ROUND 2, BATTLE 1
After beating Australia in Test series earlier in the year, India look to repeat the feat in limited-overs
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.