Hosts India and South Africa will have one eye on next year’s World Twenty20 when they launch a three-match series in the picturesque hill town of Dharamsala on Friday (2).
Three T20 games on a single tour is a rarity in modern cricket, but both teams will welcome the change with the sixth edition of the World T20 due to be held in India in March-April next year.
South Africa, who will also play five one-day internationals and four Tests on the 10-week tour, are still looking for their first major limited-overs world title despite being top contenders every time.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India won the inaugural World T20 in South Africa in 2007 and were runners-up to Sri Lanka in the last edition in Bangladesh in April, 2014 – having defeated the Proteas in the semi-final.
India may be regarded as the nerve centre of the shortest format due to the popularity of the Indian Premier League (IPL), but Dhoni’s men have played just three international matches in the shortest format since the World T20 final.
Team director Ravi Shastri said although India’s immediate focus was on winning the three-match series, it will also help to identify areas that need improvement.
“The World T20 is still some time away, the important thing now is to win this series,” Shastri said. “There is a lot of cricket to be played on this tour, but the T20s will give us a good idea of where we stand.”
South Africa’s T20 captain Faf du Plessis said the Indian tour will help his players prepare for the mega event.
“I am excited for this tour because it is in India, where we are going to play the World T20,” du Plessis said.
“Everything that we do as a T20 side is geared towards that World T20 and there is no difference for this series.”
Both sides lag behind in the T20 rankings. The Proteas, the number one Test side in the world, are sixth and India, second in one-day cricket, are fourth in the shortest format.
The tourists have rested pace spearheads Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for the T20 series, but as many as 10 players in the current squad take part in the IPL and will know what to expect.
South Africa go into the opening match recovering from a stunning eight-wicket defeat by an effectively third-string Indian side in a practice T20 match in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Dhoni returns from a three-month break to take charge of the limited-overs teams, his first outing since a shock 2-1 one-day defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in Dhaka in June.
With Test captain Virat Kohli waiting in the wings, Dhoni will be looking to win both the T20 and one-day series to confirm his leadership role in the World T20.
The second T20 international will be played in Cuttack next Monday and the third at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens next Thursday.
India squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Sreenath Aravind, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra.
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, Marchant de Lange, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Eddie Leie, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Albie Morkel, Khaya Zondo.