Leading India for the first time ever, Pant had to swallow a bitter pill when David Miller and Rassie van der Dussen shot down an imposing 212 with utmost nonchalance to go up 1-0 in the series.
The southpaw also had a forgettable Indian Premier League where he failed to lead Delhi Capitals to the playoffs.
Seen as a future white-ball captain, Pant’s stakes have suddenly come down post-IPL and that has coincided with the resurgence of Hardik Pandya.
Returning to full fitness, the pace bowling all-rounder took the IPL by storm not only by his form but by pulling off a coup as he led Gujarat Titans to the title in their debut season.
Amid the growing chorus of ‘Hardik Pandya — the next white-ball captain of India’, Pant will be under scrutiny again as he masterminds a comeback.
It may still be early days for Pant the leader, but his body language never stood out and he looked under pressure on his captaincy debut.
He also made a debatable decision to underbowl the IPL Purple Cap winner Yuzvendra Chahal, fresh from claiming 27 wickets for runners-up Rajasthan Royals. At Kotla, the leggie bowled only two full overs.
As for Pandya, fresh after his historic success with GT, continued from where he left in the IPL.
Pandya, who last played for India in November last year in the 2021 T20 World Cup, dazzled with the bat with a 31 not out from 12 balls to prop the total past 200.
But he failed to impress with the bowl and leaked 18 runs in his only over. The big headache for Pant would be the bowling department where he would have to make a call between Arshdeep Singh and pace gun Umran Malik.
While the batting looks in perfect shape, the new-look pace department looked flat in the series opener.
Seniormost Bhuvneshwar Kumar did not look the same and leaked runs in the death overs, while Harshal Patel too was taken to cleaners.
Youngster Avesh Khan too failed to impress though he was the most economical among the trio.
With the duo of Arshdeep and Malik trying hard to impress at the nets with their pace and accuracy it is likely that one among the duo may be well set for a debut on Saturday.
It would not be an easy task as another slip-up would mean the Pant-led side would have the difficult task of winning three in a row.
Fresh from their individual players’ success in the IPL, the Proteas are finding themselves at ‘home’.
In the form of his life, Miller who scored 481 runs at 68.71 in the IPL to play a key role in GT’s triumph, has started in ominous fashion and looked unstoppable both against spin and pace at Kotla.
Quinton de Kock failed to convert his start but the Lucknow Super Giants batter also scored a bagful of runs (508) in the IPL and he would look to make it count here.
With Van der Dussen also striking it rich, the trio will form the batting backbone, while the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje would look to stop the Indians.
India: Rishabh Pant (c & wk), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan, Deepak Hooda, Shreyas Iyer,Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Venkatesh Iyer, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Avesh Khan, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Wayne Parnell, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs, Rassie van der Dussen, Marco Jansen.
Match starts at 7pm IST.