That day has nearly arrived when the Indian cricket team finally returns to action for the first time as a unit since the tour of New Zealand before the coronavirus pandemic spread its tentacles across the globe.
This time it’s the other side of the Tasman Sea where the Men in Blue will take on Australia, a side much stronger than the one that had lost to the same opposition in two out of three formats the last time they hosted India. And the action begins with the three-match ODI series starting Friday that, marking the beginning of what promises to be a gruelling tour.
And while some may question the relevance of a 50-over competition at a time when teams are battling it out for World Test Championship points with an eye on the back-to-back T20 World Cups, one does wonder if the relevance of a bilateral contest really matters when it ultimately is a showdown between two top dogs of the sport. Australia after all are India’s fiercest rivals after Pakistan, although the quality of cricket produced against the former has been superior in the past decade even if the Indo-Pak rivalry still holds historical significance as well as higher box-office numbers.
And with some top names back in the ranks in the Aussie outfit, this series promises to be more keenly contested than 2018-19.
India’s opening conundrum
With Rohit Sharma not named in the limited-overs squad for the tour, the choice for Shikhar Dhawan’s opening partner will boil down to one of Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill, if the team decides to play vice-captain and wicketkeeper batsman KL Rahul in the middle order.
All four abovementioned names have had excellent outings in IPL 2020; while Rahul (670) and Dhawan (618) occupied the top two slots in the Orange Cap list, both Gill (440) and Agarwal (424) enjoyed decent runs with the bat themselves, the latter responsible for getting the Kings XI Punjab off to strong starts alongside Rahul more often than not.
It is Rahul’s versatility with the bat that will likely prompt the team leadership to send him down the order to either play the sheet anchor’s role or bludgeon the ball all over the park in the slog overs, and even send him up the order should either opener fail to fire. And with Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer having made the No 3 and No 4 slots their own, the top-order seems fairly well-settled heading into the one-day rubber.
As far as the bowling unit goes, the major talking point is around the Kuldeep Yadav vs Yuzvendra Chahal debate, with the tourists unlikely to go with the ‘KulCha’ combination when they have a reliable option in Ravindra Jadeja in their squad. Kuldeep’s decline in form ever since the 2019 ICC World Cup, which was evident in the recent IPL, could see him give his spot up for the wily leg-spinner.
As for Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, it is very unlikely Virat Kohli and Co will play both in all the white-ball fixtures given how sensitive teams are when it comes to managing the workloads of their frontline pacers. The pair, after all, will play a massive role in India’s defence of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy later in December. This makes it likely for young pacers Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur to be bowling in tandem during the series, the latter quite handy with the bat down the order.
Green’s debut, the ideal middle-order combination
As far as the hosts are concerned, the top-order mostly picks itself, with David Warner and skipper Aaron Finch walking out at the start of the innings, and Steve Smith their ever-reliable option at three. And with Marnus Labuschagne making his chances count in the ODIs in addition to his tremendous run in the five-day format, the top four slots appear locked, at least for the first two games in the three-match series.
The inclusion of Cameron Green in the squad, however, is what makes things a lot more interesting for the hosts. Especially since the Western Australian has had a terrific run with the bat in the ongoing Sheffield Shield, scoring two half-centuries aside from a 197 against New South Wales in four appearances, which perhaps is what led to his inclusion for the ODIs and T20Is in addition to the Test squad.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 24, 2020
Green will certainly hope to bring that form over to the 50-over format, but he’s already been set a challenge by none other than the head coach himself. Justin Langer has stated his ODI selection rests on his ability to contribute with the ball, putting him in direct competition with other batting all-rounders in Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis.
“In one-day cricket he'll only play if he can bowl a few overs because that's how we'll set up the team. He hasn't had the white-ball experience to come in as a pure batsman but if he can bowl a few overs, my gosh he becomes a good prospect,” Langer said last week.
For now, Maxwell and Stoinis are likely to get the nod ahead of Green — the ‘Big Show’ having put up match-winning performances in Australia’s 2-1 ODI series win over world champions England in September, and Stoinis exhibiting his class both with bat and ball for the Delhi Capitals in the IPL.
While the pair will be expected to provide a cushion to the top-order in the company of keeper-batsman Alex Carey, their abilities with the ball should also make more than a decent backup to the Aussie frontline bowling picks — the pace troika of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and leg-spinner Adam Zampa.
Much like the Indian pace unit, the Aussies might want to check the workloads of their mainstays especially when they have quality replacement options in Sean Abbott (who’s been having a fairly good Shield run himself), Andrew Tye and Daniel Sams. Both teams ultimately have their eyes fixed on the Test series that begins on 17 December, and neither side would want to suffer any injury-related complications over the course of the limited-overs fixtures.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Pat Cummins (vc), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Glenn Maxwell, Daniel Sams, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Matthew Wade (wk), David Warner, Adam Zampa.
India: Virat Kohli (c), KL Rahul (vc/wk), Mayank Agarwal, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Navdeep Saini, Sanju Samson (wk), Shubman Gill, Shardul Thakur.
1st ODI: 27 November at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
2nd ODI: 29 November at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.
3rd ODI: 2 December at Manuka Oval, Canberra.
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