India vs Australia: Rahul, Dhawan in focus ahead of series opener

At his pre-match press conference, India captain Virat Kohli suggested that Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and K.L. Rahul could feature in the first ODI at the Wankhede Stadium.

India players were in high spirits on the eve of the first ODI against Australia.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

At a time when bilateral cricket is jostling for relevance, sandwiched between the countdown to the T20 World Cup and the World Test Championship is a three-match ODI series between India and Australia, which starts at the Wankhede Stadium here on Tuesday. Despite little relevance in larger context, when the world’s two best teams square off each other, you don’t need any more significance to be attached to the face-off.

That will certainly be the case over the next week. Add to that the fact that both India and Australia have fielded full-strength squads for the short series and it could lead to a terrific Tuesday in offing for aficionados and connoisseurs alike.

India captain Virat Kohli had no doubt there will be no dearth of intense action in the three-match series. “Look, when you are playing Australia, you don’t look at the relevance of the series. It’s about playing against the best. The way they are playing their cricket now, after Steve and David have come back, it’s pretty intense,” Kohli said.

Read: Pandya trains during practice session

“They are challenging every team and they are dominating few teams as well. I think we, along with Australia, are probably the top two sides in the world, as far as the balance is concerned. Whether it’s relevant or irrelevant that’s for people to decide. But we as a team are excited to play Australia, in our conditions, to test ourselves against the best.”

India has the tough choice to make when it comes to its batting order, with all three specialist openers in sublime touch. While batting coach Vikram Rathour on Sunday had said either Shikhar Dhawan or K.L. Rahul will start the series along with Rohit Sharma, Kohli contradicted his view, stating the triumvirate could well feature in the line-up. In such a scenario, Kohli may move down to No. 4 from his customary No. 3.

Kohli was naturally at his best during Monday’s training, prevailing over Jasprit Bumrah in a mini-battle during India’s optional practice and also celebrating it in style.

Australia, on the other hand, will be keen on unleashing its lethal pace triumvirate of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood on India’s famed order. Set to play an ODI together for the first time since October 2018, the troika will be looking forward to start Australia’s maiden ODI assignment since the World Cup with a bang at Wankhede.

At the same time, Australia will be banking its hopes on Marnus Labuschagne to carry on his Test exploits into the ODI arena. If Labuschagne marks his debut by complementing veterans Steven Smith and David Warner on Tuesday, Aaron Finch’s men can hope for an encore of its series victory last year.

Despite not travelling with its best combination, Finch and Co. made a stunning comeback after trailing 2-0 to take home the series 3-2 in India last March. India will know that to avenge the series defeat, it will have to play out of its skins over the next week.

If the series-opener ends up a high-quality affair, the series will not at all struggle for relevance.

Match starts 1.30 p.m.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (Capt.), Rohit Sharma (Vice-capt.), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami

Australia squad: Aaron Finch (Capt.), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey (Vice-capt.), Pat Cummins (Vice-capt.), Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Ashton Turner, David Warner, Adam Zampa

On-field umpires: Michael Gough, Richard Kettleborough; Third umpire: C. Shamshuddin; Fourth umpire: Virender Sharma

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle