World Cup 2019: Can India halt Australia's charge in marquee clash?

With the M.S. Dhoni controversy on the wane, Virat Kohli’s men would look to put their best foot forward in India's big clash against Australia.

India started its World Cup 2019 campaign with a win over South Africa.   -  AFP Photo

World Cups are largely about the macro-vision. It reflects an all-encompassing gaze, blends in a fierce desire to script fresh legacies, and always thrives upon a squad’s itch to prove its global credentials. Unfortunately for India and its larger footprint of Twitterati, fans and sections of the media, the focus was solely on an army insignia that M.S. Dhoni flaunted on his wicket-keeping gloves during the match against South Africa at Southampton.

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The gesture reflected the former India captain’s fondness for the army but it violated the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) player-apparel rules. The subsequent brouhaha over the ICC’s reservations and the vitriolic utterances that marred the digital space, did a disservice to the fact that India had started its campaign on a winning note with a six-wicket triumph over the Proteas. Thankfully the ICC refused to budge and now that the controversy is on the wane, Virat Kohli’s men can get back to doing what they perform best — play cricket.

It is time to take on Australia at the Oval on Sunday. The venue, with its quaint tiled, red-brick homes around its fringes, has history coursing through its edifice. Its corridor-walls feature photographs, most of them black-and-white and harking back to old heroes and their stirring sporting tales. Cut to the present, Saturday was about the teams limbering up in turns, India had an optional hit, and there was the slow assemblage of food-vans outside, promising traditional British cuisine like fish and chips, to be washed down with ale. Also sighted was a Gujarati truck, to tickle the Indian palate.

A few years ago, Indian cricket was like ‘when you are bored please play Sri Lanka’. But over the last seven months, that fixation has been centred around Australia. Kohli’s men and Aaron Finch’s feisty troops have clashed often since December. Down Under, India won the ODI series 2-1 and when Australia toured, the visitor prevailed at 3-2.

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The latest episode has the added weight of Steve Smith and David Warner. The duo returned after serving a one-year ban following last summer’s ball-tampering controversy. The two have added depth and aura to the opposition outfit and played their parts in Australia’s winning start.

Warner remained unbeaten on 89 against Afghanistan while Smith etched a 73 in the contest involving the West Indies. Still, a few chinks have surfaced as Australia’s top-order was seen a touch fragile against the short-pitched bowling that the West Indians dished out at Nottingham.

India's Jasprit Bumrah and his fellow-seamers would be keen to probe any vulnerability. However, in a battle of bouncers, Australia can dish its own version of the ‘perfume ball’. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins can hustle the very best and if it is a question of middle-over skirmishes, the Aussies have regularly played spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the past.

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan during India's net session in Southampton.   -  AP Photo


India’s batting has to be top-drawer and thankfully most of its cogs performed at Southampton, especially Rohit Sharma, who was magnificent. But more needs to be done on a pitch that was kept under wraps during Friday's rains, and was allowed to breathe once the sun peeped past the clouds on the game’s eve.

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There is a 20 per cent chance of precipitation during the clash and the last thing the captains need is the weather adding its own wicked texture to a storied rivalry.

The teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, M.S. Dhoni (wk), K.L. Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.

Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), David Warner, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis and Adam Zampa.

Umpires: Chris Gaffaney and Ian Gould; Third umpire: Nigel Llong; Match referee: Andy Pycroft.

Match starts at 15:00 IST.

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