After their surprising victory last year, the Australian ODI team is back in India for another series - this time a three-match encounter. This team is even stronger with the presence of David Warner and Steve Smith in the side.
The Indian team isn’t quite at full strength, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar missing with injury, but otherwise, their power-packed line-up remains intact. Despite them not reaching the final of the World Cup last year, few would argue that the Indian team isn’t among the best two teams in this format.
Also see – Under 19 world cup most runs
Australia on their part, being the only ODI side to have defeated India in India in the last four and a half years, are also among the best units in the world. Though this series isn’t scheduled around a big tournament, it is still important for both sides and has many important things to look forward to.
Here are the five main issues that this series is likely to address:
1. Rishabh Pant again under the scanner
Yes, he did have a good series against West Indies and that did reduce the pressure on him. But Rishabh Pant’s performance would again be under the spotlight.
With Ravi Shastri having almost confirmed that MS Dhoni will quit ODI cricket soon, Pant now has to become a consistent performer.
The problem with the young Delhi keeper-batsman has been his tendency to get out after being set, playing irresponsible shots. However, he has also at times been forced to bat this way considering he comes in low down the order.
It’s quite possible that Virat Kohli will once again promote Pant to the middle order in order to test him.
In the India vs Australia series last year, Pant didn’t have much success. He won’t have it easy this time either, with bowlers like Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in the line-up. But with Dhoni unlikely to come back into the team, Pant has a golden opportunity to cement his place in the team.
Whether he does that or not remains to be seen.
2. India's search for a third seamer
With Bhuvneshwar Kumar not in the line-up, India would be searching for a third seamer to assist Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. The options include Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur and Shivam Dube. The last of those is an all-rounder, so he can fit into the team in a different capacity too.
For Thakur and Saini, this is a big series. The regular Indian pace trio consists of Bumrah, Bhuvi and Shami. If either Thakur or Saini wants to fight their way in or become the guaranteed next option in the pecking order, they need to come up with impressive performances in this series.
While Dube is an all-rounder, his best chance to be in the team also emerges from becoming a reliable seamer. Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja are already the top contenders for the all-rounder’s spot, so Dube would find it hard to get through into the XI.
Hence, this is a big series for him too, from the bowling perspective. He has to make a compelling case for a place in the team as a bowler.
3. Marnus Labuschagne’s ODI trial
2019 saw the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne as a leading Test batsman. Now, the right-hander would seek to replicate his good form in the 50-over format as well.
This is likely to be an interesting trial by fire for Labuschagne. Steve Smith has been able to succeed in both the Test and the ODI format, and Labuschagne, who is regarded as the new Smith, would be expected to do the same.
But will he?
Labuschagne's biggest test would be his ability to deal with spinners. He has proven himself to be a hefty scorer in home conditions, and he also did well in England. But how he does against the turning ball would determine whether he is genuinely a future great.
Smith has a tremendous record in India, and he has also proven himself to be a very capable player of spin bowling. Can Labuschagne do the same? He will have to deal with not just the spinners but also two of the best fast bowlers in the world – Bumrah and Shami.
If he succeeds, Australia will have another top-quality batsman in their ODI side. If he doesn’t, he may well come to be regarded as a Test specialist - at least in the immediate future.
4. Will Yuzvendra Chahal get a chance?
In the ODI series against the West Indies, the Indian team opted for the combination of Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja in the spin department. Yuzvendra Chahal, who hasn’t been a bad performer at this level, was ignored.
It’s quite possible that in this series, Chahal will be given an opportunity to prove himself again. And if he does well, the Indian team would find itself with a nice headache of trying to choose which two tweakers to pick in the XI.
One of the reasons why India may have opted for Jadeja against West Indies in place of Chahal is the former’s ability with the bat. If India want to persist with Jadeja as an all-rounder in the team, then it would be a straight shoot-out between Kuldeep and Chahal.
However, since the 'KulCha' alliance has been very successful over the last three years, there could be a case of re-uniting them too. It will be interesting to see what the management decides.
5. Whether D’Arcy Short and Josh Hazlewood make use of their opportunity
He has been one of the most exciting performers in the Big Bash League, but D’Arcy Short wasn’t able to make much of a mark when he represented Australia in the ODI format. Now, he has been handed another chance - and he has to make this one count.
Although Australia are not currently in need of an opener, with both Aaron Finch and David Warner safely ensconced at the top of the order, they wouldn't mind having a problem of plenty. Besides, there are still a few spots open in the batting line-up, and by doing well in this series Short could well come to occupy one of them.
On the other hand, Josh Hazlewood has got a much-deserved opportunity to re-establish himself in the ODI team. The primary Australian pace bowling trio of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood may get re-united in the ODI unit.
Hazlewood's tight control over line and length and his ability to move the ball could be very useful in Indian conditions.
Both Short and Hazlewood know this is a great chance, and not one they can afford to miss. But whether or not they make good use of it, remains to be seen.