It feels like the biggest stars coming together for a 30-minute short film. With several of the top cricketers in the world in action over the next six days, a three-match series seems inadequate. It would have served as an appetiser if followed by a Test series. But the contest will get over almost as soon as one sinks one’s teeth into it.
Normally, the bigger names skip a series of such short duration. But the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins have landed in India. Even Marnus Labuschagne is not taking time off after a dream home summer, and Josh Hazlewood, who hasn’t played an ODI since 2018, is marking his return from injury in this series.
To put the star power on show in context, the series features three of the top 10 batsmen and bowlers according to the ICC ODI rankings. If one expands the ambit to the other formats, four of the top 10 Test batsmen and bowlers will be there. Three of the top 10 batsmen and two bowlers in the T20I format will also be seen.
Such a high-profile series, with such talent on display, makes some riveting personal duels almost inevitable. India-Australia series anyway provide some memorable one-on-one contest, and the same can be said about the upcoming rubber, its short duration notwithstanding.
Cummins vs Kohli
A battle of No.1s
Virat Kohli is the top batsman in ODIs (and Tests too, while being in the top 10 in T20Is as well), while Pat Cummins is No.1 in Tests and fourth in ODIs. Kohli always seems to raise his game against better opposition, while Cummins has been the go-to bowler for Australia under all conditions. He has also displayed immense fitness and has hardly skipped a game in the recent past. What’s more, he’s made a habit of getting the better players out, which makes him an invaluable asset for the team.
The Aussie speedster may trouble Kohli with his tight line and just enough movement either way to beat the bat or get an edge. He is also deceptively quick and also adept at bowling cross-seam cutters, beating batsmen with lack of pace.
If the situation demands, Kohli may accord Cummins the required respect at the start of his innings before taking him on later in the piece.
Starc vs Sharma
Rohit Sharma is a beast of a batsman in white-ball cricket, especially ODIs, but his struggles against left-arm pacemen from over the wicket are well documented. He is susceptible, especially early on, to the ball coming in and targeting his pads and the stumps. Rohit Sharma’s front pad often goes across his body and his bat has to go round it to make proper contact with the ball.
This is where Starc (ranked in the top 10 in both ODIs and Tests) comes into the picture, if he can get the new ball to swing. LBW and bowled become a possibility. Once a few balls swing in, the wary batsman could also be vulnerable to deliveries that keep going on the angle and don’t deck in.
But Sharma is good enough to take toll of anything marginally loose, especially short. And if he stays at the wicket for any length of time, it will spell trouble for Australia.
Bumrah vs Smith
Are they fallible?
Any contest between the top bowler in the format ( and No. 6 in Tests) and the No.2-ranked batsman in Tests is bound to be mouth-watering. Since his return from suspension, Steve Smith has had a relatively quiet time in ODIs. He didn’t set the World Cup on fire, while being in Bradmanesque form during the Ashes. But in many ways, the former Australia captain is coming up against one of his favourite opposition teams in a country where he has had a lot of success.
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Jasprit Bumrah’s rise to prominence over the last few years has been meteoric. Hardly any batsman around the world can claim to have come to grips totally with his unusual action, angle, pace and variations. If he’s fully recovered from his stress fracture in the lower back, he will be a handful to deal with. To make matters even more interesting, Smith was not there when Bumrah played the Test series Down Under a year ago.
Over the past few months, Smith has had trouble against short deliveries. He was hit on the neck by Jofra Archer, and even had considerable trouble on many occasions against Neil Wagner in the recent series against New Zealand.
Bumrah has a deceptive bouncer, which climbs off a length and targets the batsman’s head. Smith’s recent travails wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by him.
Labuschagne vs Shami
Form meets class
Labuschagne hasn’t put a foot wrong in Tests till now, but has yet to represent his country in white-ball cricket. His tight technique and strong temperament has earned a lot of plaudits. But an on-song Shami can find chinks in any batsman’s armour.
The Indian speedster bowls from close to the stumps and gets the ball to deviate either way. He also bowls a heavy ball and possesses a sharp bouncer. If Labuschagne makes a debut in the series, it will be a baptism by fire for him.
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