Australia have come in full force

Australia have come in full force

Steve Smith (left) and David Warner's presence bolsters Australia's batting in the series against India. PTI

Early last year, an under-strength Australia scripted a surprise that not many saw it coming in a five-match ODI series against a fancied India. Down 0-2, the Kangaroos, on the back of six straight ODI series defeats, were lifted by unlikely heroes in a eventual result of 3-2 in their favour.

For the giants of the game who had suffered a dramatic decline for varying reasons, the series victory, without the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, was a huge confidence booster ahead of the 50-over World Cup. The inspiring show, in fact, changed the fortunes of Australian cricket.

After routing Pakistan 5-0 in the ODIs, the five-time champions reached the semifinal at the World Cup in England before bowing out to eventual winners England. In the longer format, despite England making it 2-2 in the end, Australia took home the Urn in the Ashes. The Tim Paine-led side then clean swept Pakistan (2-0) and New Zealand (3-0) in Tests. 

The return of Smith and Warner from a ball-tampering ban and the availability of the injury-prone Mitchell Starc have pushed Australia to second behind India in Test rankings. They are fourth (111), one point behind New Zealand, in the ODIs.

Australia are back again in India, this time for a three-match ODI rubber against Virat Kohli’s men starting in Mumbai from Tuesday. While their last victory was seen as an upset, this time, with their stalwarts back in the mix, one expects a battle of equals.

Smith has amassed 1553 international runs across formats ever since his return. The major chunk of those impressive numbers came in the Ashes, where his sensational effort, that tumbled many records, drew comparisons with Don Bradman.

While Smith's has always revelled under pressure in Tests his special liking for India - irrespective of the format - is well known, making him the men-in-blue’s biggest problem in the upcoming series.

After a poor Ashes, Warner has come into his own form which saw him bludgeon a triple ton against Pakistan late last year. India will be aware and wary of his destructive abilities.

Such is the importance of the duo in the squad that Australia had to overlook Usman Khawaja, the top run-getter (383 runs) and one of the chief architects of his team’s famous fightback in the previous ODI series here. Smith and Warner bring solidity to the Australian batting which also includes Peter Handscomb and the gifted Ashton Turner.

Handscomb, who registered his maiden ODI hundred in the series, showed great control against Indian spinners. Turner made his ODI debut in the series and emerged as Australia’s finisher, scoring 125 runs from three games with a highest of 84 not out.

Paceman Pat Cummins, Australia’s vice-captain, shouldered a beleaguered bowling attack with aplomb back then. However, for this series, there is the experienced Starc to give him the company. Add Josh Hazlewood to the attack and Australia appear formidable. The trio, which last played together in November 2018, could pose a serious challenge to the high-flying Indian batsmen.

Following a series wins against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, India could be put to stern test by the Australians.

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