Problem of plenty for India in clash of the titans
With the 50-over World Cup due in less than two years, the Indian board, in their endeavour to leave no stone unturned, have arranged to host the likes of Australia, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka in this home season of 2017-18. This comes after having had enough momentum and miles in their legs as it were, in the backdrop of the finals of the Champions Trophy in England, and trouncing both the Windies and the Lankans at their own backyards with distinct ease.
If the season of 2016-17 was hemmed in with the proliferation of Tests, this season surely is choc-a-bloc with a plethora of one-dayers.
With three or four spots up for grabs, it would be an ideal opportunity for the Indian team management to rotate the lads and figure out at least 20 names for the squad. Despite enduring injury scars and other professional occupational hazards, Team India appear to be well endowed in their stocks, as a sound bench strength shores the team up. With quality players itching to make a mark, the intense pressure to shoo themselves into the final squad for the big occasion is a huge motivating factor.
Personally, one can't wait to see how much air-speed Mohammed Shami can muster in order to hasten the Aussie batsmen into faulty strokes.
Talk of a problem of plenty!
First among the visitors are the smarting Aussies, reigning World Cup champions toppled off from one day hegemony, who suffered the ignominy of a lost Test game to Bangladesh at the start of their summer in Asian conditions, with a few of the players struggling to shake off the early season rust and others crease-tied with mental cobwebs against the turning ball.
Rest assured, they won't face such shackles in the relatively predictable one-day format, which normally has shirtfronts as pitches to fill the boots of batsmen. The clamour for one-day supremacy could not have started with a more feisty opponent, given their innate combative streak and guts.
If this series were to be an encore of the 2013 season, where India won 3-2, one can safely surmise that tall scores would be the order of the day and top order batsmen like Rohit Sharma, who chalked up a double ton and a ton to score an aggregate of 491 runs (and Virat with 344 runs) would be setting their stalls up and continuing their recent red-hot form.
That they will miss the other in-form player, left-handed Shikhar Dhawan for the first three games is obvious, but the team would be assuaged and bolstered by the presence of Ajinkya Rahane, festering in the team shed after having peeled off runs in Windies in July, post-Champions Trophy.
He must be sweating and itching to deliver the goods at the top of the order, pipping the likes of KL Rahul, to start with. The middle order though is a tiny area of concern as Kedar Jadhav, Rahul (recently demoted) and Hardik Pandya are yet to hit the strips, even against the lowly Lankans recently.
With Manish Pandey having settled in admirably on his comeback trail and MS Dhoni, getting better like old wine (Yuvraj & Raina also lurking in the backdrop), the selectors may well be spoilt for choice eventually to pick 4 or 5 out of the lot in the final squad! A happy headache it sure is!
The Aussies, on the other hand, have their share of injuries too; with Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood out, looking to get ready for the Ashes, the selectors must have wool-wrapped them for the marquee series in late November.
The absence of the burly Victorian, Aaron Finch, from their team sheet for the series opener at Chennai is anything but a minor setback after his stint at Surrey where he chalked up a whirlwind NatWest series ton.
His absence would pave the path for either Travis Head or Hilton Cartwright at the top of the order. Finch's absence might add a bit more pressure on the likes of Warner and Smith, upon whom the team depends for good totals. That aside, their middle order, consisting of Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, Marcus Stoinis and comeback man James Faulkner, also might suffer, should they become one-dimensional and only look to go for the big hits and not embrace rotation of the strike for the singles and twos, the lifelines in the middle-overs.
This is where the presence of players like Dhoni and Kohli tilts the balance, for they combine the art of run-gathering and huge-hitting remarkably well.
Any international side would discount Australia at their own peril, as they seem to be gripped with white-line fever once they enter the zone of competition. Much like what India endured after the departure of their esteemed stars a few years ago, Australia are also on the mend although it is seemingly taking longer time.
That they have summoned an ageing Dan Christian, no stranger to IPL sides, to beef up their team suggests that not enough investment has been made on the younger lot. In Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Kane Richardson, they seem to have the fast bowling arsenal, but their spin cupboard is a tad dry in the absence of Nathan Lyon, whom I might have liked to see on their team after his prolific success in Asian conditions, possessing old fashioned guile and skill of a wicket-taking offie .
Spinners like Ashton Agar and the promising Adam Zampa, coupled with part-timers like Head and Maxwell, won't overtly test the Indians, who have been raised on a diet of spin and turn, unless the decks are diabolical, which will never be the case in a day's game.
That India could try wrist spinners like Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in sync with Axar Patel, by "resting" Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, after an indifferent Champions Trophy and the tour of Windies suggests that no place in the side can be taken for granted and that reserve players are breathing down necks.
All in all, it promises to be a cracker of a series between two zealous sides and given that my hometown Chennai's MAC Stadium is hosting the lung-opener, it gives me an added fillip. I promise you it won't be short on nostalgia for this wise old knowledgeable crowd of yesteryear Madras, who 30 years ago, witnessed and lapped up a pulsating pot-boiler in a World Cup game in 1987, where the Aussies scraped to a one-run victory!
Coming on the heels of a riveting tied Test match of September 1986, and matches in 2001 and 2004, one can safely infer that Madras/Chennai is Australia's lucky hunting ground, barring the odd mishap.
Given the remarkable transformation from a fledgling to a champion side of the never-say-die blood and guts Aussies was scripted and orchestrated here on this very shores and venue, (under a young skipper Allan Border), an avid Aussie fan would not expect and pray for anything otherwise, under Steven "Run" Smith, who incidentally crafted three Test tons in Feb/March in trying adversity.