that. In the coming days, you will see a lot of changes in the way we play our cricket."
The BCCI said in a release that both Rahul and Kuldeep would report to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, where the medical team will "assess them further and decide on the future course of treatment". The board hasn't sought any replacement for the injured duo.
In Rahul's absence, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan are likely to open the innings for India. In the spin department, the team management has options in the form of Axar Patel and Ravi Bishnoi, to pair with Yuzvendra Chahal.
The timing of Rahul's injury will be a cause for concern for him as well as the team management, since it has come with the tour of England - which will start with the one-off Test - around the corner. Rahul is a part of the squad for that Test, which will be played from July 1 to 5 in Birmingham and is part of the World Test Championship. The Test is also part of the five-match Pataudi Trophy, which was cut short after the first four Tests last year because of a Covid-19 situation. Rahul was India's second-highest run getter in those four Tests with 315 runs in eight innings, only behind Rohit's tally of 368.
The selectors will also be concerned by the volume of Rahul's injuries in the past year. Last November, Rahul missed the two-Test home series against New Zealand due to a left thigh strain. He was fit for the South Africa tour played in December-January, but a left-hamstring injury followed during the ODI series against West Indies in February which ruled Rahul out of the T20s. Failing to recover from that injury in time cost Rahul his place in the next series - Tests and T20Is against Sri Lanka in February-March - leading up to the IPL, where he captained Lucknow Super Giants.
Squad: Rishabh Pant (capt, wk), Hardik Pandya (vice-capt), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, Venkatesh Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo