India has switched to T20 mode and for the next two months every training session, every team meeting, and every match will serve one ultimate purpose: to help win the World T20 on home soil. It is against this backdrop that the three-match KFC T20 Series against Australia begins at the Adelaide Oval here on Tuesday.
India will attempt to forget at once the travails of the ODI series. The mood in the camp has palpably improved, perhaps because of the infusion of fresh players, and perhaps also because this is a format India feels more confident of success in, in these conditions.
Whatever else happens in the three matches, Yuvraj Singh's fortunes will be a story as important as the series itself, simply because of his status in Indian cricket. As he batted in the nets on Monday — and he struck the ball sweetly at times — it was clear that his popularity, in the team and among its supporters, is still undiminished.
While the idea of a fairytale return to international cricket is appealing, it must not be forgotten that Yuvraj last played for India nearly two years ago, when he foundered in the final of the World T20. This season, he had a decent time of it in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, scoring 346 runs from six innings, at a strike rate of a little over 100. This is a set of games critical to Yuvraj's future, for when the World T20 rolls up, India cannot afford any nostalgic selections.
A more remarkable comeback story is provided by Ashish Nehra, a bowler whose last game for the country was the World Cup semifinal of 2011. Nehra has spoken of his bitter disappointment at being ignored since, and his failure to comprehend why. It is astonishing that despite everything, even at 36, he remains fiercely motivated to succeed. “Maar mujhe, maar,” (hit me, go on) he challenged Hardik Pandya in the nets on Monday, after having sent down a series of sharp yorkers. Nehra still appears reasonably quick; quick enough at least to hurry those facing him. However, since the end of last year's IPL, Nehra has played only three games of domestic cricket for Delhi — two T20s and one 50-over game. It will be interesting to see how he fares.
Suresh Raina too returns to the set-up, a week after having led Uttar Pradesh to glory in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. On the losing side in that final was Pandya, the tournament's highest scorer with 377 runs at a strike rate of 130.9. The Baroda all-rounder, called up to the India squad for the first time, is an exciting prospect, not least because the team lacks a player who can clear the ropes at will in the lower order. Pandya's exploits in the IPL have given him that reputation, one enhanced by his 46-ball-86 against Vidarbha earlier this month, when he clubbed eight sixes.
The comeback theme runs strongly through the Australian side as well. The hugely successful Big Bash League — the tournament concluded on Sunday, with domestic attendance records broken at seven of the eight venues and more than one million people on average tuning in to each of the broadcasts — has thrown up several names, among whom are Shaun Tait and Shane Watson. Tait, a native of Adelaide and a bowler of considerable pace, has not played for Australia since the 2011 World Cup. The big-hitting Travis Head has earned a maiden call-up to the National side, as has the medium-pacer Andrew Tye.
Both teams will use these games to work a few combinations out in preparation for the World T20. The series begins on what is Australia Day here and Republic Day in India. Much fun is in store.
Australia: Aaron Finch (captain), David Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Shaun Marsh, Chris Lynn, James Faulkner, Matthew Wade, Nathan Lyon, Cameron Boyce, Travis Head, John Hastings, Scott Boland, Kane Richardson, Andrew Tye, Shaun Tait and Shane Watson.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Hardik Pandya, Gurkeerat Mann, Rishi Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Umesh Yadav and Ajinkya Rahane.
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