Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya’s finishing India’s biggest plus from SA series in T20 World Cup build-up

Bangalore gets regular evening showers around this time of the year, so a bit of a question mark hangs over the fate of the T20I series decider between India and South Africa, scheduled for Saturday evening at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. However, even if the fifth match were to be washed out completely by chance, India have already made some significant strides over the course of the past four games as they seek to build their side for the T20 World Cup.

Their comeback from 0-2 down – while needing to win every game to remain alive in the series – to square the contest 2-2 has been commendable. Different sets of players have heralded the revival; while the openers Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ishan Kishan set up the Visakhapatnam game for Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel to spin their web, it was the finishing duo of Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik that repaired and restored a flagging Indian innings in Rajkot. In the chase, Avesh Khan blew away the South Africans for just 87.

After these four matches, India are closer to answering a few questions about the make-up of their T20 World Cup squad than they were before the start of this series. The foremost has been the comeback of Pandya and Karthik following consistent performances in the Indian Premier League. Both have been dismissed only twice each in the series, and have struck at 153.94 and 158.62 respectively. Not only have they provided the finishing boost, they have also done it alongside the recovery job in Rajkot.

Karthik’s return to the side for the first time since India’s 2019 World Cup semi-final exit has been especially heart-warming; he’s spoken about how he is playing with the players he had interviewed during his brief commentary stint in between, and how he is being interviewed by former players he had played with in the initial stage of his long career.

“He (Karthik) has been in serious form in the role he is fulfilling. He is certainly one of the best finishers in the game. He scores in unorthodox areas which makes him difficult to bowl to,” Keshav Maharaj, the South Africa left-arm spinner, said after the Rajkot T20I.

Gaikwad has grabbed only one of his four chances so far, but the form of Kishan has been encouraging after a sedate IPL season. The left-hander is averaging 47.75 at a strike-rate of 146.92 in this series, with two fifties.

Pant’s form a concern

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In the batting, the point of concern has been the middle order, with Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, in particular, struggling to get going. Pant has scored just 57 runs in four innings at a strike-rate of only 105.55. Considering he is the stand-in captain and the first-choice T20I wicketkeeper at the moment, his form is worrying. Not that India are short on keeping choices, as both Kishan and Karthik are around, and KL Rahul, when he returns, is another back-up option. The bowling, led by the excellent Bhuvneshwar Kumar, has also recovered well after the first debacle in Delhi.

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