A five-minute walk across the William-Barrack Bridge sums up the mood in Melbourne. As one walks a little over 500 meters away from the city, the majestic MCG stands in front, underneath, it's all hustle and bustle of people and trams, and to the right are numerous tennis courts dwarfed by the famous Rod Laver Arena. It is Australian Open week and Melbourne is buzzing. Even the Indian cricketers got into some tennis mood by watching Rafael Nadal vs Matthew Ebden at the Arena.
Amidst the excitement and frenzy, India gears up to play their final match of the Australian tour. It has been a long one for some of the players and the coaching staff. They have achieved their primary objective – to win the Test series, but the visitors will want to cap off the tour by also winning there first ever bilateral ODI series Down Under.
Only six players were present at the optional training session on Thursday as the team management tried to keep the players fresh for the third ODI. One of the players who is battling to find his way into the XI is Kedar Jadhav. The dynamic batsman is yet to feature in the series and his part-time off-spinners also provide India with another bowling option.
Dinesh Karthik's heroics on Tuesday night means he will once again bat at No 6, but it is Ambati Rayudu at No 4 who could be under the pump. Rayudu has not played a lot of cricket of late and perhaps he might just be given another opportunity to showcase his ability. He hasn't done much wrong but the competition is such that even a blink of an eye cannot be afforded.
Kuldeep Yadav looked slightly jaded in Adelaide and it looks like Yuzvendra Chahal might feature in the playing XI. The large square boundaries could even tempt the Indian think tank to play all three spinners, but that would mean flirting with danger on a flat MCG pitch. Pacer Mohammed Siraj had a disappointing outing in his debut and the slow nature of the surface could prompt for the return of Khaleel Ahmed.
India will be hoping Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami can recreate the opening bursts from Adelaide. Both executed the plans perfectly to the Australian opening batsmen and were the prime reason the hosts were not able to get off to a good start.
Aaron Finch's form along with his technical glitch is a real concern for Australia. Since the start of 2018, Finch has been dismissed leg-before-wicket or bowled nine times out of his 13 ODI appearances. Finch spent a lot of time in the nets on Thursday trying to rectify the issue against the incoming ball. The 32-year-old has a terrific record at the MCG, having scored three of his 11 ODI hundreds at the venue and he will be hoping the benefits of playing on his home turf can change his batting fortunes.
Shaun's Marsh's excellent form at No 4 has suddenly given this raw Australian middle order plenty of stability. Add to that Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb have chipped in with valuable contributions during the series and proved they can handle the Indian spin bowlers through the middle overs. Apart from Finch, the batting has a sense of solidarity, but it will be interesting to see how the inexperienced batting line-up performs if they come up against competitive chase on Friday.
Australia announced their playing eleven on the eve of the match. They have made a couple of changes with lanky pacer Billy Stanlake replacing Jason Beherendorff who is nursing a back injury. Stanlake’s ability to generate steep bounce along with his ability to ramp up speeds close to 150kmph is a bound to test the Indian batting. The 24-year-old pacer also has the ability to move the new ball in the air and can surprise the batsmen with that odd searing yorker. His inclusion will definitely add another dimension to the Australian attack that looked slightly one dimensional in Adelaide. Nathan Lyon is shown the door after going wicketless in the first two ODIs, leg spinner Adam Zampa is included in the playing eleven. Lyon's tactic of continuously bowling around the wicket to the right-hand batsmen proved to be unsuccessful. Zampa is a more attacking spinner and has a fine googly. He also has the experience of playing in the IPL and is mentally tough as well. Australia has struggled to pick up wickets through the middle overs in the series and the inclusion of Zampa should provide Finch an attacking option.
The pitch at the MCG has generally been on the slower side and slower balls or cutters could become a vital tool for the pace bowlers. Australia have a good record against India at the MCG having won nine out of 14 games. The last time the visitors registered a win at the iconic venue was over a decade ago. One thing that will be in India's favour is the crowd. Close to 50,000 fans are expected for the final ODI as the local Indian fans prepare for the final hurrah Down Under.
Not many countries have toured Australia and not lost a single series on a tour in the past 25 years. This is another catalyst that will motivate Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and company ahead of the final match. Justin Langer, on the other hand, will be hoping his inexperienced team can help the hosts end the tour on a high. Another intriguing contest awaits us.