Since the 50-over World Cup in 2019, the focal point of the major cricket nations has been the T20 World Cup in 2020 and the largely abstruse World Test Championship. Such has been the emphasis on the two competitions that none of Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand have played an ODI in nearly six months since the global event.
While a tour comprising of just a 3-match ODI series seems absurd, even inconsequential, but it provides a significant historical context. All major cricketing nations except England and West Indies, to an extent, play their home season around the same time of the year. In times when the cricket calendar is becoming increasingly packed, scheduling has become difficult. To counter this, Australia have agreed to travel to India in the middle of their home summer – the first time in almost 50 years when they will be touring during their home season.
Australia have always been a tough nut to crack for any team, let alone Team India. It goes without mentioning that Australia remains the most successful team in cricket. However, even during the height of their domination in world cricket, India was among the very few teams - South Africa probably being the only other – that challenged the Australian might.
However, until recently, such instances were limited only to an odd upset or a rare series win. In terms of numbers, India has won only 36% of their ODIs versus Australia, lower than against all other Test-playing nations.
Even while playing at home, this number improves only to 44%, just above their old arch-rival Pakistan against whom they have won 37% of ODIs.
With the improvement in Indian cricket, the competition between the two nations has intensified. India have managed to improve their win percentage against Australia to 53% since 2016, but this is still lower than their record against other nations.
In the era of growing home advantages, where beating a home team is becoming increasingly difficult, beating India at home is a disproportionately tough assignment in world cricket at the moment. Since 2016, India has lost only one of their eight bilateral ODI series at home. That scar on an otherwise clean slate was created by the Australians when they came from 0-2 down to win the series 3-2 just before the World Cup in 2019.
As the clashes with Pakistan have been reduced to a sporadic occurrence and currently limited to ICC and other multilateral tournaments. Australia has gradually become India’s new arch-rival. From India’s perspective, this series provides another opportunity to improve their record against their toughest opponents.
Players in focus
For a cricket lover, the series features the best batsmen in World Cricket at the moment against the best bowlers. The battle between Virat Kohli-Rohit Sharma and Pat Cummins-Mitchell Starc; the clash between Steve Smith-David Warner against Jasprit Bumrah-Mohammed Shami.
While the limelight is hoarded by these modern-day greats, two other players, one from each team, have grabbed the eyeballs recently. With 1104 runs, Marnus Labuschagne was the leading run-scorer in Tests in 2019. A fluent batsman with a solid technique, Marnus is all-set to make his ODI debut in this series. After a dream start to his Test career, he expressed his aspiration to become an all-format champion like Kohli.
For India, the list of fast-bowlers setting the pitch on fire keeps growing. The newest entrée, Navdeep Saini, has grabbed headlines with his raw pace, lethal bouncers and accurate yorkers. Around 40% of all deliveries he has bowled in T20I cricket have been above 140kmph, most for any Indian bowler. With Saini around, seeing off Bumrah and Shami might not be an option for the Australians.
This series also pits the two rookie wicket-keeper batsmen against each other. They have the same player as a role-model – it is by chance for one and by choice for the other. While Rishabh Pant has the big boots of MS Dhoni to fill as a keeper and a finisher, Alex Carey wants to emulate Dhoni and learn to take the games deep and finish for his team.
Although the series will be played in a format different than what the two teams would have ideally wanted, the quality of competition and intensity that this competition stirs up in some of the players provides an excellent opportunity for them to test themselves.
The first ODI
The first ODI of the series is slated to be played at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai. A venue that has offered run-fests in the past, Wankhede has not been a happy hunting ground for India in ODIs recently. They have lost the two ODIs they have played here since 2012. Australia holds the aces 2-1 against India at this venue.
With dew certain to play a role, toss becomes an important factor. With Smith and Warner back against a full-strength Team India, it is tough to choose a favourite at the moment.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli ©, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah
Australia: Aaron Finch ©, David Warner, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Alex Carey (wk), Ashton Turner, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood