Earlier this month, India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after the last Test culminated in a drab draw at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. It was a series that oscillated between a Test of fewer than three days to a Test that, in a parallel world, would have continued for more than a week. So, the shift from the much-discussed, much-abused Test pitches and peering into the future of the “five-day” format to limited-overs cricket has been a welcome one.
Ahead of the series decider at the refurbished M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, to be played on Wednesday, the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series is locked at 1-1 and has lived up to the vaunts that these games have been a slightly more thorough examination of the overall quality of the two sides than the preceding red-ball face-offs.
To commemorate India vs Australia returning to Chennai after six years, we bring you the best ‘in-house’ memories of the Chepauk Stadium. Video credit: Neeladri Bhattacharjee
India secured a five-wicket win over Australia in the series-opening clash in Mumbai before Mitchell Starc ripped through India’s top order with five wickets to lay the platform for a crushing 10-wicket Australia win in Visakhapatnam.
Starc’s new-ball swing has been pivotal to the Aussie challenge in the white-ball leg. He is now level with Brett Lee as the Australian with the most five-fors in ODI cricket after consigning India to its heaviest defeat in terms of balls remaining.
There is also a silver lining to Australia’s batting, with Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head showing that batting is straightforward when the ball has softened, and the fields have gone defensive.
While Marsh has been a revelation as an opener — 147 runs in two ODIs — it will be interesting to see what happens if David Warner comes back for the decider. Warner batted in the nets briefly on match eve but there’s no official word on his availability for the third ODI. Meanwhile, Travis Head’s proclivity for big scores up top would mean his place as the second opener is secure for now.
India’s batting headaches could throw up a few World Cup quandaries. One of the most vexing issues has been the performance of the top-order in this series. Shubman Gill has scores of 20 and 0 so far and does not look like someone, who, until before this series, could not stop himself from scoring runs - Gill’s Test hundred in Ahmedabad coming close on the heels of his three ODI centuries so far this year, including a double, and a 126 not out in a T20I.
Rohit and Kohli threw away starts in the second ODI while the middle-order, except KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja, lacked the appetite for a fight. This Indian batting order may have star quality, but in the last two games, it has exuded vulnerability; call it struggling competitiveness rather than absolute dominance if you will. Their weakness against left-arm pace has also been laid bare by Starc, whose threat could double if Chepauk sports a greenish tinge come match day. Muggy conditions in the city appear to be ideal for swing and seam bowling too. It has been raining in Chennai in the evenings for the past couple of days, but the weather is expected to hold on Wednesday.
India’s pace bowling looks settled, with Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj operating with pace, accuracy, and threat with the new ball. Siraj’s ability to mix seam-up deliveries with wobble-seam ones has added another dimension to his bowling. But it’s how they operate once the ball grows old and the batters hit through the line that could decide how much Indian batters chase.
Although the pacers have held sway so far, expect the Chennai conditions to encourage turn. India may stick with three spinners while Australia could consider Ashton Agar.
The last time India played an ODI in Chennai (2019), it lost to the West Indies by eight wickets in a high-scoring game on a pitch that kept getting quicker as the match progressed. Thirteen of the 22 ODIs in Chennai have been won by sides batting first but West Indies won that match chasing. Australia last played here in 2017 but it was a rain-curtailed game.
If Steve Smith’s men manage to win on Wednesday, it will be a fitting way to bookend a tour that started on a sour note for the tourist in Nagpur and New Delhi but has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
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