Around this time last year, Australia travelled to South Africa with an inexperienced pace attack, played a five-match ODI series on flat tracks and lost all five matches. This time around, Australia will play a five-match ODI series in India, possibly on flat wickets, with pacers who don't have much international experience. Steve Smith might not be thinking much about the South Africa tour now but sure he would have noticed the glaring similarities.
12 months ago in South Africa, Australia's premium strike bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were rested. The only difference now is that both of them couldn't travel to India because of injuries. In their absence, Pat Cummins will share majority of the burden and he will get support from Nathan Coulter-Nile and Kane Richardson.
Apart from the pacers, Australia will also depend on the likes of Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson, James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell to trouble Indian batsmen. But are they really good enough to rattle India's in-form batting line-up? For now, and knowing that the series is yet to start, the answer would be a clear no.
After thrashing Sri Lanka in all three formats of the game, Virat Kohli's team will go into the ODI series with Muhammad Ali-esque kind of confidence.
India will miss their first-choice opener Shikhar Dhawan, who will not play in the first three ODIs as he had to attend his unwell wife but the team has more able players to fill in the shoes.
Both KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane will be vying for the opening slot but on paper at least, the latter has a better chance to feature. Rahane had a good ODI series against the West Indies, where he scored the most runs for India opening the batting. But more than Rahane, Australia have lot to worry about the other opener Rohit Sharma.
Last time Australia played ODIs in India, Rohit almost scored 500 runs in five matches and it also included a double-century. He’s once again in top form after scoring two ODI centuries against Sri Lanka. His record against the Aussies is also a big positive for India. In 23 matches, he scored 1297 runs at an average of 68.26. Australian bowlers need to come up with a solid plan to contain Rohit.
The case for planning also applies to skipper Kohli but nowadays it’s more about Kohli giving away his wicket than bowlers plotting for his dismissal. In 18 ODIs this year, he made 1017 runs at a phenomenal average of 92.45. It’s obvious that he’s the highest run-getter in 2017 and will most likely end the year on top.
Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya have all tasted some sort of success in ODIs against Sri Lanka. India's middle-order, apart from Dhoni, is not the one with lot of experience but the players did prove their mettle in previous occasions.
From India's perspective, Kohli and team management will be keen to look at the performances of their spinners. The selectors have made the decision to stick with Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel, keeping Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja out of the picture for now. The three spinners did quite well against Sri Lanka, and if they manage to impress once again against a quality side like Australia, then that would mean making a huge statement in the context of the 2019 World Cup.
While speaking to India Today, head coach Ravi Shastri said,"We can't play Ashwin and Jadeja all the time. There is enough time for Ashwin to get back into the team because the World Cup is still two years away. Emphasis has to be on Test cricket."
While the statement probably doesn't give out much on the future of Ashwin and Jadeja with regard to limited-overs cricket, the idea of the ace spin duo concentrating on Test cricket and the new trio focusing on the ODIs is actually quite interesting.
Unlike Ashwin and Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami are there in the ODI squad but Kohli's first preference would be Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Bumrah had a terrific series in Sri Lanka, where he picked 15 wickets in five matches so there's little doubt about his status as team's striker bowler.
If India are missing opener Dhawan, Australia too will miss their opener Aaron Finch for few matches after he aggravated his calf injury. There's some speculation whether he will take part in the series at all and that resulted in Peter Handscomb being called up as replacement.
It's unlikely that Handscomb, who had played just five ODIs till now, will open the batting along with David Warner. Hilton Cartwright opened the batting in Australia's warm-up game in Chennai and it looks like he will be the opening partner for Warner in the first ODI.
The ODI series will also resume the battle between two skippers who crossed swords in the four-match Test series that took place in the early months of 2017. Smith did speak about his differences with his Indian counterpart saying he's not too bothered about it but the shared animosity might actually drive him to achieve something special.
“I'm not too concerned about my differences with Virat. He has a phenomenal record in ODIs (30 hundreds) and is obviously going to be dangerous. Hopefully we can keep him quiet as much as possible. If we do that, then hopefully that can help us go a long way in having some success on this tour,” said the Australian captain.
Smith can also take hope in the fact that majority of the squad member have played in India thanks to their participation in Indian Premium League (IPL) so the team is not entirely new to the conditions in India. But it's going to be an uphill task for Australia to actually make an impact in the series. While their batting line-up seems to be fine, it's their bowling attack that appears to be the weakest link.
Australia: Steve Smith (captain), David Warner, Ashton Agar, Hilton Cartwright, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Patrick Cummins, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa, Peter Handscomb.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami.