By Yajurvindra Singh
Millions of Indian cricket fans will finally watch their team in action on Friday. The three-match One-day International series Down Under against Australia is just the tasteful appetizer that every cricket lover would be looking forward to, before the T20 and the Test series follow. The Indian Premier League (IPL) did bring in some excitement but a duel between two of the top international sides in the world is an entirely different ball game.
Both India and Australia have some fabulous and exciting players in their sides. With national colors and pride behind their backs, a good personal performance and winning becomes very important to them.
Australia have shown over the years to be a very good side in this format. They are a formidable side to play against and visiting teams have to play brilliant cricket to beat them in their own backyard. Although, India did win the last ODI series against them in 2018-19, one feels Australia have the edge over them this time around.
India last played as a team around nine months ago. Although the bio-secured bubble could help them gel better through team activities, playing as a team in a match is altogether different. The Indian team will need to get their act in place very quickly or else they may find themselves playing catching cook for the remainder of the tour.
Australia, on the other hand, have played and won a three-match series recently, in September, against England in England. They have, therefore, played competitive international cricket as a team and are much more organised and structured than India with their playing XI. The IPL for some of them has been ideal to keep them in the groove and has also given them an insight about the form and weaknesses of many of the Indian players.
Ricky Ponting, the coach of the Delhi Capitals who had several of the Indian young stars under him, is now a very important part of the Australian team’s think-tank. His knowledge and information will be invaluable to the Australian planning and execution. This is an area that the BCCI should look at very seriously as foreign coaches involved with their national sides are allowed to be a part of the IPL whereas the Indian support staff are not allowed to do so because of the conflict of interest clause.
This seems pretty ridiculous, as the information gathered by these foreign coaches can be detrimental to Indian cricket. Why should the BCCI give international foreign coaches the opportunity to asses, evaluate, and learn about our cricketers? One does understand the knowledge that they bring. However, the conflict clause cannot be only applicable to Indians. This one feels is a major flaw as regards the IPL.
As regards the ODI series, the dilemma that must be in the minds of the Indian think-tank would be to finalise the structure of the Indian playing XI. The choice of the opening batsmen will be the first issue that needs to be resolved. In the last series against New Zealand, Mayank Agarwal did not perform well whereas his partner Prithvi Shaw did much better. India has brought back Shikhar Dhawan and has also included two skilful youngsters in Shubman Gill and Sanju Samson.
The question that arises is whether India will select the opening slots on the basis of the IPL form or on ones earlier performance for India. The trio Virat Kohli-Shreyas Iyer-KL Rahul trio automatically secure their batting positions as they have all done extremely well during the last series as well as in the IPL.
India have unfortunately been weakened on two significant accounts. One is the absence of their most prolific and destructive opening batsman, Rohit Sharma, and the other being the inability to use Hardik Pandya as a bowler. The latter plays an important part as a dynamite batsman down the order. He can change the complete complexion of the game but whether he should be considered ahead of Manish Pandey, who scored runs in the last ODI in New Zealand, is a matter to ponder over.
India have a good bowling attack with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohmmed Shami to spearhead it and Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja to add support with spin. India will need another pace bowler and from the looks of it, Navdeep Saini may just get the slot ahead of Shardul Thakur.
The problem that India may face is if one of the bowlers has a bad day, there are no options available to redeem the situation.
Australia, meanwhile, have a well-balanced side filled with three genuine all-rounders in Pat Cummings, Marcus Stoinis, and Glenn Maxwell. They also have in their ranks Mitchell Starc, who opted not to play in the IPL to give his body rest and to recuperate for the India series.
The Australian batting with Aaron Flinch, David Warner, Steve Smith and one of the most talked about batting stars, Marnus Labuschagne, has an equally strong batting line-up as India.
ODI results have on many occasions tilted in favour of all-rounders’ performances. The last three World Cup wins have shown this phenomenon to be true. It was Yuvraj Singh in 2011, Shane Watson in 2015, and Ben Stokes in 2019. Australia, have filled their side with plenty of all-rounder options. This, therefore, does give them an extra edge to win the series. They are adamant to take revenge for their ODI series defeat in 2018-19 and India will need to play exceptionally good cricket to keep them at bay.
All the best, India!
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)
By Yajurvindra Singh