Confident India starts favourite in series opener

High on confidence after a convincing series win against Sri Lanka earlier this month, India would be hoping to keep the momentum going against an Australian unit which would be playing its first limited-overs series after the Champions Trophy in June this year.

India captain Virat Kohli will once again be the team's batting linchpin during the 5-ODI series.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

If you ask a common Australian cricket fan about the importance of the one-day series against India, he would perhaps point out that the focus is ultimately on the Ashes.

For a devoted Indian cricket enthusiast too, the focus has already shifted to the side’s much talked about tour to South Africa.

But then, all that perception will take a backseat when both sides lock horns at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday for the first ODI.

READ: Seeking a golden hue, Australia in yellow comes to India

After all, it is after four years that the two formidable units of world cricket would meet for a limited-overs series in the Indian sub-continent.

With Chepauk all set to be a packed house (leaving out the three stands which still await clearance from the local authorities) for the weekender clash, both the teams would be hoping to start proceedings on a winning note.

India starts favourite

READ: Batting order shake-up a must for versatility, says Kohli

At home, India, needless to say, starts favourite. High on confidence after a convincing series win against Sri Lanka earlier this month, Virat Kohli’s side would be hoping to keep the momentum going. However, it would be without the services of its specialised opener Shikhar Dhawan in the first three outings. Taking a break to be with his ailing wife, Dhawan is likely to be replaced by Mumbai batsman Ajinkya Rahane at the top.

This could be a tricky choice though.

Dhawan, who has a particular affinity for the Australian attack (626 runs from 15 ODIs at 44.71), has been in fine form for the last few months. Rahane on the other hand has struggled to make the most of the limited opportunities that have come his way, but still managed 342 runs from seven matches at 48.85. So, the team management’s decision to bring him up the order, moving K. L. Rahul to No. 4, would certainly be a thing to keep a tab on.

READ: Smith not concerned by differences with Kohli

The team, however, is confident of ‘Jinks’ (as Rahane is fondly called by his mates) breaking the jinx, this time around. Once that is sorted, the Indian batting line-up looks like a well-oiled machine, which can deliver under any circumstances. With the top stars — Rohit Sharma, captain Virat Kohli and M. S. Dhoni — looking in good shape, India would be eyeing a run feast on a Chepauk track, which promises to help the batsmen. To add to it, Rahane and K. L. Rahul would have to tick the boxes to guide the team to success.

READ: India focusing on proper all-rounders, says Virat Kohli

For the record, Australia has won six of the last seven ODIs against India, and it would be hoping to keep the record intact in Chennai. And here, India’s chances of reigning supreme at home, would largely depend on its spin trio — Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav. Touted as ‘mystery spinners’ by the team-mates, Kuldeep and Chahal would be banked upon to provide the breakthroughs in the middle of the game.

READ: Rohit Sharma looks at Yadav, Chahal as mystery spinners

 

Jadeja replaces Axar

In a major development, the BCCI on Saturday included Ravindra Jadeja for the first three ODIs. The decision came after Axar Patel suffered an injury while training in Chennai on Friday.

While playing game of football, Patel suffered a strain and limped off the ground. While there were speculation over his availability, the selection committee brought in Jadeja, who was rested for the series, as Patel's replacement.

Even though Patel reached the ground with the team on Saturday, Axar stayed away from training — clearly indicating that things aren’t quite well. Though the players remained mum on the issue, well-placed sources had indicate that the young spinner is ‘most likely’ to miss the first ODI.

In the evening, the BCCI officially ruled Axar out of the first three games.

 

Australia, too, will start without its first-choice opener Aaron Finch, who aggravated an old injury during a training session a couple of days back. With him being ruled out of the series opener, the visiting side is expected to push up young Travis Head to open the innings with the aggressive  David Warner.

Once that clicks, the rest would depend on how the experienced Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell fare in conditions, which they know pretty well, thanks to their stints in the Indian Premier League (IPL). While the humidity of Chennai could add to the visiting side's woes, it  will try to mend the odds with a smooth beginning.

Banking on spin

While leg-spinner Adam Zampa is set to spearhead the spin challenge, comeback man Ashton Agar could be given a slot to bolster the attack. Then there are part-time spinners Maxwell and Head, who could provide important breakthroughs.

READ: Spin to play a crucial role in the series, says Steve Smith

When Australia toured India for four Tests earlier this year, the contest saw tempers fly from both camps. But as another series beckons, both the sides hope to get their acts right, without crossing the line.

The stage is set, it's time for some noise!