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[Cricket] India Down Under 2019 – ODI Series Preview

Close on the heels of a historical 2-1 Test series victory in Sydney on Monday that broke a 71-year drought, the last leg of India’s Oz tour kicks off this weekend with a 3-match ODI series. India will hope to kickstart the New Year on the right note in the limited overs format as well, especially given that Australia have been in steady decline since those fateful events in South Africa last year and have, in an attempt at redemption named a new look ODI squad that sees the return of veterans Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja.

In the year of the World Cup, Australia will be looking to get as many things right against world class opposition and no better way than a red hot India side that is a close second on the ICC Rankings behind England. The last time India toured Australia, they lost the five-match ODI series 4-1. Rohit Sharma scored a century at Perth in the first ODI back in 2016 and thereafter, the Aussies were whitewashed in the subsequent three-match T20I series. Hence, it is a matter of guarantee that whenever the two heavyweights clash, the action is always high-octane. However, this is not the same Aussies we are talking about. A lot has changed since the start of 2018 but you can expect them come hard at the Indians and play for the famous Aussie sporting pride.

Head2Head
Played:
128
Australia:
73
India:
45

SCHEDULE
All Games @ 08.50am
1st ODI: 12th January 2019 @ Sydney Cricket Ground
2nd ODI: 15th January 2019 @ Adelaide Oval
3rd ODI: 18th January 2019 @ Melbourne Cricket Ground

Australia had the worst-year in their ODI cricket history in 2018 losing 11 of the 13 ODIs they played in the year. Their win-loss ratio (0.181) was the worst for any country in the calendar year – even lower than Nepal, PNG and Hong Kong! 

With the World Cup less than five months away, and with David Warner and Steve Smith still serving bans for their involvement in the ball-tampering saga and Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood rested after an arduous Test series, the squad announced by Australia for the three-match ODI series does not exude much confidence. 

While this squad contains some talented players, there were some surprising omissions. After a disappointing 2018 in ODIs, Australia are still trying to identify their best 15 for the World Cup in England. The surprising omissions in the current ODI squad are Travis Head, D’Arcy Short, and Chris Lynn. Travis Head impressed earlier this year in England as an opening batsman with 194 runs at 38.80 and three half-centuries. He was also one of the few bright spots in Australia’s Champions Trophy campaign in 2017. However, he did not have a good series against South Africa, with just 15 runs in three matches. His omission here, while backed by the numbers, is still questionable with Australia looking towards the World Cup. Chris Lynn, on the other hand, did not fare any better, with 59 runs in three matches. His omission is reflective of a wholesale change in playing style adopted by Cricket Australia, one characterized by a measured approach instead of an aggressive one. The recall of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb support this change in approach.

A collective experience of 424 ODIs (out of which Finch has played 96), which in turn means that, on an average, every player has played just 30 matches, a combined batting average of 36.10 (only batsmen and all-rounders) and bowling average of 38.40 (only bowlers and all-rounders) – even at first glance these numbers are poor for any international team leave alone the defending World Cup Champions.

Just two Australian batsmen average in the 40s – Shaun Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, another two average between 35 and 40 – Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh, whereas four average below 35 – Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Alex Carey and Glenn Maxwell. The Australian top-order does not score enough runs – that is their biggest concern. Neither do they have enough experience in the format. None of the batsmen (including the all-rounders) have played 100 ODIs and the average experience of the batting line-up is 44 matches.

Three of the four specialist batsmen in the squad average below 40 – Finch, Khawaja and Handscomb. Khawaja has played a total of 18 ODIs in his career, the last of which was in January, 2017. He aggregates just 469 at an average of 31.26 – well below the standard norm for an opener where he is expected to bat for Australia. He has registered just one fifty in his last 8 ODI innings. Handscomb has just managed to score 149 runs in his 7 outings at a paltry average of 21.28. He also played his last ODI in October, 2017.

Khawaja has a good LIST A record though having scored 3524 runs in 84 innings at an average of 45.76 and strike rate of 86.26, including 10 hundreds – he recently (August 2018) registered a hundred for Australia A in Alur. The wicketkeeper batsman, Carey has played just 6 ODIs and has a strike rate of 78.65 – below-par for a lower-order batsman in contemporary ODI cricket. His List-A strike rate is also quite ordinary – 76.84.

For India, Hardik Pandya makes a comeback after a three-month injury layoff while Rishabh Pant returns home after the Test series as the Delhi southpaw was named in the India A squad for the five-match one-day series at home against the England Lions. Pandya last played an ODI for India during the Asia Cup in September but  was ruled out after the first game itself due to a back injury. Umesh Yadav and Manish Pandey have been dropped as well while Jasprit Bumrah is rested. Bumrah’s workload is being managed to keep him fresh for the World Cup and Mohammed Siraj has been named as his replacement.

The rest of the squad is the same as that which featured in the limited-overs series against the Windies in October-November 2018. Virat Kohli will lead the side with opener Rohit Sharma as his deputy. Dinesh Karthik,  drafted into the squad as backup for MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu have been retained.

In 2018, India won bilateral ODI series against South Africa, West Indies and the Asia Cup but lost an ODI series in England. They should have a similar playing eleven to that which played in the last ODI against the Windies – two all-rounders in Hardik and Jadeja alongside Kuldeep, Mohammed Siraj/K Khaleel Ahmed/Mohammed Shami and Bhuvi with Kedar Jadhav slotted as the sixth bowler.

In Australia, they will be keen to see how the middle-order performs as a bulk of the scoring for India has been done by the top-three. Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been in phenomenal form but there have been concerns down the order.

SQUADS
Australia: Aaron Finch(c), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, Jhye Richardson, Billy Stanlake, Jason Behrendorff, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa
India: Virat Kohli(c), Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Siraj, K Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami

Agreed, Australia have made some strange selections and there does not seem to be any rationale or methodology behind some of the names. Some surprise inclusions from the past (Siddle) suggest that there is not enough young talent in domestic cricket. There have also been some baffling omissions (Head and Short). The result – a rather weak and inexperienced squad.

With Australia missing their two top batsmen in Smith and Warner, the upcoming series presents India with a golden chance to wrap things up, even going as far as a series whitewash.  Australia’s batsmen are failing across all three formats, showing a frailty that has become entrenched in the national side and the constant chopping and changing amongst the bowling unit isn’t doing the team any favours either. With Steve Smith and David Warner set to return to the squad for the World Cup, there are only a few places to fill in the squad, and so, the series against India is expected to  help them decide on that best squad for England 2019.

Australia will have their task cut out against a formidable Indian unit!  The Hot Aussie Summer Continues! Are You Ready?

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