ROUND 2, BAT­TLE 1

Af­ter beat­ing Aus­tralia in Test se­ries ear­lier in the year, In­dia look to re­peat the feat in limited-overs

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Karthik Lak­sh­manan

It’s time for Part 2 of Aus­tralia’s jour­ney in In­dia this year. And if Part 1 was any in­di­ca­tion, one can ex­pect the ri­valry to live up to the hype that al­ways ac­com­pa­nies it. The Test se­ries in Fe­bru­ary and March was a heated one filled with drama, con­tro­ver­sies and plenty of words, which even in­cluded one cap­tain all but ac­cus­ing the other of cheat­ing.

More im­por­tantly, the cricket in the se­ries was top-notch, with Aus­tralia giv­ing In­dia a run for their money although the hosts ended up win­ning the four-match se­ries 2-1.

In­dia’s home ad­van­tage will rel­a­tively re­duce in the limited-overs ver­sions, which prom­ises an­other stiff con­test be­tween the sides.

In­dia, though, still start as favourites. They head into a stretch of limited-overs cricket at home hav­ing swept Sri Lanka across for­mats re­cently, and are grad­u­ally build­ing a ruth­less unit with play­ers for ev­ery con­di­tion and sit­u­a­tion. That’s ev­i­dent from their tremen­dous suc­cess in ODIs over the last two years; the last time In­dia lost a bi­lat­eral ODI se­ries was in early 2016 when they were beaten 4-1 by Aus­tralia down un­der. This, apart from a run to the fi­nal of the ICC Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in June this year.

The string of suc­cess au­to­mat­i­cally means In­dia are al­ready in prepa­ra­tion mode for the World Cup in 2019. With ev­ery pass­ing se­ries, they’re adding op­tions and in­creas­ing the pool for ev­ery depart­ment. In­dia have also made pub­lic their in­ten­tion to ro­tate play­ers and be more un­pre­dictable in strat­egy, which was ev­i­dent in the Sri Lanka se­ries. Yes, the op­po­si­tion was not the strong­est, but In­dia used the op­por­tu­nity to test a few com­bi­na­tions.

Through the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, In­dia got a few In­nings Runs Av­er­age 50s/100s Runs Av­er­age 50s/100s In­nings Runs Av­er­age 50+ v 13:30PM im­por­tant point­ers for the fu­ture as well. The wrist-spin com­bi­na­tion of Yuzven­dra Cha­hal and Kuldeep Ya­dav used the op­por­tu­nity that ar­rived with R Ash­win and Ravin­dra Jadeja be­ing rested — or ro­tated?Or­dropped?Now­is­thetime­for the Cha­hals and Kuldeeps and Axars to es­tab­lish them­selves against a much tougher op­po­si­tion in Aus­tralia. Dit­to­fortheMan­ishPandeysandKLRahuls too.WithIn­di­aseekingare­place­ment­forYu­vraj Singh in the mid­dle or­der, the Kar­nataka boys were in a di­rect face-off for the No. 4 spot. Rahul got the first op­por­tu­nity in Sri Lanka but by the timethe­seriesended,Pandey­had­shown­him­self to be more equipped to han­dle the pres­sures and chal­lenges of that po­si­tion. It’s early days, but the Aus­tralia se­ries will in­di­cate whether In­dia still want to keep Rahul as an op­tion in the mid­dle or­der, or if they’ll use him as a back-up opener.

Shikhar Dhawan’s ab­sence for the first three ODIs could be a bless­ing in dis­guise in terms of an­swer­ing those ques­tions. In all like­li­hood, Ajinkya Ra­hane will get an­other chance at the top of the or­der be­fore Dhawan reclaims his po­si­tion. Where that will leave Rahul in the scheme of things re­mains to be seen.

While In­dia seem a set­tled unit bar­ring th­ese mi­nor dilem­mas, Aus­tralia are sur­pris­ingly in search of a win­ning com­bi­na­tion. Their pre­vi­ous ODI ven­ture was an un­suc­cess­ful Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy from where they re­turned win­less. It was par­tially due to weather but Steven Smith would ad­mit Aus­tralia didn’t play their A game. Fol­low­ing an ex­tended pay-war with their board and a mixed Test tour of Bangladesh, Aus­tralia ar­rive on In­dian shores with in­ex­pe­ri­ence in key ar­eas. With in­jured Aaron Finch set to miss the first few games, the onus is on David Warner and Smith to show the way.

The in­ex­pe­ri­ence is most telling in the bowl­ing depart­ment. Mitchell Starc, Josh Ha­zle­wood and James Pat­tin­son are tend­ing to mi­nor in­juries back home, and it’s up to Pat Cum­mins to lead a pace at­tack that also has Nathan Coul­ter-Nile and Kane Richard­son.

Aus­tralia, how­ever, will wel­come the ad­di­tion of James Faulkner, who has been re­called to the one-day team af­ter miss­ing out on a Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy berth. The all­rounder will have good mem­o­ries of the ODI se­ries in In­dia in 2013, where he smashed 230 runs from four in­nings at a strike-rate in ex­cess of 150.

Those kinds of num­bers were the theme of that seven-match se­ries, which saw as many as nine 300+ scores, with five of them above 350. If there’s any­thing close to an en­core, we could be in for plenty of en­ter­tain­ment.

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