For India, too, the series is more about testing the waters for the bigger stage that is the 2019 World Cup.
Chennai: Australia have wrapped Mitchell Starc, the most potent of their pace quartet, in cotton wool with their focus firmly on the upcoming Ashes. Along with the left-arm fast bowler, who is recuperating from a minor injury, his colleagues Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson are also nursing sore muscles back home leaving Pat Cummins to shoulder the extra burden in India. The fact that coach Darren Lehmann has skipped the limited-overs tour to India to prepare for the clash against their old rivals only goes on to establish the importance, or the lack of it thereof, attached to the bilateral ODI series that begins with a day-night match at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday.
For India, too, the series is more about testing the waters for the bigger stage that is the 2019 World Cup. India skipper Virat Kohli has already made it clear that the team would be using the plethora of bilateral ODIs, lined up at home till the end of this year, to identify the core of the World Cup squad. India’s experimentation with wrist spinners — Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — has already resulted in ‘rest’ for R. Ashwin.
Both the teams have something bigger in their vista than going hard at each other’s throat. In recent times, the bilateral series, especially ODIs, has become a stale exhibition. Dean Jones wasn’t wrong when he recently pointed out “the mediocrity of these stupid and meaningless one-day bilateral series is not going to help the sport.”
If Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland’s words are to be believed, the campaign that Australia and India undertake from Sunday is set to be among the last of its type provided a global ODI league takes shape. Sutherland doesn’t see anyone playing more than three ODIs in a series in the future.
Unlike the past contests between Australia and India, this one could be devoid of off-the-field drama such as verbal duels and mind games. According to Kohli, the only thing that matters is the performance on the field. “All those things are to get that aspect of mind games, which I think creates excitement for fans. I feel that intense competition should be there for the game to have that excitement and keep this game alive. I think it is very important to have that competitiveness in every series that you play,” said Kohli.
Shikhar Dhawan’s unavailability has proved to be a blessing in disguise for Kohli as he gets an opportunity to test his back-up opener in Ajinkya Rahane and also give K.L. Rahul a long rope at no. 4.
Kohli is set to go in with two wrist spinners as left-arm spinner Axar Patel has been ruled out with an injury. Axar sprained his left ankle during a practice session. Ravindra Jadeja has been announced as the replacement.
Kohli said it was a great advantage to have both Chahal and Kuldeep. “Especially, when both are so different to each other and both can pick up wickets in the middle overs. Those two guys are in a zone,” he added.