The Australian squad had a completely new look about them ahead of the first ODI in Sydney. Not only are a lot more fresh faces visible in the 50-over side, but there is also the spanking new retro outfit. Australia is looking to rekindle the golden past by donning a canary yellow strip that resembles the one worn by Allan Border's side in a corresponding one-day series against India back in 1986.
Australia will be hoping the change of clothing and the format can start an upward climb. Australia is currently ranked sixth in the ICC rankings. They had an abysmal 2018 in the 50-over format, winning two matches and losing 11. Even the likes of Zimbabwe, Scotland, and UAE registered more victories in the last 12 months.
It has been a mighty fall from grace for the current World Cup champions. Their path to resurrection starts against India in Sydney, but there are more questions than answers about the selections. Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, and Peter Handscomb are back in the ODI mix after having being touted as 'Test specialists' for the past couple of years. Travis Head, the third highest run-scorer in 2018, has been omitted and the three front line seamers — Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood — have been rested. The trio will be replaced by Peter Siddle, Jason Behrendorff and Jhye Richardson, with Lyon preferred over Adam Zampa.
Rather than the bowling, it will be the Australian batting that will be under the microscope. Aaron Finch had no qualms disclosing his top seven at the pre-game press conference, with the biggest surprise being that of Alex Carey partnering Finch at the top of the order. In the recent series against South Africa, Carey was extremely productive through the middle overs by adopting the sweep shot, and it is rather strange that the Australian management has opted to open with him.
In the last five ODIs in which Australia have batted first, they been bowled out inside 50 overs on four occasions. With Mitchell Marsh missing the first match due to illness, the Australian middle order will consist of Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis. How this unit tackles the Indian spinners through the middle stages will be pivotal to Australia's chances in the opening game.
Australian coach Justin Langer certainly felt India will test his unit by playing two wrist spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Kuldeep has been a revelation for India ever since he was drafted into the setup 18 months ago. The left-arm spinner has taken 67 wickets at 20.07 from 33 matches and will be buoyed by how well he bowled against Australia in the three T20Is earlier in the summer. Chahal too has an outstanding record in recent times and his partnership with Kuldeep gives India a huge advantage, given Australia's poor record against wrist spin bowling.
On the batting front, there isn't a better top three in ODIs than Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli. Between them, they plundered 14 centuries in 2018 and all had strike-rates in excess of 100 along with averages touching 50 or more. The top three and the wrist spinning duo have been the catalyst for India winning 75 percent of the matches since the debacle in the Champions Trophy final in June 2017.
But while the top order has been plundering runs, there are still question marks hovering over the middle order. Ambati Rayudu has had a wonderful outing against the West Indies recently and he looks a certainty to start the series at No 4. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav will then take charge of the No 5 and No 6 slots respectively.
The big debate will be around the No 7, especially if the BCCI decides to impose a ban on Hardik Pandya. It means India Ravindra Jadeja becomes a certainty and also opens the door for playing an extra seam bowler. Another area India will need address is the death bowling. The absence of Jasprit Bumrah means either Khaleel Ahmed or Mohammed Shami will don the responsibility alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
There has been plenty of rain in Sydney in the lead up to the match and while the forecast is fine for Saturday, the moisture in the pitch could prompt the captain that wins the toss to bowl first. The pitch, however, is expected to batting friendly, but slightly on the slower side. A score around 280-300 will be considered par and the long boundaries on one side of the ground means the captains have to select the right end for the spinners.
India have only salvaged two victories in the past nine matches at the SCG but will be bolstered by their victory here in 2016 and as well as the T20I series in November. Australia, in the meantime, will know that if they can prevent the top three from piling on the runs, the Indian middle order is slightly brittle and can be exposed. India starts as warm favourites, but perhaps the new outfits can inspire Australia to take their ODI game to a new level.