The last time Australia lost an One-Day International was against India at home, to trail 2-0 in the five-match series. Since then they have won 10 matches on the trot. They have their star batsmen and bowlers back in the side and in form. In World Cups, their head-to-head against is lop-sided, having won eight out of the 11 matches between the two sides.
So when Virat Kohli and Co, take the field against the defending champions at the 2019 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, it is not an understatement to say they face a stern test as one of modern cricket’s most storied rivalries resumes at The Oval in London on Sunday.
India were clinical in their six-wicket victory against a depleted South Africa while Australia, who have raised their game in the last couple of months, were professional against Afghanistan and brilliant in their come-from-behind victory against the West Indies.
Having struggled in the past one year after suspensions of Steve Smith and David Warner, Australia finally seemed to have picked their pieces and are playing exactly like a five-time champions ought to. This will certainly be a cause of worry for India, who lost their ODI series at home during the last bilateral encounter and are still in search of a perfect combination both in batting and bowling.
In fact, Australia’s batting coach Ricky Ponting is apprehending a shift in strategy from the Indians, who have of late rattled them with quality pace bowling.
“Do they maybe go with only the one spinner and use (all-rounder) Kedar Jadhav as a second spinner and play another fast bowler?” Ponting told cricket.com.au recently. “We’ll worry about that in the next couple of days and make sure all the boys are prepared.”
Onus on India’s bowlers
It’s increasingly evident that if India are to go all the way at this tournament, the bowlers are the ones who will be crucial to the cause. India, perhaps, boast the most complete attack at the World Cup this year.
But, in the last bilateral series, the Australians effectively nullified India’s spin twins Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal on the flat sub-continental decks, sans Warner and Smith. Skipper Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja also got a grip of Kedar Jadhav’s side-arm off-spin and this will certainly force the captain and coach to explore options.
With the presence of the two talismans in the opposition ranks, India may be forced to tweak their playing XI, keeping the Oval pitch and the overcast conditions in mind. Warner and Smith have already served warning signals with a half-century each in their first two games.
Keeping that in mind, Mohammed Shami, who was dropped from the playing XI against South Africa, is a potential starter on Sunday with some report suggesting he is likely to make a comeback in the playing XI.
Shami was dropped purely for strategic reasons because of the Proteas’ inability to counter the two wrist spinners. But the current Australian team could be more susceptible against the pace of Jasprit Bumrah and craft of Shami. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who looked rusty during his first spell against South Africa, was impressive in the second, with a couple of wickets to show for his effort. In case India decide to retain both the wrist spinners and get Shami in the playing XI, then Bhuvneshwar will have to make way.
Chahal is virtually undroppable after his four-wicket haul against South Africa but it must be recalled that Chahal played only one game against Australia, at Mohali, in the home series, and gave away 80 runs in 10 wicketless overs. Kuldeep, in theory, should be effective because of the bounce and dip that he gets apart from his stock delivery being the one that will leave the left-handers but his form and confidence lately is a cause of concern. Even if Kohli insists otherwise.
Will Vijay Shankar get a look in?
The matches at The Oval so far have offered more assistance to seam bowlers and that could mean Kedar’s place could also be up for discussion, as his side-arm off-breaks may just not be as effective on an Oval pitch with true bounce, where batsmen can line him up for big hits.
In that case Vijay Shankar, with his wicket-to-wicket seam-up stuff and steady batting, could come into consideration. Kedar has also had problems against raw pace and disconcerting bounce, which an in-form Mitchell Starc will dish out in abundance.
The other issue will be Shikhar Dhawan’s prolonged bad patch. Dhawan, an ICC event giant, is yet to fire since coming to England, failing in both warm-up games and the first game. The movement off the pitch from back of length has created problems for the left-hander. In the net sessions, he has reportedly spent time facing Khaleel Ahmed for some quality practice ahead of the real test against Starc.
Australia high on confidence
Make no mistake though, Australia will be buzzing in confidence after they won a match they had no right winning against West Indies on Thursday in Nottingham. Despite being down and out on multiple occasions, they found a way to fight back and in the end emerged comfortable winners when a West Indies win seemed imminent. After losing four out of five (in the eight ODIs the two teams have played in 2019 so far), Finch and Co turned their fortunes around in Ranchi and have not looked back since.
The team is known to step up their game considerably at the World Cup and are showing signs of doing just that although India can take confidence from the weakness shown by their batting lineup against West Indies.
Kohli and Co drew first blood when they won the series in Australia to start this year, Finch and Co stormed back and returned the favour during their India tour. Now, at the biggest stage in cricket, two giants battle again in what promises to be a cracking game. Who will have the last laugh (at least for now) in this epic rivalry?
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja
Australia: Aaron Finch (captain), David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey, Adam Zampa, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Jason Behrendorff, Kane Richardson.
Match starts at 3 pm IST.
(With PTI inputs)