If there was an ideal time for Australia to take on India in a T20I series it has to be now.
Majority of the Australian players have been participating in the Big Bash that finished only seven days ago. To be exact, nine of Australia's 15-player squad played at least 11 Big Bash games, with six players featuring in the dramatic final last Sunday. On the other side of the coin, the Indian players have been cooling their heels after elongated tours of Australia and New Zealand.
(The first T20I between India and Australia will begin at 7 PM (IST) and will be telecast on Star Sports Network)
The Indian players only assembled into camp two days ago, while Australia has already been in India for six days and have been practicing their power hitting by staging center-wicket practice sessions. Match practice is a key to preparations and there is no doubt the Australians are better equipped heading into the opening fixture in Visakhapatnam.
But while the likes of Marcus Stoinis and D'Arcy Short have been plundering runs in the Big Bash on the bouncy surfaces at home, the low, skiddy pitches of India are bound to present them a new challenge. Add it to they will need to confront a fresh and well-rested Jasprit Bumrah with the new ball followed by the dual leg-spinning duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Mayank Markande along with finger-spinner Krunal Pandya.
Stoinis has been in outstanding form in the BBL, scoring 553 runs at strike-rate of 130.64. He is also the man Virat Kohli believes will pose an enormous threat to his team. "If I had to single out one player that can make more impact, that would be Marcus Stoinis, because he's come around really well during the BBL and he's making stand-out performances on a consistent basis," Kohli said on the eve of the tour-opening Twenty20.
Short is likely to open with Aaron Finch, with Stoinis expected to bat at No 4 followed by Glenn Maxwell. There is strong chance Ashton Turner could make his debut for Australia tonight at No 6. The off-spinning all-rounder is rated highly by Justin Langer for his finishing skills along with his running between the wickets. Kane Richardson and Jason Behrendorff will share the new ball and Adam Zampa will be the lone spinner.
The Australian bowling unit faces the stiff task of halting the powerful Indian batting unit that will be boosted by the return of Kohli. The Indian captain is averaging 61 from his 14 matches against Australia and has been the named 'Man of the Match' in four his last eight matches. He has been instrumental in orchestrating three run-chases, remaining unbeaten to give India the victory.
Jhye Richardson, the new kid on the block, picked up Kohli three times in the recent ODI series and it be will interesting to see if Australia decides to pick the youngster given his success against the Indian maestro.
The return of Kohli means Rishab Pant will drop down to No 4 and the absence of Hardik Pandya should result in a game for Vijay Shankar. There will be plenty of focus on Pant in the opening match after his phenomenal series with the bat Down Under. The left-hander could be the game breaker, having taken a liking for the Australian attack. The low bouncing wickets and the pace of the Australian fast bowlers could play right into Pant's hands.
One area India will be keen to improve on is their bowling. In the two T20 matches in New Zealand, the bowlers conceded 200 runs and it resulted in India losing on both occasions. The return of Bumrah will certainly improve the death bowling, but there will be pressure on the likes of Krunal and Umesh Yadav to keep Australian batting order in check.
There will be no doubt the Australian batsmen will make a conscious effort to target Krunal. The left-arm spinner has been rather expensive in the T20 internationals with an economy rate of 8.72. Surprisingly, Bumrah has an economy rate of 7.87 against Australian while Chahal in his two matches versus the Aussies has taken one wicket and gone for seven runs an over.
The Australian might have powerful hitters in their line-up, but it is worth noting that the Indian batsmen have plundered 133 sixes in the last 12 months compared to just 71 by the visitors. The pitch at Vizaq is expected to be batting friendly and big hits could be the order of the day.
Australia have a decent record against the hosts in recent times, having won two of the past three matches with two matches being washed out. The visitors should not have any problems acclimatising into the T20 format, while the hosts might take a game to dust off the cobwebs. The first T20 match is an ideal opportunity for Australia to start the tour on a winning note.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli(c), Vijay Shankar, Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni(w), Dinesh Karthik, Krunal Pandya, Umesh Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Lokesh Rahul, Mayank Markande, Siddarth Kaul
Australia: Aaron Finch(c), Alex Carey(w), D'Arcy Short, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa, Nathan Lyon, Jason Behrendorff, Usman Khawaja, Ashton Turner
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