CHENNAI: A few years back, Indian fans had got fed up of matches against Sri Lanka, which kept happening due to some understanding between the two boards. The trend changed following the overhaul in ICC, when BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) decided to increase the volume of matches between them.
In this new pattern the Big Three, who contribute a major chunk of ICC’s revenues, play against each other almost every year. Ashes contests have become more frequent. India versus Australia has become a regular fixture in either country. England, too, have joined the party.
In 2014, CA announced that their tri-series, an annual feature which was discontinued after India’s triumph in the 2007-08 season, would resurface in the lead-up to the World Cup with England and Men in Blue. For various reasons — loss of marketability of West Indies among those — the tri-series is not being held this year and India has decided to fill the void by agreeing to five ODIs and three T2Os. This is their first Australia trip for a bilateral limited-over series, something Australians have done a few times.
Not Same Force
Beginning on Tuesday, MS Dhoni & Co will get a chance to topple the world champions in their own den. Since the late March night last year when Michael Clarke lifted the World Cup, a lot has happened in Australia. The current side is rather young with Clarke and deputy Brad Haddin retired. Steve Smith, who inflicted plenty of pain on Indian bowlers last winter, captaining a side which is not playing the kind of cricket it was last year. Though they defeated New Zealand and West Indies in Tests, they have played only one ODI series since the World Cup during the Ashes tour and will go into the series needing adjustments. David Warner, expecting a second child, is doubtful. But what will worry the hosts the most is the fitness of Smith, who is battling a knee injury.
It is in this backdrop that India, whose focus now is to reclaim the World T20 title in March, run into Australia. The World Cup semifinalists, after a disappointing Test and tri-series last year, have left out Suresh Raina and Mohit Sharma from that lot. Manish Pandey and Ishant Sharma come in, with newcomers Gurkeerat Singh and Barinder Sran.
There is no denying there are holes in the middle-order and the combination is far from settled. Two of India’s most organised batsmen — Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane — don’t have fixed slots! For all you know, the latter might not even make the XI if India go for firepower and add Manish Pandey followed by Dhoni and Gurkeerat.
“Seventy per cent of our side is the same as the one which played in the World Cup. This will help us adjust quickly. When it comes to batting in Australia, we need to play as a unit. Be it openers, middle-order or the lower-order, everyone will have to contribute because big scores are hard over there and bowlers will keep finding breakthroughs. With Raina not around, Dhoni will need to shoulder more responsibility as there is no one in the role of finisher. He might have to come up if the situation demands as well,” opined former India batsman Pravin Amre.
Bowling will suffer in the absence of Mohammed Shami. The team management wanted Ishant in place of the inured Mohit, but how effective Shami’s replacement Bhuvneshwar Kumar can be is to be seen. With Ishant, left-arm seamer Sran to go with Umesh Yadav, India have bases covered in the pace department. R Ashwin is in good form, but how Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel complement him will be important. By having both, selectors have sacrificed a batsman.
“As much as they are physically prepared, Indians should be prepared mentally as well. They need to understand that Australia will try and attack from the word go and they’ve to up their game. If you attack them, you stay in the game. The moment our bowlers go on the defensive, it will be hard to contain. Ishant should be our trump card. If he can adjust to the bounce on different surfaces, we can think about winning the series. Our attack should be three pacers and Ashwin alongside a bowling all-rounder,” said ex India bowler and coach Madan Lal.
These are tricky times for Captain Cool. After losses in ODI and T20s against South Africa at home, Dhoni was left facing the captaincy axe, but selectors retained him keeping in mind the limited time ahead of World T20. Will have a tough time in Australia, where India’s record isn’t great.
Hasn’t been consistent of late, but can be match-winner on his day. Though he was India’s top run-getter in the World Cup, the opener’s form since then has been iffy. Against South Africa, he managed 126 in 5 ODIs at 25.20. Has had problems against quality pace.
With India looking for middle-over aggression before WT20, he is likely to be tried out. Suresh Raina’s exclusion brightens his chances. The first Indian to hit an IPL century, in 2009, Pandey has seen ups and downs. In the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy, was Karnataka’s highest scorer with 212 at 53.00.
Likely to be a beneficiary, given Dhoni’s preference for all-rounders. The consistent performer from Himachal had been in contention for a while. Was highest wicket-taker in the 2013-14 Ranji season, with 49 scalps from 8 matches and bagged 40 in 2014-15. Made 252 in 5 innings with a strike rate of 113.51 in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy, besides taking 6 wickets.
Hasn’t played ODIs for nearly a year, but has been consistent in Tests of late. Missed the World Cup with injury, but Australian wickets are likely to suit his bowling. Being the most experienced bowler, he has a crucial role to play.
One of India’s top match-winners won’t be part of the ODIs, but is in the T20 squad. The left-hander hasn’t been the same player since the 2011 World Cup, but in the Vijay Hazare Trophy amassed 341 runs in 5 games at an average of nearly 70. With India lacking one in the middle to take on the bowlers, Yuvraj’s progress will be closely watched.