After warming up in the New Year with a T20I series win against Sri Lanka, India face a sterner test against the visiting Australians.
The two sides will square off in a three-match ODI series – to be played in Mumbai, Rajkot and Bengaluru.
This bilateral series is another enticing addition to the bevy of limited-overs fixtures lined up this year, as all teams look to get their preparations for the World T20 in order.
India’s preparations for the mega-event gained steam last year as they played a string of T20I series at home, against South Africa, Bangladesh and the West Indies.
The Men in Blue could only eke out a 1-1 draw against South Africa in the three-match T20I series after the first match was abandoned while winning against Bangladesh and West Indies by an identical 2-1 margin, both series heading to the third-match decider.
Australia, on the other hand, are in clinical form as they demolished their opponents in their last two T20I series, winning 2-0 against Pakistan and 3-0 against Sri Lanka.
More remarkable is the margin of victory for the Aaron Finch-led side in these wins. Against Pakistan – the World No 1 side in T20s – Australia played and won two matches, the first by seven wickets and second by 10 wickets.
Against Sri Lanka, the home side were even more dominant, winning by 134 runs, nine wickets and seven wickets respectively.
Evidently, India will have more at stake as they ready to face the mighty Australians.
Virat Kohli and Co will also have a score to settle against the Aaron Finch-led side. India lost their last bilateral ODI series against Australia 2-3 in March last year.
As the World T20 nears, both teams will relish the ODI series as an opportunity to play what they might feel is their best playing XI for the World T20.
The series will no doubt be spiced up by some individual battles within this new age India-Australia rivalry where there are no easy winners.
Rohit Sharma vs Pat Cummins
The ‘Hitman’ had a stellar 2019 as he peaked during the Cricket World Cup and accumulated 648 runs from nine matches at an average of 81, with five hundreds and a fifty. More relevant is Rohit’s record against Australia – 2037 runs from 37 innings at an average of 61.72 – which shows that he will be a potent threat at the top of the order.
For Australia, their best bet for dismissing Rohit will be Pat Cummins, who’s accounted for the Indian opener’s wicket on both the occasions when they’ve played against each other. Moreover, Cummins got Rohit out cheaply on both occasions and averages just seven with the ball against the Indian vice-captain. By the looks of it, Cummins figures at the top in this battle.
Virat Kohli vs Adam Zampa
The Indian captain’s record against Australia reads much like his overall record in ODIs – staggering.
Kohli has 1727 runs against the Australians from 35 innings at an average of 53.96. Of all the bowlers in the Australian attack for this series, leg-break bowler Adam Zampa has been the most successful against Kohli, having dismissed the Indian captain on three occasions in ten matches.
However, the fact that Zampa averages 68.66 against Kohli suggests that he isn’t winning this battle.
Jasprit Bumrah vs Australia
The 26-year-old right-arm fast bowler will be one of the star attractions as he looks to get some competitive game-time under his belt, after being sidelined for four months due to a stress fracture. Bumrah made his return to international cricket during the T20I series against Sri Lanka and fared decently well.
Bumrah’s record in ODIs is otherworldly – 103 wickets from 58 matches at a stunning average of 21.88.
However, against Australia, Bumrah has 17 wickets from 11 ODIs at an average of 29.82, somewhat tame by his exalted standards.
Mitchell Starc vs Shikhar Dhawan
The left-arm Australian seamer boasts of a great record against India having picked up 13 wickets from eight matches at an average of 25.
Notably, Starc has dismissed Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan three times in five matches that they’ve played against each other.
While Dhawan opens the batting for India, Starc is likely to get the new ball from one end. Theirs will be an exciting contest, more so since Dhawan will be aiming to score big and retain the opener’s spot in the limited-overs format after KL Rahul brought himself into contention for the same with some good performances.
Steve Smith vs India
Sample this: Smith averages 41.41 in his ODI career but against India, his average with the bat shoots up to 52.15, having scored 678 runs in 15 matches, with the best score of 149. But his scores are impressive at home and not away despite holding experience of playing in the IPL.
In India, Smith has just 170 runs from seven innings at an average of 28.33. Spinners Kedar Jadhav and Kuldeep Yadav – both of whom are in the squad for ODI series – have accounted for Smith’s wicket once each.
Smith’s recent limited-overs record is heartening – scores of 13 and 53 not out in the T20Is against Sri Lanka and an unbeaten 80 against Pakistan. Australia’s chances of winning India will rest heavily on Smith’s performances in the middle-order.
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Pant's innings will be remembered for a long time but none can forget that Ashwin (39 no, 128 balls) and Vihari (23 off 161 balls) put their bodies on line to save a game which could have been lost in a jiffy.
You didn’t need this day, or even this game, or this summer, to know that Cummins is operating, largely, in a league of his own even during this seemingly golden age for fast bowling. Since the start of 2018, no bowler has more Test wickets than Cummins’ 121 and no one in the top-12 of that list is within two points of his surreal average of 19.33.
The visitors need to chase down 407 – which would be the third-highest successful chase in Test history – or, more realistically, bat out around 130 overs to leave themselves a chance of winning this series.