The last time India squared off against Australia in an ODI at the Wankhede Stadium, in January 2020, the touring side had a cakewalk - bagging a ten-wicket victory, with Aaron Finch and David Warner hammering unbeaten centuries.
Three years, three months and a COVID-induced lockdown later, the two teams are back at the same venue for yet another ODI. A lot has changed since their last meeting - Finch has retired, India has passed on the captaincy baton to Rohit Sharma, and also there’s no Jasprit Bumrah.
And to add to India’s woes, Rohit - a true blue Mumbaikar - won’t be available for Friday’s ODI due to family commitments and in his absence, Hardik Pandya will step up as the leader.
Though he has been a regular captain in the T20I set-up, this will be Pandya’s maiden assignment as the skipper of the ODI side, and his leadership skills will be put to test against a high-profile and star-studded opponent.
In recent times, India played a total of six ODIs - three each against Sri Lanka and New Zealand - and came out victorious in every occasion. And, those statistics would certainly be in their mind, when the Indian cricketers take the field.
In the absence of Rohit, the focus will be on in-form opener Shubman Gill who is all set to open with Ishan Kishan.
Coming off a classy Test century in Ahmedabad last week, the youngster has enjoyed tremendous success in ODIs - 567 runs and three centuries in his last six ODIs, with an average of 113.40. A packed Wankhede will be pinning its hopes on the right-handed batter, while the seasoned Virat Kohli too garnering all the attention.
Leaving behind a lean patch, Kohli amassed 338 runs in six matches at an average of 67.60 and now with the rough patch behind him - after ending his barren run in the Test format, too, against the Aussies in Ahmedabad with a 186 - a much-relaxed Kohli would be hoping to add more to the 75 hundreds that he has already accumulated in international cricket. His duel with leggie Adam Zampa, who has dismissed him eight times, would be an interesting watch.
This series is also an opportunity for the struggling KL Rahul, who the team management indicated, will be given a longer rope as its preferred wicketkeeper-batter. Despite struggling to convert the starts and losing his spot from the Test squad for the last two fixtures against Australia, Rahul had scores of 73, 14 and 8 in Bangladesh, while putting up 39, 64 and 7 against Sri Lanka, at No.5 in the ODIs. And, he will be hoping to find his mojo against the mighty Aussies, who have not played any ODI since the beginning of this year.
The visiting team, however, hopes to get into the groove as a preparatory ground for the ODI World Cup, to be held in India later this year. For that, the all-rounders need to come good.
“It will be a high-scoring World Cup, you’d think if the wickets are good. From my experience, it’s nice to have options and important to have options to go to change things up and change the momentum of the batting team. More all-rounders the better,” said Mitchell Marsh.
The Aussies will feel the absence of their regular captain Pat Cummins, who lost his mother last week, but will be aiming to zero in on its combination for the World Cup, under the leadership of the much-experienced Steve Smith.
Marsh, returning from a long injury lay-off, will not be bowling in the series, whereas for David Warner, who sustained an elbow injury during Test series, it will be a challenge to regain his lost touch and cement his place .
This series gives the Aussies a chance to play in three different venues - Mumbai, Visakhapatnam and Chennai - with varied conditions, and under a wily Smith’s leadership, the team hopes to learn as much as possible in terms of handling the pressure and assessing the conditions - an experience, they feel, will be beneficial ahead of the World Cup.
In the absence of Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj will look to make the most of the opportunity, whereas the spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who bowled in tandem in the nets, will be hoping to maintain their dominance in white-ball cricket. In the last five matches, Kuldeep claimed 11 wickets.
A dominant show in the just-concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy has boosted the home team’s confidence. Time to keep the momentum going in the shorter format, too.
* Match starts at 1.30pm