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Returning big guns in focus as Rajkot braces for intense dead rubber

Last updated on 26 Sep 2023 | 01:56 PM
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Returning big guns in focus as Rajkot braces for intense dead rubber

The two teams will be keen to ramp up the intensity in what will be their last competitive match before the World Cup

Earlier this month, when Australia announced that they’d be sending a full-strength squad for the ODIs against India, the news excited fans in both Mohali and Indore, who drooled at the thought of watching the two giants have a proper go at each other right before the ICC World Cup, like they did four years ago.

But a combination of India resting key players — due to workload management — and Australia treading with caution with their recovering seniors meant that the Mohali and Indore encounters instead turned out to be low-intensity affairs that had plenty of big names missing — across both sides. 

Expect things to be different in Rajkot on Wednesday as not only will both India and Australia be welcoming back some big names, but the two teams will also be keen to ramp up the intensity in what will be their last competitive match before the World Cup.

While it is not quite clear if Australia will have all their big guns returning, India will welcome back Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and Kuldeep Yadav, all of whom were rested for the first two games. They will also have the services of Jasprit Bumrah, who was rested for the second ODI. 

The Men in Blue, however, will be without Shubman Gill, Hardik Pandya, Mohammed Shami, and Shardul Thakur for Wednesday’s contest, with the quartet being rested. The return of big names on both the batting and bowling front for India could mean bad news for Australia, who comprehensively lost the first two ODIs to an Indian side that had several key players missing. 

If the Aussies are to break the five-match losing streak that they currently find themselves in, they’ll have to find consistency — with both bat and ball — which they’ve lacked post the second ODI against South Africa earlier this month.

Things to watch out for 

All eyes on Australia’s tendency to ‘collapse’Australia, as attested to already, are in the midst of a five-match losing streak and an issue that’s plagued them during this period is their tendency to lose wickets in clusters. 

In Indore, they went from 89/2 to 135/7 and in Mohali, they squandered a good start (98/1) as they got reduced to 157/4. This issue has been prevalent right from the start of the South Africa series.

While they collapsed fatally in the last three ODIs of the South Africa series (124/2 to 193 all-out in the 5th ODI; 185/4 to 252 all-out in the 4th ODI; and 140/1 to 227 all-out in the third ODI) they endured collapses even in the games they won. In the second ODI, in which they posted 392/8, they were 343/3 at one stage and were teetering at 113/7 at one point in the first ODI before being rescued by Labsuchagne and Agar’s 102-run stand.

It’s normal for sides to encounter occasional collapses, but Australia’s tendency to fold has become a very concerning pattern. It’s an issue they’ll have to desperately address if they are to go deep in the World Cup.

Can Ishan Kishan make one final selection push?Not too long ago, many believed Ishan Kishan had sealed a spot in the starting XI on the back of his knock against Pakistan — thanks to Iyer’s fitness being uncertain —  but on the back of the latter’s stunning ton in Indore, the narrative has shifted again. Iyer is now in the driving seat, with Kishan playing catch-up. 

Set to open in Gill’s absence, the Rajkot game on Wednesday might just be Kishan’s final chance to stake a claim to be in the first XI. Post the hot streak of four fifties that culminated in him scoring a sublime 82 against Pakistan in Pallekele, Kishan has had a slight drop in performances, averaging 27.50 since then at a strike rate under 80.00. 

He’s played a couple of very good cameos — one of them the 31 he scored in the second ODI in Indore —  but has not produced a head-turning performance that could help him waltz into the XI. He just might need one in the third ODI if he’s to leapfrog Iyer.

Chance for India to test out Ashwin-Kuldeep-Jadeja as a trio

With Axar Patel confirmed to be ruled out of the final ODI, and with Washington Sundar evidently being behind Ashwin in the pecking order, Wednesday could be a golden opportunity for India to test the Ashwin-Jadeja-Kuldeep as a trio, as a potential dress-rehearsal for the World Cup. 

Ashwin, across the first two ODIs, quashed doubts over his ability to excel in 50-over cricket, and in both matches, he and Jadeja thrived as a pair. Add the resurgent Kuldeep to the mix, and you’re looking at the most lethal spin bowling unit in the entire world.

Axar was unable to impress with the ball in the Asia Cup, but yet another strong Ashwin performance, this time alongside both Kuldeep and Jadeja, could seal Vaathi’s spot in the World Cup, notwithstanding Axar’s fitness.

Ground Details

The Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium in Rajkot has hosted just a solitary ODI in the past five years, which came back in 2020. That game incidentally played between India and Australia, proved to be a very high-scoring contest, with Australia getting bowled out 304 in response to India’s 340/6 batting first.

Historically, Rajkot has always been a very good ground for batting, and the same is backed up by List A numbers. Since 2018, the average first innings score at this venue is exactly 300. There have been five occasions of teams posting 320 or more, with the penultimate List A game at this venue (back in 2021) witnessing a total of 657 runs being scored.

Expect plenty of runs and boundaries on Wednesday.

Tactical Nous

> In ODI’s, Alex Carey has been dismissed by Kuldeep a staggering 5 times in 63 balls; the wicket-keeper batter averages just 12.2 versus the wrist-spinner. Kuldeep also has great records against Marnus Labuschagne (average 28.2, 2 dismissals in 56 balls) and David Warner (average 29, 2 dismissals in 71 balls). Expect Kuldeep to trouble the Aussie batters a lot on Wednesday.

> Along the same lines, Glenn Maxwell is someone who could potentially nullify Kuldeep’s threat. Against the wrist-spinner, Maxwell averages 48 and has struck at 152.4. At this point in time, however, Maxwell's participation in Wednesday’s clash looks unlikely.

> In ODIs since 2021, Mitchell Starc averages 12.6 with the new ball (overs 1-10). This average (surprisingly) drops to 10.3 against left-handers. Starc, if he plays, could prove to be a handful for the entire Indian batting line-up, but particularly Kishan. In the three-match series earlier this year, Starc took 6 wickets with the new ball, 4 of them coming in a hostile spell in Vizag. 

Probable XIs

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Ishan Kishan, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj

Australia: David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa

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