Could this be the game that decides the World Cup? Too early for such statements, but in a sport where morale against specific oppositions plays on the minds of teams, Sunday’s game at the Kennington Oval will between Australia and India will be massive in terms of sending out a strong message as title contenders.
Five-time champions Australia have been one of the few teams that boast a fabulous record against the Indians. In World Cups, Sunday will be the 12th time these sides lock horns, with the Aussies ahead 8-3.
Australia got their campaign running with a dominant show against Afghanistan, but chinks in their armour were exposed on Thursday in a narrow 15-run victory over the West Indies. India on the other hand had a sedate start with a thoroughly professional showing to beat South Africa by four wickets on June 5.
There isn’t a lot to pick between the two by way of strengths and weaknesses – solid openers, the best at one drop, a misfiring middle order, and a good mix of pace and spin, though the last is an area India trumps Australia.
Mitchell Starc, Australia’s most potent weapon up front will be a fresh mystery for the experienced duo of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, considering they have never come up against Starc post the 2015 World Cup.
Rohit and Dhawan have been prolific in the last four years in ODIs but both find it difficult to even rotate strike against left-arm pace bowlers.
Pat Cummins, who is expected to share the new ball with Starc, has been prolific against India in ODIs, picking wickets at will as well as strangling the run-flow.
Both Indian openers have fallen prey to the strapping pacer, and his performance up front will define Australia’s performance.
Against that, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has made Aaron Finch his bunny since the start of the year. Finch isn’t particularly adept at facing the ball that comes in to him – one of the best arrows in Bhuvneshwar’s quiver. Since 2019, the Indian pacer has got the Australian skipper in four out of five matches.
There will be concern in the Indian camp if the top two fail because talismanic skipper Virat Kohli isn’t too fond of facing left-arm seamers.
Coming on the back of a five-wicket haul, Starc is in prime form and will be fired up against arguably the greatest ODI batsman in recent times.
Nathan Coulter-Nile was devastating with the bat against West Indies, but he could pose a more serious threat with the ball come Sunday. In seven innings, Coulter-Nile has dismissed Rohit and Kohli thrice.
A top-order failure for either side will expose the biggest weakness India and Australia have – the middle-order.
Number four has been a slot that has brought about a considerable amount of uncertainty for both teams. It is no surprise that in terms of contribution by batsmen coming in at two down, India are the worst with 10.9 percent, while Australia (11.9) have only India and West Indies (11.7) below them.
This is ideally where the spinners come into play. If India have failed to tackle Adam Zampa, Australia have struggled against spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
Since the last World Cup, Zampa is the most successful spinner against India, managing 15 wickets in nine outings. His best numbers have been against the one man that is expected to resurrect the innings in the case of a top-order collapse – MS Dhoni.
When Australia toured India earlier this year, Zampa got Dhoni twice and conceded just five runs in three games, with the former Indian skipper unable to read the wily leggie.
The numbers aren’t quite as encouraging for the Indian spinners, as David Warner and co have done surprisingly well against wrist spinners since 2017.
Of the two spin options India are likely to utilize, Chahal is the more successful, taking wickets and keeping the scoring rate down to reasonable limits. Kuldeep has been the better option in terms of getting the breakthrough for Kohli, but Australia find it easy to score off the chinaman bowler. General consensus expects the ball to turn at The Oval, but neither Kuldeep nor Chahal have ever bowled at this ground, and that can pose its own challenges considering the boundary size ranges from 67 to 70 metres something that will leave the big-hitting Aussie batsmen smacking their lips.
Head-to-head battles and plots-within-plots will form the crux of the high-octane clash. India will be eager to avenge the home series loss from earlier this year, while the Kangaroos will look to extend their 10-match winning streak in ODIs.