Ahead of the eagerly awaited four-match Test series, India will square off against hosts Australia in three ODIs and three T20Is.
Besides being one of India’s fiercest rivalries, this will be their first assignment after the long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia, on the other hand, are one of the few teams that have played cricket, even before the IPL, during their England tour. After suffering a 1-2 series defeat against the hosts in T20Is, the Aussies bounced back and clinched the ODI series 2-1.
Fully aware that their first assignment after the coronavirus-enforced hiatus will set the tone for the upcoming matches, and with some promising finds from IPL in their arsenal, the Men in Blue will aim to bring their ‘A’ game against the fiery Australians.
The last time both these teams locked horns in Australia, the T20I series was levelled at 1-1, but India got the better of the hosts in the ODI series (2-1). And once again, it promises to be a closely contested series.
Before the first ODI, which gets underway at Sydney on 27 November, here’s a look at some of the Indian players one should watch out for:
India will miss the services of Rohit Sharma in the limited-overs games. In the absence of the ‘Hitman’, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, KL Rahul is likely to open the innings alongside Shikhar Dhawan.
The stylish right-hander was not a guaranteed presence in limited-overs until late 2019. Since then, Rahul hasn’t looked back. He has risen exponentially, thereby making it tough for the selectors to look past him.
Rahul’s rise coincided with Rishabh Pant’s fall — as a wicketkeeper and batsman. Besides, the Karnataka batsman has successfully played the finisher’s role, whenever that has been asked of him.
Rahul’s purple patch continued in the recently concluded IPL, where he finished as the leading run-getter with 670 runs from 14 games.
As a wicketkeeper-batsman, his good form bodes well for India going into the Australia tour. The 28-year-old will also assume the vice-captain’s role, thanks to the promise shown by him while leading Kings XI Punjab in the IPL.
The flamboyant left-hander, who is known for being a big match player, was Delhi Capitals’ leading run-getter (second-highest in the IPL 2020) with an impressive average of 44.14 and a strike of 144.73. His knack of scoring big was evident from his back-to-back centuries — a record in IPL’s history.
Dhawan would love to carry his rich vein of form into the Australia series. In fact, he fancies Australia as an opponent. During last year’s Australia tour, he averaged 58 and finished as India’s leading run-getter in the T20I series. The striking feature was the pace at which he amassed these runs — with a mind-boggling strike rate of 182.
One thing is for sure — if the senior batsman provides India with flying starts, the going will be tough for the hosts.
India have tried the likes of Vijay Shankar and Shivam Dube but Hardik Pandya continues to be the side’s most valuable all-rounder in limited-overs cricket. On his day, the explosive right-hander has the ability to single-handedly take the game away from the opposition.
The 27-year-old was last seen in India colours in the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. And while he has recovered from the back injury that kept him out of action, Pandya did not bowl during IPL 2020.
Although his exploits with the bat in IPL (281 runs from 14 matches with strike rate of 178.98) augur well for India, Pandya will lend balance to the side if he can sneak a few good overs.
It will be interesting to see if the team management is looking at him only as a middle-order batsman in view of his back issues.
Navdeep Saini’s performance will be of great significance as Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami — India’s strike bowlers — are likely to be rotated during the six white-ball games.
After making his ODI and T20 debut in 2019, Saini has consistently bowled quick. But in order to cement his place in the Indian team, he’ll have to be tighter with his line and length.
In his short international career, the Delhi pacer has picked up five wickets in as many ODIs. His record in the T20Is is marginally better with 13 wickets from 10 matches.
In the IPL 2020 too, there were phases where he looked promising, such as his tidy Super Over for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Mumbai Indians, where the batsmen could only manage seven runs off him. However, Saini could only scalp six wickets from 13 games and will not be pleased with his performance as a whole.
The likes of Deepak Chahar and T Natarajan, on the other hand, made a mark in the recently concluded IPL. The selectors will also be looking at them as valuable options for the third seamer’s slot. In that sense, there is decent enough competition in the squad.
To Saini’s advantage, however, Australia’s tracks might assist bounce which will aid his style of bowling.
Last year, in the solitary ODI that he played Down Under, the leg spinner ran through the Aussie batting line-up, finishing with career-best figures of 6/42.
Besides, the Australians will be wary of Chahal since he was the only spinner who featured in the IPL’s top five wicket-takers with 21 scalps.
Undoubtedly, the 30-year-old loves a challenge. Under Virat Kohli, who happens to be both his IPL franchise and national team’s skipper, he has shown that he can thrive under pressure situations.
Along with Kuldeep Yadav, he has handled India’s spin department in the limited-overs for a long time. But with Yadav woefully out of form, Chahal will once again be Kohli’s preferred spinner.