Bengaluru: A coveted series-victory will be at stake when a resilient India face a feisty Australia in the third and deciding ODI on Sunday, promising a fitting finale between the two leading teams in world cricket.
The series was very much expected to go down to the wire but with the way the Australians hammered the hosts in the series opener, it seemed the tourists would run away with their second straight series win in India.
However, India showed commendable character in Rajkot to level the series, proving that the panic buttons were pressed prematurely following the 10-wicket loss in Mumbai.
More importantly, India got their batting combination right for the second ODI, a fair comment considering the way KL Rahul seized the opportunity in his new batting position — number five.
With Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan opening, team’s best batsman and skipper Virat Kohli returned to his usual number three spot while Shreyas Iyer was back at number four. The same order is likely to be followed on Sunday.
Rohit, who is due for a big score in the series, hurt his shoulder while fielding on Friday but Kohli is confident that the star opener will be available for the series decider at the Chinnaswamy stadium.
Manish Pandey played in place of injured Rishabh Pant and it remains to be seen if the southpaw is fit for the game.
The biggest plus for India from Rajkot was Rahul’s power-packed knock at number five, creating a new set of possibilities that might help in improving the team balance.
Specialist opener Rahul made the difference in India’s innings by batting at a 150-plus strike rate in an unfamiliar position, having batted at three in the previous game.
In fact, Kohli went to the extent of saying that it was the best he saw from Rahul at the international level. India are looking to add much needed firepower in the middle-order and Rahul could provide that.
In Pant’s absence, he also did well behind the wicket, effecting Aaron Finch’s stumping besides taking two catches. Before the series, the talk was about ‘who would open alongside Rohit?’
Will it be Rahul or the fit-again Shikhar Dhawan? With Dhawan scoring big in both the games and Rahul showing his versatility, both have proved their immense value in the playing eleven.
Kohli was criticised for tinkering with the batting order in Mumbai, especially on pushing himself down to four to accommodate Rahul but he always knew what he was doing.
“We live in the days of social media and a panic button being pressed too early. It’s very important to figure out the best team you can put on the park and when you see how KL was batting today, it’s very difficult to leave someone like that out,” Kohli said after the 36-run win.
No significant change is expected even in the bowling composition with team preferring three pacers and two spinners.
Kuldeep Yadav, who did not have the best of times in 2019, reaffirmed his value by bowling a match-winning over in which he removed Alex Carey and Steve Smith.
The other wrist spinner in the squad, Yuzvendra Chahal, may finally get to play alongside Kuldeep with the Chinnaswamy Stadium being his home ground in the IPL.
Another positive for India was Jasprit Bumrah producing a tidy spell, his most impressive since his comeback from injury. He stifled the opposition as wickets came from the other end.
Mohammad Shami, who was a tad expensive early on in Rajkot, bowled well towards the end alongside Navdeep Saini.
Australia too are unlikely to make wholesale changes in their line-up following the defeat. They were very much in the run chase until Kuldeep got rid of star batsman Smith. The visitors had a great chance of wrapping up the series but were unable to win the crucial moments.
The in-form Marnus Labuschagne was impressive in his first ODI innings but got out at the wrong time.
Mitchell Starc would be itching to bounce back, having conceded 78 runs in 10 overs. His new ball partner Pat Cummins was hard to score off once again while leggie Adam Zampa got the prized wicket of Kohli for the fifth time in ODIs.
However, left-arm spinner Ashton Agar has not been that effective and needs to up his game in the all-important series decider.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, K L Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Shami.
Australia: Aaron Finch (Captain), Alex Carey (Wicket-keeper), Patrick Cummins, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschange, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Ashton Turner, David Warner and Adam Zampa.
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Given the nature of the last few series between these teams, it would be naive to think too far ahead; but all factors considered, India will know they have some clawing back to do when they step out at the SCG on day two.
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