Three games, three different cities, six days. Welcome back to bilateral cricket in India, coming on the heels of a disappointing Asia Cup run and just weeks before the start of the 2022 T20 World Cup.
Rohit Sharma’s Indian cricket team, unbeaten in a T20I series since exiting the previous T20 World Cup last November but which struggled in the UAE recently, has one last chance to recalibrate their approach in the format before the big event looming. Reigning T20 World Cup holders Australia are in the country for a whirlwind T20I tour, and then South Africa land up for the same amount of games plus three ODIs.
India’s template that yielded series wins over New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies (twice), Ireland and England, as well as a 2-2 series scoreline with South Africa, all over the past 10 months, was exposed in the Asia Cup. Of course, this had to do with injuries to two key bowlers and some bungled selection, both before and during the tournament, but the manner in which India struggled to defeat Pakistan (the first time) and Hong Kong and
were outplayed by Sri Lanka and Pakistan thereon underlined familiar weaknesses and left fans wondering what will happen to this team at the World Cup in Australia.
The sight of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel will be a big plus for Indian cricket fans. Bumrah missed the Asia Cup with a back injury that has sidelined him since mid-July while Patel is back after recovering from a rib injury, which is good news for a bowling attack that struggled recently in the backend of innings in the Asia Cup. Speaking to this writer last week in Bangalore, where he and Harshal have been rehabilitating at the National Cricket Academy, Bumrah expressed confidence in his road back to the Indian team and said he was looking at getting back to top form.
World champions Australia are clearly not risking any more injuries ahead of their title defence next month, with Mitchell Starc (knee), Marcus Stoinis (side) and Mitchell Marsh (ankle) left back home with ‘minor’ injuries. David Warner had already been rested for the series, but this is still a formidable T20I unit which will look to make India’s life tougher before the World Cup.
With Bumrah and Harshal back, India’s bowling attack will change. What then of Arshdeep Singh, the rookie left-arm pace who is India’s most successful and economical death bowler in T20Is this year? While it is believed that Bumrah might not slot back for the first game on Tuesday in Mohali, it could be that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Arshdeep will play the first match and then get some rest. Harshal should immediately slot back in. Mohammed Shami, named the squads for this series and the next versus South Africa, has tested positive for COVID-19 which has prompted the selectors to add Umesh Yadav as his replacement.
Rohit said over the weekend that India will back a struggling KL Rahul and that Virat Kohli might also open in some of these T20Is before the World Cup. The debate over Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik is likely to continue, and with Deepak Hooda an option it is foreseeable that Pant and Karthik go in and out across the next couple of weeks.
India likely XI (first T20I): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Axar Patel, 8 Harshal Patel, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Without Stoinis, Australia will almost certainly hand a debut to the Singapore-born allrounder Tim David who has made a name for himself as big-hitting finisher. Steve Smith is also due for a return to the No 3 spot in Marsh’s absence, while Josh Inglis the leading candidate to open with Aaron Finch. The allrounder Cameron Green is another likely middle-order addition. The replacement trio of Daniel Sams, Nathan Ellis and Sean Abbott will jostle for attention across the three games.
Australia likely XI: 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Josh Inglis, 3 Steve Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Matthew Wade (wk), 6 Tim David, 7 Cameron Green, 8 Daniel Sams, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
Australia, minus Warner, Starc, Marsh and Stoinis, are still a good team and the last time they played here, the visitors won. That said, with Bumrah and Harshal back, India look the favourites by a yard. Expect India to win 2-1.