Played 9. Won 9. As far as comprehensive beatings go in cricket, it’s hard to look past India’s tour of Sri Lanka as the most dominating win of all in recent times. The men in were ruthless against the Sri Lankans in all three formats.
But come Sunday, Virat Kohli’s Indian team will be up against the World Champions Australia in what would be a much stiffer test of quality in the opening encounter of the five-match series in Chennai on Sunday. Sure, the Australians are not the strongest side in world cricket right now, but when it comes to shorter formats, few teams are as well-rounded as Steve Smith’s. And with the 2019 World Cup in sights, there won’t be a better chance for India to test their real caliber.
A bitter rivalry
The Indo-Australia matches over the years has transformed into perhaps the most exciting rivalry in cricket, with the intensity right up there as lot is always at stake. Not to forget the passion and frayed tempers, a testimony to that was the Test series that India won 2-1, earlier this year.
And the carrot that’s dangling in front of both of the teams ahead of this series? The title of the top team in the world.
A 5-0 win for India, which could be a rare first against Australia, will put them at the top of the ICC World rankings while a 4-1 win for the visitors will help them grab pole position.
For India, facing an Australian side without their top two pacers – Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood would certainly work to their advantage but at the same time, the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner and Glenn Maxwell are seasoned pros for whom India is like a “second home”.
While the Test series saw Australia stun the Indians on a rank-turner in Pune before eventually losing the series 3-1, conditions during the ODIs will be much more IPL-esque, meaning the conditions will not faze the Aussies and on the contrary, enable them to play their game with freedom.
Lineups and Chennai pitch
The two teams trained ahead of the match in Chennai with focus on fine-tuning things and probably to zero in on the playing XI.
Left-arm spinner Axar Patel suffered an injury scare, spraining his ankle while playing football and it has to be seen if he takes part in this afternoon’s practice session. However the Aussies are well aware of what threat wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal can pose for them. Accordingly, they summoned mustery spinners KK Jiyas and local lad Murugan Ashwin to prepare for the match, reported PTI.
The absence of big-hitting opener Aaron Finch, at least for the first three games owing to a calf injury, may have upset the Aussies plans but they have others to step up. For India, Shikhar Dhawan will be the key absentee, as he has been granted a break to attend to his ailing wife.
The two teams are playing an ODI here after a gap of three decades, having last met at the iconic stadium in the opening fixture of the Reliance World Cup, way back in 1987. It was a thrilling encounter that Australia won by 1 run.
The last time the Australians played a bilateral ODI series in India in 2013, the hosts won seven-match series 3-2 with two games were abandoned due to inclement weather. Steve Smith, who wasn’t part of that series is now the leader of the Aussies and would be expected to lead from the front in a tour that promises to be another run fest.
The Chepauk track is expected to be a batting paradise. India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma said at a media interaction that the pitch looked like a typical Chennai wicket - hard and with a lot of runs.
Rohit has been prolific against the Australians and posted his first double century in ODIs in the 2013 series and is coming off a strong performance in the recent limited-overs series in Sri Lanka. Along with his captain (Kohli) he is part of a formidable batting unit that could take on any attack. Rohit also indicated that his Mumbai teammate Ajinkya Rahane may don the opener’s role in the absence of Dhawan.
Questions remain for India
Despite the thrashing handed out to the Sri Lankans, the Indian think-tank would be worried about a middle-order that didn’t look too convincing. KL Rahul’s struggles at the No.4 spot pose a few questions but the skipper and coach Ravi Shastri have hinted that the Karnataka batsman was being considered for the role given the fact that Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan are the established opening pair.
Kohli himself has been in wonderful form and carved out a couple of tons against Lanka while MS Dhoni guided the team home in his own inimitable style in two matches.
The trio (Kohli, Rohit and Dhoni) will be expected to do the bulk of the run-scoring while the improving Hardik Pandya would be expected to provide the spark both with bat and ball.
Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey have put their hand up in the opportunities they have got, but are yet to completely solidify their spot.
The bowling unit sees the return of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav after missing out the ODIs in Lanka. The focus would be on the inexperienced spin attack in the absence of Ravichandran Ashwin, playing in the County circuit in England and the rested Ravindra Jadeja.
Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav did the job against the Lankans but the Aussies are a different proposition altogether. How they fare would have a bearing on the series with the batsmen expected to have the upperhand.
There has been a lot of talk about wrist spinners have a key role in the series with Rohit and Australian spinner Ashton Agar stressing on the value they offer. The India vice-captain felt that they have mystery about them and can provide breakthroughs at crucial junctures.
Agar, on his part, said that his teammate Adam Zampa with his experience of playing in India and in the IPL, could do well against the home side’s powerful batting.
All said and done, Smith’s men would be aiming to exact some revenge for the defeat suffered in the 2013 series but a lot depends on batting big and the bowlers finding ways to contain a marauding Indian batting line-up led by Kohli and Rohit. India will be tested and if Kohli does find answers to the questions Australia throw at him and his side, the hot streak will only get hotter.
For the fans though, almost anything would be an improvement over that lop-sided series in Sri Lanka.
(With PTI inputs)
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, M S Dhoni (WK), Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Yazuvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav.
Australia: Steve Smith (captain), David Warner, Hilton Cartwright, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (WK), James Faulkner, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Kane Richardson, Ashton Agar, Adam Zampa, Peter Handscomb, Aaron Finch.
Match starts at 1.30 PM.
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