The warm-up fixtures have been good for India. More than anything else, they have allowed the team to remove the rust after a month-long break from international cricket. Most of the players, however, featured in the domestic one dayers and T20s during that period. However, facing Australia in their lair is the toughest cricket can offer and India must start off well to make this five-match ODI series competitive.
Last year, India had failed to win a single game in the tri-series Down Under. But the unit looked jaded, desperately seeking some rest before the World Cup. In the quadrennial showpiece, India had returned invigorated, winning eight games on the bounce before being rolled over by Australia in the semi-final. MS Dhoni’s men went into a slump after that, losing an ODI series against Bangladesh and finishing second-best against South Africa in the 50-over contests and T20s at home. The sequence coincided with Mohammed Shami’s knee injury that had to be operated upon.
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The Bengal fast bowler was out for nine months and India lost everything (except the short series in Zimbabwe) in limited-overs cricket during that period. Little wonder then that the selectors and team management were relieved to have him back for this assignment. Misfortune, however, chased Shami as he pulled his hamstring during nets in Australia. “It’s a big blow for everyone – for Shami, for the team, for India…” was the immediate reaction from chief selector Sandeep Patil.
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The challenge for India would be to find a suitable replacement. The team’s recent travails suggest there’s no one available.
The onus would be on Ishant Sharma to lead the pace attack. He performed the role commendably in the Test series against Sri Lanka. But the 27-year-old fast bowler is returning to the limited-overs fold after almost a year and might be a little short of confidence. Dhoni is never very impressed with Umesh Yadav’s ‘lack of control’, while left-arm seamer Barinder Sran is a greenhorn. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami’s replacement, had conceded 106 runs in 10 overs in the last ODI he played (against South Africa at Wankhede). He suddenly seems to have lost his ability to swing the ball, becoming pedestrian in the process.
Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to take care of the middle-overs. He’s India’s most improved cricketer over the past 12-odd months, bowling-wise. But the Australian pitches won’t be square turners…Far from it.
Ashwin ended 2015 as the number one Test bowler in the ICC rankings after taking 62 wickets from nine matches. It would be imperative that he replicates his form in the ODIs overseas. His performance could determine the outcome of the series.
Looks like Ravindra Jadeja would trump Axar Patel for the second spinner’s slot because he contributes a little more with the bat. He was excellent on his comeback in the home Tests against South Africa – 23 scalps at 10.82 in four matches. But this is a different ball game and the left-arm spinner faces a tougher challenge.
As for batting, it would be interesting to see who plays at number five following Suresh Raina’s ouster. Manish Pandey and Gurkeerat Singh are the available options. The former played an ODI against Zimbabwe in July last year, scoring an 86-ball 71. Gurkeerat was in the squad for the home series against South Africa but didn’t get a game. Perhaps he deserves a look in. He can be used as a part-time off-spinner as well.
The Australian bowling is depleted without Mitchell Starc. Josh Hazlewood is leading a callow pace attack comprising debutants Scott Boland and Joel Paris. Tuesday, the hosts still start as favourites at the pacey WACA ground.