Cracker of a contest in the offing

Cracker of a contest in the offing

Team-mates share a light moment with Hardik Pandya who joined the Indian team's training session ahead of the first ODI against Australia at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Monday. PTI

In the famous India-Australia rivalry, there is no scope for predictions. Both teams believe in not giving an inch and have a history of heated battles and classic games in all formats.

Come Tuesday, fans who missed the joy of keenly fought contests in India’s recent domination of the West Indies and Sri Lanka can brace up for some exciting cricket when the hosts take on Australia in the first of the three-match ODI series here at the Wankhede Stadium.   

A standalone ODI series might slightly seem out of place in the year of the T20 World Cup. In the run-up to the showpiece event, teams would want to arrive at their best combination by playing as many T20 games as possible.

For Australia, this will be their first ODI game after their semifinal exit at the 50-over World Cup in July last. In the six-month period, the Kangaroos have played two T20I series. India, later this month, will kick-start a challenging five-match T2OI series against host New Zealand. Despite the focus being away from ODI cricket, Indian captain Virat Kohli saw this series as an advantage for his team.

“Look when you play Australia, you don’t look at the relevance of the series. We both are the two best sides in the world. For us, it’s about testing ourselves against the best. And it’s also about how the calendar is laid out. In case you have played many games, then you can question the relevance of the series. But in the World Cup year, it will benefit us if we play as many white ball matches as possible,” Kohli told reporters on the eve of the match here on Monday.

One of the key aspects of the pre-series talks has been Australia’s famous come-from-behind 3-2 win in India last year. India had blamed their shock loss on experimenting with the squad keeping the 50-over World Cup in mind.

This time around, they have the luxury of a strong top-order. Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli are among runs. With the mercurial Jasprit Bumrah back to lead the attack, India’s pace pack, with the likes of Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur and the fast-improving Navdeep Saini, will be a tough nut to crack for the visitors.

What would worry India is their inexperienced lower-order which is yet to show consistency. Ravindra Jadeja is the only reliable name as Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, despite immense potential, are yet to find their feet.

“If you don’t play well as a team, you won’t win the series. This time, Australia are stronger than the side that came to India last time. Yet, they won the series last time. Because they clicked as a team,” said Kohli.   

Australia’s ODI record against India in the last decade should give them confidence. Apart from their 2-3 defeat last time, India had suffered three-straight losses and a series defeat to Australia in 2019 at home. In 2016, hosts Australia had clinched the five-match series 4-1. While Steve Smith and David Warner are their big names, the Aaron Finch-led side appear a balanced unit.

With dew set to play a major role, teams would prefer to bat second in what would could be a high-scoring affair. 

The squads: India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami.

Australia: Aaron Finch (captain), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey (wicketkeeper), Pat Cummins (vice-captain), Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Ashton Turner, David Warner, Adam Zampa.

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