IND vs SA: KL Rahul-led India take on South Africa in first game

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Paarl: The mighty Virat Kohli’s presence in the Indian playing eleven as a mere player for the first time in seven years will be keenly followed while his potential successor in red-ball cricket, KL Rahul, will be judged for his captaincy in the three-match ODI series against South Africa beginning here on Wednesday.

Whether he is batting in the middle or fielding at the boundary line, Kohli’s every move is tracked but some of that attention will now have to be shared by Rahul. More importantly, will he be at his usual animated best on the field or will the cricketing world see a rather subdued Kohli after his stunning resignation from Test captaincy brought an end to his innings as official leader of the team across formats?

He did not want to leave ODI captaincy after relinquishing the role in the shortest format and it led to a war of words with the BCCI on how the entire matter was handled. His supporters and Indian cricket in general will be hoping that Kohli has put his differences with the BCCI firmly behind him and come Wednesday, he starts a new innings with his willow doing most of the talking.

A highly desired century after two years would be cherry on top. Rahul, who is leading the side in the absence of an injured Rohit Sharma, is expected to turn to Kohli for advice during the series. Not only Kohli has a major role to play as a batter, but as vice-captain Jasprit Bumrah said on the eve of the series, the star “will always be a leader” in the team.

With the new leadership and support staff, India will look to win the series with one eye on preparations for the 2023 World Cup and also make up for the disappointment of unexpectedly going down in the Tests last week. The last time a full strength India played an ODI series was at home against England in March before a second string squad travelled to Sri Lanka in July.

Rahul batted in the middle-order against England but on the eve of the game, he made it clear that he will move back to the top of the order alongside Shikhar Dhawan in Rohit Sharma’s absence. That means Ruturaj Gaikwad, who made the squad following an exceptional domestic season, will have to wait longer for his ODI debut.

Kohli will bat at his usual number three spot while there will be a toss-up between Suryakumar Yadav and Shreyas Iyer for the number four position. Rishabh Pant is expected to come at number five while Venkatesh Iyer is set to make his 50-over debut as the all-rounder at six, having shown promise in the T20s against New Zealand.

South Africa will be in high spirits after a memorable victory in the five-day format. Skipper Temba Bavuma played a few crucial in the preceding Tests and he will carry that confidence into his batting as well as his leadership. Quinton de Kock, who retired from Test cricket after the series opener against India, starts his life as a white-ball only player.

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