In the year in which they will host the 50-overs World Cup, India restart their preparations for the mega event in the hectic year with three One-day Internationals (ODIs) against Australia, the first of which will be played at the Wankhede Stadium, here on Friday.
The second and third ODIs of the three-match series will be played at Visakhapatnam (March 19) and Chennai (March 22).
It's going to be a hectic year for India in 50-overs cricket. The Men in Blue have already played six ODIs in the first month of the year and the second phase of their preparations starts with three 50-over matches against Australia followed by three matches away in West Indies, the Asia Cup in Pakistan or in UAE, eventually ending with three more ODIs against Australia in September 2023, just before the start of the World Cup in October-November.
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With the Indian Premier League (IPL) scheduled across April and May, the Indian white-ball specialists will barely get time to breathe.
In January, India registered a clean sweep of Sri Lanka, sealing off the 3-0 verdict with a massive 317-run triumph in Thiruvananthapuram. They followed that up with another clean sweep against New Zealand, winning by 12 runs in Hyderabad, by 8 wickets in Raipur and by 90 runs in Indore.
The Men in Blue will be hoping for another clean sweep against Australia, but blanking the five-time World Champions will be tougher than the 6-0 sweep put together. Even though the Aussies have lost a few players and were without key pacer and captain Pat Cummins, who left the tour midway, India could only manage a 2-1 win in the preceding Border-Gavaskar Trophy Test Series as the Aussies fought back to win the third Test in Indore after being thrashed in the first two.
Cummins is still in Australia, tending to family affairs following the death of his mother and Steve Smith will lead the team in his absence. Australia has been bolstered by the arrival of white-ball specialists Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Sean Abbott, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa, Josh Inglis and Ashton Agar and thus will pose a tougher challenge than they did in the Test series.
The nature of limited-overs cricket takes out the threat of excessive spin from the equation which will make the Aussie ODI specialists breathe easier than their Test counterparts did.
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India are going into the first ODI without regular skipper Rohit Sharma, who will miss the match due to family commitments. In his absence, vice-captain Hardik Pandya, who has led the T20 squad admirably, will discharge the duties, getting another chance to establish himself as the frontrunner to take over the reins from Rohit Sharma.
The hosts suffered a big blow as middle-order batter Shreyas Iyer was ruled out of the entire series due to a back injury he suffered during the fourth and final Test against Australia in Ahmedabad. Though the team goes into another series without pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, the presence of Mohd Shami and Mohd Siraj, both of whom had a good Test series against Australia, along with youngster Umran Malik, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat and skipper Hardik Pandya give the selectors test the pace department once again on the road to World Cup selection.
In the batting department, it will be a chance for K.L Rahul to cement his claim for a place in the World Cup squad. He has lost his place in the Test squad but a good series with the bat, nd gloves if he gets the chance, will help his cause a lot ahead of the IPL.
On the other hand, Shubman Gill has been in great form in the preceding ODI series against the Black Caps, hitting a double century in the first match and a century in the third. He also scored a century against Australia in the Ahmedabad Test as did Virat Kohli, who had regained his form in the shorter versions of the game before hitting a majestic 186 against Australia a few days back.
With ODI specialist Suryakumar Yadav, allrounder Hardik Pandya and Shardul Thakur in the ranks, India will look forward to the performance of specialists and dual-role players ahead of the World Cup.
While Australia are still sweating over the availability of opener David Warner, who had suffered a concussion and hairline fracture in his elbow during the Test series, the team management will be keenly awaiting the return from a layoff by Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh, who could be in the scheme of things for the World Cup.
The three-match series is an opportunity to experiment and test players and workout various combinations ahead of the mega event, admitted Australia allrounder Mitchell Marsh too, in the pre-match press conference here on Thursday.
These three one-dayers and the three more games these two sides will play in September give the team management to experiment and look at some players, check out different options, he said..
India: Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, K L Rahul, Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya (captain), Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohd. Shami, Mohd. Siraj, Umran Malik, Shardul Thakur, Axar Patel, Jaydev Unadkat.
Australia: David Warner, Travis Head, Steven Smith (capt), Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Glenn Maxwell, Cameron Green, Josh Inglis, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Ellis, Adam Zampa.