Australia's last ODI victory came in January. Since then, Steve Smith's team failed to win the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy and qualify for the 2017 Champions Trophy semis. And now, eight months on, they find themselves on the verge of another series defeat against India, who have never lost a 50-overs match at Indore, the venue for the third ODI.
The coach choosing to not travel to the subcontinent to plan for the Ashes. Absence of premier pacers. Injury to the regular opener followed by the debut of a bloke whose List A average is 24.53. The ancient issues against (wrist) spinners. The captain openly lamenting about their innumerable collapses in a presser. This tour has been rather desolating for the Aussies.
They squandered a dominant start in Chennai, allowing MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya to rebuild from a precarious 87/5 to a healthy 281/7. And in Kolkata, the visitors never truly recovered after Bhuvneshwar Kumar's unsettling six-over spell before being demolished by the spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Not that the batting department could make any excuses, but they could still take comfort in the fact that the conditions were slightly in bowlers' favour. But when they stroll out at the Holkar Cricket Stadium on Sunday, they won't have any solace.
The pitch dished out at Indore is fresh and expected to be a batting beauty. Add short boundaries and it naturally becomes a mouth-watering prospect for the Australian batting line-up, which could be boosted by Aaron Finch's return.
"He is a very good batter. And he has played a lot of cricket for us over the past couple of years. He's got a lot of experience and, for us at the top of the order, he brings a lot of aggression. It's good signs to see him back in the nets and he's doing everything he possibly can to be fit for this game," the visitors vice-captain David Warner said ahead of the must-win encounter.
Smith also has the cushion of Peter Handscomb on the bench to replace the struggling Matthew Wade, who has not crossed the 10-run mark in his previous five innings. Although it remains to be seen whether he is willing to swap Wade's place with a part-time wicketkeeper.
The hosts' biggest worry is the No 4 spot which has been up for the grabs since the 2015 World Cup. Yuvraj Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav — all have had their opportunities but the search is still in progress. Recently, it was Rahul's failure in Sri Lanka that opened the doors for Karnataka's Pandey. But so far, Pandey has produced a lacklustre performance. It might be nerves or just pure misjudgment, but his dismissal in the second ODI — castled via an innocuous straight delivery — doesn't augur well for him. The Indore ODI may well be his final chance in the series before Kohli thinks of making a change and the 28-year old must cash in on it.
As far as the bowling department is concerned, Virat Kohli will have no complaints whatsoever. The bowlers have been so successful that the home side have not availed the services of the man with the golden arm: Kedar Jadhav. A sixth bowling option is becoming a necessity nowadays and not using it just goes to show how accurate the Indian bowlers have been.
The plan has been simple; the fast bowlers create pressure and the wrist spinners combine to befuddle the opposition. While Hardik Pandya has been a touch inconsistent, he snared the important wicket of Smith twice and that will give him a lot of confidence. The consistency means that, unless there is an injury, Ravindra Jadeja will once again warm the bench.
As things stand, the Indian selection panel would be more anxious than the national team. The squad announced was only for the first three ODIs. With players such as Shikhar Dhawan and Ravichandran Ashwin waiting for their opportunities, MSK Prasad and Co will have a huge decision to make before the Bengaluru fixture of continuing with the same players or introducing someone new.
A loss will extend Australia's losing streak to eight games. It is an unwanted record which Smith's men will not like to hold. While a victory won't solve all their problems, it will provide them momentum, which they desperately need.
India probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah
Australia probable XI: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb/Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson, Pat Cummins