The mood of this series is about to change. Especially for the batters.
The low and slow tracks made the four Tests a tough grind. Ahmedabad, in the fourth Test, offered better batting conditions but runs still didn’t come easy. It was some serious cricket. IIT-Jee preparation level serious.
Cut to the ODIs now. It’s three ODIs squeezed in between a significant four-Test series and a fresh IPL season. It feels like an opening act before the main event. The ODI World Cup is roughly seven months away, yet with IPL just around the corner, the Indian team will keenly shift their focus only after their cash-cow league, and the WTC Final afterward.
For Australia, the relevance is a lot more. It was supposed to be their first series under a new full-time captain. However, Pat Cummins is back home dealing with a personal loss and Steven Smith will continue to lead the side in his absence. Moreover, Australia will be aiming for helpful notes for the World Cup in India later this year.
India will miss Shreyas Iyer, one of the few batters who had cemented his place in the ODI setup. Rohit Sharma, the skipper, will miss the first fixture.
Last but not the least, the ODI series kick-starts in Mumbai. Traditionally, a batting pitch, the bowlers will be under pressure for the first time this Australia’s tour of India.
Trivia: Australia is the last time to beat India in an ODI series at home. They won 3-2 in 2019. Also, the last time these two sides played in Mumbai, Australia won by 10 wickets.
Things to watch out for
Ravindra Jadeja is returning to ODI cricket after eight months. He has missed each of India’s last 21 ODIs and has featured in only three ODIs since 2020. Axar Patel did well in his absence, averaging 33.3 with the bat and 30.1 with the ball, but is set to make way for his senior pro.
It would be a hard call but with the World Cup not too far away, India must be keen to assess Jadeja’s ODI game. He has already made a comeback to Test cricket like a duck takes to water. A similar comeback to white-ball cricket would assure the Men in Blue of their incumbent plans. Also, with Iyer out of the series and the selectors not naming any replacement (as yet), Jadeja can have a more significant role to play with the bat.
A different combination for Australia
Australia will field a different bowling combination in this game. To start with, they won’t have Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Beyond personnel, their bowling combination can look a lot like India’s - two frontline seamers, a pace-bowling all-rounder, a specialist wrist-spinner and two finger-spinners, both of whom can bat.
Australia would want to carry this combination to the World Cup as well and this series is a beta test. There are a number of things they want to go right. Nathan Ellis is one for the future and his variations are perfect for success in sub-continental conditions. The other would be their third pacer. Not always do they rely on a batting all-rounder to do the third pacer duties but that is the only way the Aussies can field two spinners.
They have three options in Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green, out of which two can be accommodated in the same XI. Heading into the World Cup in October, there could be a situation wherein only one of them can be part of the XI and this series could start a three-way tug-of-war for that one spot between the three.
Pitch and Conditions
Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium has one of the most sporting wickets in the country - a true surface that contains good carry for the bowlers and decent value for strokeplay. Therefore, the spinners can feel left out a bit. In the last three ODIs at this venue, the spinners have averaged 80.4 runs per wicket, the highest for all venues in India since 2015. The economy is also 6.1. Overall, spinners have picked only 23% of the wickets in these three ODIs.
Yet, expect both sides to carry multiple spin bowling options in this game, courtesy of all-rounders.
> Although it hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for spinners, Adam Zampa could still be vital for Australia. He has dismissed Virat Kohli five times in ODI cricket alongside getting the better of Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul thrice each. That is the most these batters have gotten out against an Australian bowler. Rahul averages only 16.7 against Zampa. Australia’s headache would be how to use Zampa to the most efficient effect.
> Hardik Pandya has been a great batter of pace-bowling of late. However, the seamers can cause him trouble if they pull the length back. The good length, especially, has kept him down. In ODIs since 2022, Pandya averages only 21.5 at a strike-rate of 74.1, his lowest against all lengths while facing pacers.
Ishan Kishan is likely to open with Shubman Gill in Rohit Sharma’s absence. Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav are frontrunners for the spinner’s role. Do India play a third spin-bowling option in Washington Sundar who will also deepen their batting or do they pick a third seamer who will be more suited to conditions? That is one big question that will be answered at the toss.
Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan (wk), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya ( c ), Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Mohammed Siraj
Marnus Labuschagne hasn’t clicked in ODI cricket as yet and Mitchell Marsh is fit again. The visitors will also have to pick one between Cameron Green and Marcus Stoinis.
Travis Head, David Warner, Steve Smith ( c ), Marnus Labuschagne/Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green/Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Ellis, Adam Zampa