Fresh from regaining its continental supremacy with the Asia Cup title win, India will aim to iron out a few more wrinkles when it takes on Australia in a three-match ODI series, beginning at the I. S. Bindra Stadium in Mohali on Friday.
While the two sides will lock horns in their World Cup opener in Chennai in three weeks, India and Australia are riding on contrasting waves of fortune and concerns ahead of their brief tussle.
With India resting heavyweights Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya for the first two games, the management has emphasised preventing overexertion and injuries before the World Cup, a problem that has infested the Australian camp.
Instead, the home team’s focus will be on the middle-order, which is yet to take shape.
Shreyas Iyer, who missed considerable gametime during the Asia Cup with a niggle, will be watched closely. Considered to be the answer to India’s middle-overs struggles against spin bowling, Iyer has yet to take guard against the tweakers upon his return from a back injury and has featured in just five of the 18 ODIs that India has played this year.
Nevertheless, the template could be slightly different in this series with batting belters expected across the venues.
Iyer and stand-in skipper KL Rahul could look to push on the scoring rate by a few notches in the middle-overs — India is fifth (5.58 rpo) among all sides in the phase in 2023.
A shakeup could be on the cards if India offers a serious exercise for veteran off-spinner R. Ashwin, returning to the ODI fold for the first time since January 2022 after an injury to Axar Patel.
While Ashwin and fellow off-spinner Washington Sundar have been named standbys for the World Cup, the duo could force a rethink on India’s third-choice spinner, behind left-armers Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja.
Meanwhile, entering the contest after a stinging 3-2 series defeat in South Africa, Australia will aim to strengthen alternative plans to firm up its balance.
The team welcomes the return of Pat Cummins and Steve Smith from injuries. However, the Australia captain confirmed on match eve that Mitchell Starc (groin soreness) will miss the opener. Glenn Maxwell and Ashton Agar, on paternity leave, are yet to link up with the squad, while a few others are carrying niggles of varying degrees.
Australia will also draw confidence from its past performances at the venue - a five-match winning streak - and its comeback 2-1 win over the host back in March.
A full-strength India pace attack helmed by Jasprit Bumrah could still expect a depleted Aussie lineup to come hard with the bat and make most of the conditions where 300-plus totals have been the norm over the last decade.
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