IND v AUS: Grassy wicket, Dhoni in spotlight

Australia trained at the nets for the second consecutive day as the drizzle didn’t allow players to take the field ahead of its second ODI. Men in Blue, however, played a bit of soccer to ensure they remain match-fit.

M.S. Dhoni plays a game of football as Virat Kohli and Manish Pandey look on in Kolkata on Wednesday.   -  PTI

“I don’t study cricket too much. Whatever I have learned or experienced is through cricket I’ve played on the field, and whatever little I have watched,” — these golden words, once spoken by M.S. Dhoni, could prove handy when India meets Australia for the second ODI here at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.

Why? The slight drizzle didn’t allow the Men in Blue to rehearse their strategies on the field and surprisingly, they refrained from entering the indoor nets as well. The Sportstar has learnt that only K.L. Rahul, Axar Patel and Kedar Jadhav took the drills inside for an hour.

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The rest of the crew looked in jubilant mood as they engaged in a game of soccer, amid fanfare and shutter sounds, outside the dressing room. Team India looks confident to consolidate on its on-field experience at home, ghost-led by the former skipper, who is back in the spotlight; courtesy, his prime form in the last few assignments.

Though he stepped down from captaincy earlier this year, Virat Kohli maintains that Dhoni is still his captain. True to his leader label, Dhoni controlled the mini football match too, alongside Ravindra Jadeja and others.

Eden, the point of rivalry

The rivalry between the teams gained new heights towards early 2000 when the Sourav Ganguly-led Team India sent the Kangaroos hopping out of the stadium in a historic Test match here. Australia's winning momentum was paused, and began India’s rise.

Though the Indian team couldn’t hoodwink the mighty Australians in limited-overs in world tournaments, but whenever the two sides have met, it has led to ‘monkey’ business. Well, the Aussies use sledging as a weapon and today, Kohli’s men have borrowed the artillery and sharpened it to their own comfort.

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Head to head

India and Australia have met on 114 occasions, with the latter emerging victorious 72 times. India experienced its moment of truth 42 times but still, it remains the favourite in the series. Kohli flaunts a higher success rate (80 per cent) than Steve Smith (59 per cent) in ODI cricket. The Indian skipper has won 28 out of 36 matches (lost seven), while the Aussie has managed 23 wins out of 42 outings. Australia lost 16 times under his leadership.

But then, Australia can take heart from its record at the venue. It has pocketed two out of two games at the Eden. In fact, when India and Australia met here the last time (in 2003), the visiting team had the last laugh.

Team combination

Though Axar — who has been ruled out for the first three ODIs — joined Rahul and Jadhav at the indoor nets, it is debatable whether he with match fit in Bengaluru for the fourth ODI. In all likelihood, India will maintain the winning combination of Chepauk. However, there are murmurs that the Indian think tank may take a final call on the starting XI after having a look at the wicket on Thursday morning. If there be any change, Rahane could make way for Rahul.

Along with head coach Ravi Shastri and all-rounder Hardik Pandya, Kohli was spotted inspecting the pitch when the covers came off for a few minutes.

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For Australia, Ashton Agar was seen coming out of the nets with his pads on. There is a speculation that he may be included in the squad; but that will rule out Adam Zampa, who was expensive in the first ODI. It is unlikely that Smith would rest his pacers, who could gain assistance from the little bit of grass on the wicket and the overcast conditions.

Both the teams have a balanced squad, but Australia has won only one game in its last 10 ODI encounters on tour (against Ireland in September last year).

India will bank on its spinners, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, for early breakthroughs. After all, spin and sub-continents have been Australia’s nemesis in the recent past.

Squads

Australia: David Warner, Travis Head, Steven Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Adam Zampa

India: Ajinkya Rahane/K.L Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, M.S. Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar,  Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah.