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Focus on long-term gains in short format series

Wisden India logo Wisden India 12-01-2016 Saurabh Somani
The limited-overs assignment in Australia is a good chance for India to prepare for the World T20 at home. © AFP © Provided by Wisden The limited-overs assignment in Australia is a good chance for India to prepare for the World T20 at home. © AFP

Less than a year since India left Australian shores after a tour that encompassed four Tests, a One-Day International tri-series and a World Cup defence, they are back Down Under to play five ODIs and three Twenty20 Internationals at the peak of the Australian summer.

They began that tri-series as the world champions, but this time the boot is on the other foot, with Australia having wrested the crown in fairly spectacular style. Not that India had a bad World Cup by any stretch – in fact, quite the reverse – but Australia were clearly a cut above. India had downed every opponent in a triumphant, unbeaten march to the semifinal, but a red-hot Steven Smith and an equally charged team swatted the then defending champions aside by 95 runs.

Australia have since shown again that beating them at home – in any format – is among the more difficult tasks in the cricket world. Aaron Finch, the T20I captain, had no hesitation in pegging his side as favourites because of their status as world champions. “When you have the tag of world champions, it means you’ve played good cricket,” said Finch on Sunday (January 10). “It means that you’re favourites and there’s excitement around your team. We had an extraordinary World Cup and a great couple of years leading into that, so we deserve that tag.”

India will thus have plenty to chew on when the series begins, notwithstanding the encouraging form shown in two victories in warm-up matches against Western Australian XI sides. What the matches will have done is allowed India to get a better feel of the conditions at the WACA in Perth, the venue of the first ODI on Tuesday, which George Bailey said had the pace bowlers all excited, “It may not be as bouncy as it used to be, but compared to other grounds in the country, it's still bouncy.”

The two sides will then cross over towards Australia’s east coast, with the remaining ODIs scheduled in Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.

The three T20Is will form the second half of the tour, with the first one in Adelaide on January 26 – Australia Day and India’s Republic Day – before the teams return to Melbourne and Sydney for the last two matches. The T20Is will be double-headers – the Australian and Indian women’s sides will play at all three venues right before the men do.

The one thing that will hit India is the continued absence of Mohammed Shami. His return from injury was welcomed from all sides, especially considering the way he had led India’s attack at the 2015 World Cup on these very shores.

That apart, the 20-over clashes also have a larger context to them, being the start of a virtual T20 season for India, leading up to the World T20 at home. The international T20 cycle will end there, but with the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League following, it won’t be time to switch off from T20 mode yet.

Between this tour and the World T20, India play Sri Lanka in three T20Is at home before heading over to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, which will embrace the T20 format for the first time. The three matches against Australia, therefore, will be the start of the testing ground to finalise personnel and combinations heading into the world event.

Can Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh have that final hurrah at home? Will the punt on Ashish Nehra work? Perhaps, most crucial of all, can Suresh Raina rediscover the fearless ball-striking that makes him a limited-overs giant? Each of these, veterans of varying hues, is part of the squad for the shortest format. You would think that they will be given a full run to prove the selectors’ faith in them right – or wrong, if that is the case – and keeping the World T20 in mind, this series has added heft.



It’s a little different with the ODIs. On the one hand, playing in Australia so soon after having spent several months across the length and breadth of the country will hardly offer anything new. On the other, the ODI side this time is not the same as it was at the start of last year. Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Manish Pandey, Barinder Sran and Rishi Dhawan are the fresh faces, while Ravindra Jadeja is continuing on his comeback trail. Ideally, this tour should set up the young turks for the coming challenges, since all the fresh faces can add valuable dimensions to the unit if they click – Gurkeerat bringing in power-hitting coupled with handy spin, Pandey filling in the slot of a middle-order batsman who can bat solidly as well as accelerate, and the duo of Sran and Dhawan giving India the precious options of a left-arm pacer and a seam-bowling allrounder.

The one thing that will hit India is the continued absence of Mohammed Shami. His return from injury was welcomed from all sides, especially considering the way he had led India’s attack at the 2015 World Cup on these very shores. MS Dhoni, too, had spoken of how he wanted to use Shami carefully so that one of India’s best weapons could be preserved for the several months of intense cricket lined up.

With Bhuvneshwar Kumar replacing Shami, the Indian pace attack will have the Uttar Pradesh medium pacer alongside Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Sran for the ODIs.

"Ideally, this tour should set up the young turks for the coming challenges, since all the fresh faces can add valuable dimensions to the unit if they click.

Ideally, this tour should set up the young turks for the coming challenges, since all the fresh faces can add valuable dimensions to the unit if they click. © AFP © Provided by Wisden Ideally, this tour should set up the young turks for the coming challenges, since all the fresh faces can add valuable dimensions to the unit if they click. © AFP

The Australians may be without the Mitchells – Johnson retired and Starc injured, though the former turned up at the nets on Sunday to offer words of wisdom to the younger fast bowlers – but James Faulkner, Josh Hazlewood, Kane Richardson, Joel Paris, Scott Boland and Mitchell Marsh would appear to be the attack that has the edge given the conditions and the home advantage.

India’s spin stocks, led by R Ashwin and Jadeja, definitely look better than the home team’s, but how much the tweakers will have to do on the harder, bouncier surfaces traditionally on offer Down Under is a big question.

The biggest challenge for India’s bowlers will be containing the rampaging Australian batting line-up, with David Warner looking like he’ll never stop scoring runs and Smith’s boyish face masking a tough competitor, who has a streak of ruthlessness about him.

India’s most recent outing was the Test series demolition of South Africa, and while that triumph remains great for the feel-good factor, it will have little other bearing. The format was different, the pitches were vastly different, the conditions were dissimilar. To that end, perhaps, having a solid workout in the ODIs will be good for the team, and help the majority get back into the international limited-overs competitive mind frame before the T20Is begin.

Then too, there’s the matter of a rivalry with Australia always being exciting. “Once we’re on the field, India play with a lot of excitement and with their hearts on their sleeve,” offered Finch. “We all want to win games for our country and you do whatever you can, within the rules. That’s why there’s been some great battles with India, some great confrontations which I think adds to the excitement to the game. Nothing goes over the top, but it’s passionate guys wanting to win games for their country.”

In the final analysis, though the rivalry will retain its edge and the Indian team will have a stiff examination on foreign shores, this is that rare tour where the shortest format might well have more weight attached to it than the 50-over one, given the calendar for the next three months.

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