India favourites to seal series

M S Dhoni during India’s training session on the eve of the third ODI match against Australia at JSCA Stadium, in Ranchi, on Thursday. PTI

Having just notched up their 500th ODI win — only the second country to achieve the feat — the high-flying Indians appear favourites to seal the five-match series against the Australians at the earliest possible asking here on Friday.

On a sensational run in bilateral battles having won 12 out of the last 13 series and 11 of the last 12 at home, the Indians will be hard to stop from adding another one to that impressive record at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

In the two games so far, the Indians have exhibited the skills on why they are considered a supreme force in the 50-over format. They suffered a top-order collapse in the opening ODI but veteran MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav rose to the challenge to eventually power India to a comfortable win in Hyderabad. In Nagpur, following Virat Kohli’s masterful century, they appeared to be slipping towards defeat but showed nerves of steel in the final stages — Jasprit Bumrah and Vijay Shankar starring in a thrilling eight-run win.

While they’ve got class all around, a key contributing factor in their stellar run, they’ve still got some niggling issues to address. Firstly, form of the openers — Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. Since the start of the West Indies series last October, Dhawan has been struggling to tee off. He got two fifties in New Zealand but in the remaining 13 innings, his top score has been just 38. What would be annoying the left-hander the most is the manner in which he has been getting out. He hasn’t looked uncomfortable but has perished playing loose shots.

Rohit’s returns aren’t as poor as Dhawan but the Mumbaikar has been throwing away starts. For a batsman who normally makes it count when he gets his eye in, Rohit has gotten out against the run of play and he would be looking to make it count come Friday.

Ambati Rayudu is another batsman who will be itching to return to run-making ways. Although he had good tour of New Zealand, scoring 190 runs in five matches, the Australians have been a tough code to crack for the Hyderabadi. On the tour of Australia in January, he scored a duck and 24 while in the two games in this series, he’s posted just 13 and 18. Rayudu had a great chance to enhance his World Cup credentials in the last two games following rare top-order collapses but he’s frittered them away.

Kohli, very surprisingly, retained the playing XI in the last game but there’s a likelihood of a change in this match. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, picked for the last three matches after being rested for the opening two, bowled for an hour at Thursday’s optional practice session. If Bhuvneshwar gets the nod, then Mohammed Shami may warm the benches with Bumrah being an automatic pick for his death bowling prowess.

It would be interesting to see if Kohli hands Yuzvendra Chahal a cap. The leg-spinner, a trump card by the skipper’s own admission, has had to make way for Ravindra Jadeja and he will be itching to have a crack at the beleaguered Aussies. That apart, Kohli may not tinker with the line-up until the series is bolted.

Judging by the happenings of the ‘nets’ session, the pitch seems to be on the slower side with bounce also not very high. Most of the batsmen who took guard were toe-ending the ball while trying to sweep or lofting it. M S Dhoni then finally showed them how to play the big shots at his home ground. Also, the winter hasn’t receded yet, so dew could be a factor which makes toss very crucial.

The Australians, staring at a seventh straight bilateral series defeat, need to produce something special to stay alive. Else, they’ll be dead and buried before they board the flight to Mohali.

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India favourites to seal series

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