Time to get the bearings right

Cricket : India, Australia and England face-off each other in tri-series starting Friday

Time to get the bearings right

For the first time in four years in an away Test series, the Indians showed they were ready for a scrap.

While the 2-0 result in favour of Australia doesn’t really reflect the fight India put up in the four-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the visitors emerged with their reputations further enhanced, at least as a batting force.

It’s this batting unit which will be in focus when India swap their white flannels for coloured clothing as the tri-series, also involving Australia and England, kicks off here at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday. Unlike in Tests, where they have dropped to No 7 in the ICC rankings, one-day cricket is the format where India have been more than competent even playing away from home.

Whether it’s the triumph in the Champions Trophy in 2013 or the tri-series victory in the West Indies the same year or the 3-1 series win over England last year, their performances in the 50-over format have been worthy of a team ranked No 2 in the world behind Australia, also on 176 points.

Virat Kohli remains India’s star batsman across all formats while the likes of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina will be different propositions altogether while facing up to the white ball.
Ajinkya Rahane has been in good touch while MS Dhoni, free of Test cricket but always at home in the shorter versions both while leading and batting, will provide depth as well as the much-needed firepower in the lower-order. Ravindra Jadeja, if fit, cuts the long tail short.        

While India have traditionally relied on their batting to deliver the goods, especially at home where smaller grounds and flatter pitches render the bowlers ineffective, they will have to get their bowling sorted with barely a month left for the World Cup to begin in Australia and New Zealand. The longer boundaries and slightly kinder surfaces for the pacers in this part of the world make it mandatory that India strike perfect balance with their batting and bowling composition.    

It’s a problem even hosts Australia face, with fitness concerns to some of their key pacemen. While care is being taken to keep Mitchell Johnson and their newest find Josh Hazlewood fresh with more important assignments to follow, Mitchell Marsh is not yet fully fit to bowl after pulling his hamstring mid-way through the Test series.

It’s a tribute to Australia’s bench strength that they will still have at their disposal the likes of Mitchell Starc, James Faulkner and Pat Cummins. The scenario may also present the strapping 21-year-old paceman Gurinder Sandhu with an opportunity and in that case, he will become the first player of Indian origin to play for the senior Australian team.

The hosts, however, are brimming with batting riches even in the absence of their regular skipper Michael Clarke. Stand-in skipper George Bailey, himself one of the fiercest hitters of the cricket ball, will have the services of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Marsh, among others. It’s a batting line-up that will send shivers down the spine of any bowling attack and we haven’t yet mentioned the likes of Brad Haddin, Johnson and Faulkner, whose batting abilities are no secret at all.

What isn’t too obvious is how England, the third team in the competition, are going to shape up under their new skipper Eoin Morgan, who was elevated to the hot seat rather belatedly.

With the World Cup just around the corner, the Ireland-born batsman, who inherits the team from the sacked Alastair Cook, has the enviable task of taking it along at a short notice.

The one comforting factor for the southpaw could be that there won’t be many expectations from this bunch which has refused to adapt to the changing nature of the format. Perhaps that had to do with the character of the leader. Morgan has shown himself to be unorthodox. That might just rub off on the likes of Moeen Ali, Ian Bell, Alex Hales and the exciting Joe Root and Jos Buttler.

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