It is difficult to find many positives about the upcoming T20I series against Australia, given the highly anticipated Test series is only two weeks away. But the truth is that the three matches starting from Wednesday are sure to bring the summer of cricket alive in Australia. The constant pessimism that has surrounded Australia cricket since the ball-tampering saga is still largely present and cricket in Australia is still in a hushed state. The attendance at the ground for the recent ODI series against South Africa was well below par and as was the anticipation.
But one only has to look at the number of fans that turned out at India's first training session at the Gabba to understand the thrill and the buzz Kohli's men have created Down Under. Media crews and newspapers have been active, and there has been a mad rush for tickets for all three venues. Tickets for the third T20I at the Sydney Cricket Ground have been sold out and a crowd in excess of 70,00 is expected for the second T20 in Melbourne.
On the field, it is a chance for the Indian batsmen to acclimatise and adapt to the fast and bouncy pitches of Australia ahead of the Test series. India will have fond memories of their previous T20I series Down Under when they whitewashed the men in yellow 3-0. India will be hoping to emulate the same result and with the Australian team missing their frontline seamers in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, there is a strong chance that the Indian batsmen could create havoc against a tier two bowling unit of Billy Stanlake, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Andrew Tye and Jason Behrendorff.
The three-match series is expected to be high scoring and the pace of the Brisbane pitch should suit the power hitters from both sides. Two men that Australia needs to be aware of are Kohli and Rohit Sharma. The Indian skipper averages 60.42 against the Aussies in T20 cricket. Add to that his strike-rate is in excess of 135 and he has hit four half-centuries in his last six innings against them. Rohit, on the other hand, is arguably the best T20 batsmen in the world right now, having struck two centuries and a ninety in his last eight innings. If Australia can keep Rohit and Kohli in check in at least two of the three matches, then there is a possibility of an upset.
On the bowling front, expect a few rotations as India preserve the workloads of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav. The series also presents an opportunity for India's wrist spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. Both are yet to play international cricket Down Under, and the big grounds should entice them to flight the ball and deceive the Australian power hitters through the air. On paper, the bowling looks strong and is capable of preventing the Australian juggernaut.
For Australia, the T20I series is a great opportunity to gain confidence and bring interest back into the game. The bouncy Brisbane wicket is always a good chance to test the Indian top-order against the short ball. The tall and express Billy Stanlake, along with the fast Nathan Coulter-Nile, could scar a few Indian batsmen and almost lay the foundation for the Test series. The battle between the Australian new ball bowlers and the Indian top three will go a long way to sealing the fate of the series.
Australia will also be hoping that the T20 series can help Aaron Finch rediscover his form. The T20I captain has been out of touch since returning from Australia assignments against Pakistan in the UAE. Finch will also need his top-order, and especially Chris Lynn, to get Australia off to a flying start. Lynn will fancy himself on the bouncy tracks of Australia and he could set the series alight if the Indian new bowlers fail to reel him in.
But as often in the case for Australia, their fate will be sealed by the way they combat the Indian spinners during the middle overs. A lot of Australian practice sessions have been dedicated around manipulating the ball into the outfield against slow bowling. It is a part of the game the hosts need to get spot on if they are to challenge India in all the three matches.
India certainly have the edge over Australia. But this Australian team is full of T20 specialists and expect the likes of Tye, Lynn, Darcy Short, Ben McDermott as well as the in-form Marcus Stoinis to play a significant role in the series. Short could well be the X-factor for the Australians given his supreme record during the Big Bash season in the past two years.
Either way, it promises to be a fascinating series that will attract the audiences via television sets and also get the fans through the gates. The result might be irrelevant, but the series might be the one that finally kicks the Australian summer into action.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa
India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, K Khaleel Ahmed.
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