It is the ‘clash of the titans’ as India takes on Australia in a T20 series starting next week. The Aussies are the T20 World Champions and India is currently ranked top in the format.
After a dismal outing in the Asia Cup, the series gives India an opportunity to iron out the chinks in their armour. The Men in Blue will want to resolve all selection dilemmas and work out their best team combinations for the World Cup in October. Back-to-back defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Super 4 stages in Asia Cup have raised plenty of questions that need to be answered quickly, starting with the 3-match series against the Aussies.
In recent years two teams have been the biggest cricketing rivals in all formats. While in Tests, Australia has won more matches than India, in T20s, India has the upper hand with 13 victories against 9 Australian wins. India has an edge as some key Australian players are missing from this series. Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, have all been rested to heal from injuries ahead of the big ICC event. David Warner is already being rested thus the team under captain Aaron Finch is a rather inexperienced one and the Indians will fancy their chances of dominating the series. But the Aussies will draw comfort from Team India’s debacle in the recent Asia Cup and how quickly they unravelled in crunch moments.
As the defending Asian champions, India was the favourites to lift the trophy again but their sad ouster was a messy affair of poor selection and bad strategy. India went into the tournament with just 3 pacers which was a grave mistake with Jasprit Bumrah not playing and Harshal Patel injured. This means, when Avesh Khan fell ill, India had to rely on Hardik Pandya to be the third seamer. His performance against Pakistan in the first game was terrific but to bank on him to be India’s 5th bowling option was a blunder.
In fact, Team India’s ex-coach, Ravi Shastri, had also raised the omission of Mohammad Shami from the team. His bowling was par excellence for Gujarat Titans in their maiden IPL win and looked all set to be a part of India’s T20 plans. He was the leading wicket-taker for the Titans with a very economical strike rate to go along with it. Indian selectors have now rectified that mistake and included him in the series versus Australia but have kept him in reserves for the World Cup team. Experts believe that with the amount of travelling to be done before and during the World Cup, Shami might get a call-up for the World Cup if any of the pacers break down and playing him against the Aussies will be invaluable to get him fit.
As the workload increases for Indian fast bowlers, there is a need to rest and rotate players. But to do that in major tournaments is a folly that Indian selectors have often been guilty. Another selection error was, picking Deepak Hooda in the playing XI after Ravindra Jadeja got injured in the Asia Cup. Many felt that, a like-for-like replacement in Axar Patel would’ve been ideal, especially when Hooda wasn’t even used as a bowler in the matches! The failure to utilize Hooda’s all-round skills proved a costly blunder in the defeats against Pakistan and Lanka.
Indian batters also need to pull up their socks and playing on domestic pitches might just be the boost they need to get into top form. There were many knocks of individual brilliance but as a unit, India failed to post winning totals in crunch games. The good news is that Indian fans’ prayers have been answered – and Virat Kohli is back in hundred-hitting form.
King Kohli was India’s highest run-getter in the Asia Cup and hit a powerful century against Afghanistan in the final match. Rohit Sharma was rested and Kohli opened the innings with Rahul and the result was a scintillating 112 not out that helped India finish the cup with a few positives. Virat’s brilliance at the top also raises the question of whether he should continue to open with Rohit or not? Kohli has stated in the past as well that he likes to open the innings and has done so on many occasions for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The first match is slotted in Mohali where India beat Australia in 2016. But away from home, the Aussies have won thrice in as many encounters since 2019. While many senior Australian stars are resting, there are exciting players like Tim David, a power hitter generously praised by Glenn Maxwell recently, and Sean Abbot and John Inglis are other key prospects in the mix. Australia has many matches coming up before the World Cup and these games provide youngsters game time to establish themselves in the team.
Home conditions will be an advantage for the Men in Blue and fans will hope that their team has got over the rude jolt of the Asia Cup. If the Rohit-Dravid duo learn the right lessons from the Asia Cup setback and take corrective steps, the series with the Aussies could prove to be a pulsating contest that helps fine-tune Team India’s plan to pack a punch in the World Cup!