DHARAMSALA, March 11: Hardik Pandya�s eagerly-awaited international comeback adds a lot of context to India�s three-match ODI campaign against South Africa starting Thursday where the hosts would be aiming to put the �New Zealand Nightmare� behind them.
Amid the ever-rising danger of Novel Coronavirus and threat of rain once again playing spoilsport, Pandya�s all-round flamboyance will keep skipper Virat Kohli in a good headspace as he would be desperately trying to forget the 0-3 mauling in the last series in New Zealand.
Pandya last played an ODI against New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final in Manchester and his last international game was a T20 against the Proteas in Bengaluru in September last year. He forced his way back into the national team with his all-round performances at the DY Patil Corporate Cup, where he looked completely fit and ready to go.
Skipper Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri has spoken openly about ODIs being least of priority in a World T20 year. But his men can ill-afford to lose another series against an inexperienced South African side which is buoyed after crushing Australia 3-0 in their own den.
Especially having lost five international games (two Tests included) on trot, the Indian skipper, enduring one of his rarest of rare bad patches in last six years will be keen to buck the trend.
Kohli managed just 75 runs against the Kiwis, and going by his standards the Indian skipper would be itching to silence his critics, who have raised eyebrows after his statement on ODIs not having context in the current calendar.
The presence of Pandya along with a fit-again senior opener Shikhar Dhawan and seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar makes India favourite on paper against a South African side that comprises of seasoned campaigners like Quinton d Kock, Faf du Plessis and David Miller in their ranks.
India: Virat Kohli (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Shubman Gill.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (C), Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Faf du Plessis, Kyle Verreynne, Heinrich Klaasen, Janneman Malan David Miller, Jon-Jon Smuts, Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi, Lutho Sipamla, Beuran Hendricks, Anrich Nortje, George Linde, Keshav Maharaj.
Match starts at 1:30 PM. � PTI