South Africa are confident Keshav Maharaj can provide inspiring stand-in leadership as the spinner marks his T20I debut by captaining the Proteas against Sri Lanka.
Almost five years have passed since Maharaj made his Test bow against Australia, while his first ODI appearance came in 2017 on the tour of England.
It is high time 31-year-old Maharaj was seen in the shortest format, and he enters with the added responsibility of leading the team, having also skippered the tourists in the second and third ODIs against Sri Lanka.
With regular captain Temba Bavuma sidelined by a fractured thumb, Maharaj, who was named ahead of George Linde in South Africa's T20 World Cup squad on Thursday, gets his chance to show what he can do in the quick-fire game.
South Africa sealed a 3-2 T20I series win over West Indies in July, and they sit fifth in the ICC team rankings, four places above the Sri Lanka side they will face in three matches, to be played in Colombo on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday.
Having lost 2-1 to Sri Lanka in the ODIs, South Africa are seeking succour. Convenor of selectors Victor Mpitsang described Maharaj on Thursday as "an excellent leader", whose "exemplary captaincy" can be a steadying short-term influence.
Speaking this week, Maharaj said of his temporary new duty: "It was overwhelming at the start. I was actually nervous before I got to the field in my first game but I really enjoyed being the captain of the national team.
"Unfortunately I could not help the team cross the line in the third and final match [in the ODIs] but I thoroughly enjoyed the captaincy."
He added, according to Times Live: "I feel captaincy gives me a bit of responsibility, it keeps me calmer and it gives me a different outlook of the game."
The T20 World Cup will take place in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and by edging cup holders West Indies in the run-up, South Africa believe they are in good shape.
That view could be coloured by what happens in the coming days, but batsman David Miller sees things from a positive perspective.
Miller said, quoted on iol.co.za, "What we've been through in the last couple of months, I believe, has been a huge stepping stone in our T20 campaign. We took a lot of confidence from beating the West Indies.
"We still need to work out different combinations. In T20 you need to be flexible. That is something that we will get right. There have been areas in the last few months in the fielding department where we can certainly improve. We are aware of it."
HASARANGA TEST FOR PROTEAS
Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga marked his 24th birthday in grand style on his last T20I appearance, taking staggering figures of 4-9 against India in Colombo on July 20 to set up his team for a series-winning victory. It is clear he represents a big threat to South Africa, with his strike rate in T20I power play this year standing at six, the best rate among all bowlers to have a delivered a minimum of 20 balls.
Sri Lanka were beaten 3-0 by the Proteas the last time these teams met in a T20I series. That was in South Africa in March 2019, with the hosts winning the opening match on a one-over eliminator after the contest finished tied.
TOURISTS WELCOME BACK RESTED STARS
South Africa allowed Quinton de Kock, Miller and Lungi Ngidi to sit out the ODI series. De Kock and Miller return for the upcoming three games, crunch match practice now the World Cup countdown is on.
De Kock needs just two more dismissals to record the second most by a wicketkeeper in men's T20I matches. He currently has 62 dismissals and only has MS Dhoni (91) and Denesh Ramdin (63) above him.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Sri Lanka have won their last two men’s T20I matches at home, the last time they registered more consecutive wins in this format at home was in 2012 (4 matches).
– South Africa have won their last four men's T20I matches on the road. The last time they registered more such wins in a row was in 2009 (5 matches).
– Sri Lanka have a chance to register a hat-trick of men’s T20I wins for the first time at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. They won their last two matches at this venue against India (July 28 and 29). They have one win and a loss against South Africa at this venue.
– Sri Lanka have a batting strike rate of 114 in men’s T20I since the beginning of 2020, the poorest among all Test-playing nations in this format; South Africa have a strike rate of 142, the fourth best during this period.
– South Africa have a catch success percentage of 75 per cent in men’s T20I since the beginning of 2020, the poorest rate among Test playing nations. They have dropped 35 of the 140 chances presented to them.