When India set off for Australia, they were burdened with the expectations of a historic Test series win Down Under. Virat Kohli and Co delivered handsomely on the promise with a 2-1 win in the longer-format.
Now, there’s very little history at stake as the Men in Blue get ready to take on the Aussies in the ODI series – the final leg of the tour. India have earlier won ODI series in Australia on two occasions – the World Championship of Cricket in 1985 and the CB Series in 2008. However, the upcoming series will not be any less important as the final preparations for the 2019 World Cup in England get underway.
India will play 13 ODIs before the World Cup including a few T20s to get their squad right, fine-tune things and prepare for the biggest stage. After the upcoming three-match series, Kohli will lead his troops to the neighbouring New Zealand for a five-match ODI series followed by a five-match ODI series against Aaron Finch’s side at home.
Coach Ravi Shastri in an interview with Times of India, declared the same, saying that the focus in matches will be on fine-tuning things and not on results.
“We’ll use these matches to fine-tune things. We’re not bothered about winning or losing these games. We’ll use this opportunity just to get the final look of the World Cup squad right.,” Shastri said.
While it may be about fine-tuning certain aspects, Shastri could not have been more off the mark as still there’s a lot left to do before Team India gets on to that flight for England. Especially, in the fast bowling department.
A team which has been highly depended on the duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the shorter-format, still needs to discover its second or third line of pace attack. Pacer Mohammed Siraj inclusion in the side as replacement for Bumrah, who has been rested for the series, indicates towards the same project.
Siraj is yet to play an ODI for India and has only featured in three T20Is. His selection seems to be influenced by his consistent performance for India A. Umesh Yadav played the role of the back-up pacer in the ODIs against Windies last year, but the selectors have clearly decided to try out Siraj to get him ready for any contingency that may occur in the future.
Another interesting recall to the side is that of Mohammed Shami. The pacer was called-up for the ODI series against Windies in October after 12 months of absence in the 50-over format but was once again dropped after just two matches. But here he’s in Australia with another chance to revive his bowling career in coloured clothing.
Khaleel Ahmed impressed in the ODIs and T20Is against Windies at home and also in the T20I series Down Under late last year. He also adds a much-needed variety with his left-arm pace and in the absence of Bumrah, the 21-year-old would be shouldering most of the responsibilities with Bhuvneshwar.
The upcoming series and the New Zealand one-dayers are the perfect opportunity for the three pacers to stake their claim in the squad and reserve their ticket for England.
The batting middle-order which had been a conundrum for Kohli and team management for long seems to be fine now with Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav taking up the No 4, 5 and 6 slots. Rayudu consistency at No 4 has been a huge sigh of relief for India as over half a dozen of players were auditioned earlier for that slot before India settled for the Hyderabad batsman.
India would be expecting Rayudu to continue delivering the goods. The focus would also be on MS Dhoni, who endured a horrific 2018. The veteran failed to score a single fifty last year and it’s a no secret that his hard-hitting prowess is on a wane. But with his recall to the T20I side for New Zealand series, selectors have shown that they are ready to back him till the hilt. Perhaps, it’s time for Dhoni to let go of any apprehension and play with a free mind. The presence of Dinesh Karthik, however, in the squad would continue to keep some pressure on Dhoni and Kohli.
Hardik Pandya has weathered a lot of storm recently for his comments on a chat show. However, India will be looking to bring the all-rounder back in the fold with the Baroda cricketer looking to get his groove back. He hasn't played a match for India since his injury during the Asia Cup last September.
In summation, as Shastri said, it's time for India to fine-tune things along with plugging the obvious gaps. However, Kohli would be aware of the record that India have never won a bilateral ODI series in Australia. The absence of premier Aussie pacers have already dented the hosts' chances and along with with the bigger picture of World Cup in his mind, be rest assured that the skipper would also keep an eye on another historic series win.