India and Australia will have their one eye fixed on the World Cup which is scheduled to be played in October this year as they take on each other in the upcoming three-match ODI series, starting March 17 in Mumbai. These are two brilliant One-Day sides, and we expect a closefought battle throughout the series.
Firstly, on India, who have a strong batting lineup. Most of the players are automatic selections. Rohit Sharma is unavailable for the first game and Hardik Pandya is going to lead in his absence. I feel with Rohit not there, Ishan Kishan should be asked to open with Shubman Gill. It is also quite handy to have a left-hander in that Indian top order, which is so right-hand heavy.
Even when Rohit returns in playing XI, Kishan can be used as a floater in the top 3 and can wear the wicketkeeper’s gloves too. If either Rohit or Gill get out early, Ishan can be sent at No 3 as a floater. Virat Kohli is of course your go-to Number 3 followed by Suryakumar Yadav at 4. There is going to be a toss-up between Ishan and KL Rahul for the number 5 spot for the wicketkeeper/batter (when Rohit returns). I would go with Ishan, who has done extremely well in the recent past. Hardik Pandya at number 6 followed by Ravindra Jadeja at 7. It will be interesting to see who India pick between Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar. In my view, because the first ODI is at Mumbai, Thakur should be played. Mumbai has a different soil than the remaining two places – Visakhapatnam and Chennai. The surface has more in it for the pacers and that is why Thakur is my choice in Mumbai. Sundar can come back in to replace Thakur in spin-friendly conditions.
India may have to choose between Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav for that one slot for the pure wrist spinner. Umran Malik must play in the Indian ODI XI consistently. He needs more match time and experience. Keeping in mind the World Cup in October, I think he could turn out to be a real gem, a match-winner. With no date out yet on injured Jasprit Bumrah’s comeback, India must give more game time to Malik and prepar him well. They need to have a genuine fast bowler in the World Cup who breaks partnerships. Extraordinary pace helps you do that and Umran is just the right man for the job. Playing against a very strong Australian batting lineup will give him great amount of experience.
I will probably play one between Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami. Jaydev Unadkat is there too and he may get a shot at some stage because he provides the team with a rare left -arm pace option.
Watch out for Nathan Ellis
As far as Australia are concerned, they look a super strong side. I would play Travis Head at the top although the visitors may want Josh Inglis to open with David Warner. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne follow. Smith will oversee ODIs too with Pat Cummins opting to stay back with family after passing of his mother and rightly so.
Not to forget, Australia have got a tremendous amount of all-round talent. They have got some good all-rounders in the form of Mitchell March, Glenn Maxwell, Cameron Green, Marcus Stoinis and Ashton Agar. Aussies have many options to go with to control that middle part of the innings, both with the bat and the ball.
Where, I think, Australia need a clarity moving forward is the bowling lineup. With so many allrounders as well as pure bowlers, Australia must look at this series to zero in on their frontline bowling attack. One knows that some bowlers pick themselves. Adam Zampa is in great form, and he is certainly going to make it to the final XI most of the times, especially while playing in India. Cummins is not there but he will be back soon. Mitchell Starc will be there, so will Josh Hazlewood when he returns. With a list of all-rounders, they will have to be very certain who to pick and who to drop. Jhye Richardson has also been ruled out. When he returns, he will be in a battle with one of these bowlers for a slot.
In these 3 ODIs, Australia can use Glenn Maxwell as a spin bowling option. But, in my view, they should try out Ashton Agar in a bid to find the right balance of attack.
One Aussie cricketer I want to see more of is Nathan Ellis, who in my view, is going to become a very good cricketer going ahead. He surely needs more opportunities in international matches. What he does best is bowl superbly at the death. I would try and find a slot for him.
I feel with Hazlewood, Richardson and Cummins not there, Ellis must play. He has got a great variety of slower balls and bowls a good yorker too. He has become a go-to bowler in almost all franchise cricket, now, for finishing innings with the ball. I would want a slot for him in all the three games, but I also know it is not going to be so straightforward as Australians have so many bowling options already in the squad.
With many Aussie players in the squad having played a lot of cricket in India thanks to IPL, there is no lack of understanding of the conditions. That’s a big reason why there is a big probability of all 3 games seeing close finishes.