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AFTER ASIA CUP TRIUMPH... TEAM INDIA FINETUNES FOR WC WITH AUSSIE CHALLENGE!
After an excellent Asia Cup, Team India has resumed its tussle with Australia in a 3-match preparatory series ahead of the World Cup. As the two teams fine tune their World Cup resources, India goes into the series with most of their bases covered which showed in the first ODI itself. Team India sealed a comfortable 5 wicket victory despite half their first choice eleven being rested!
The welcome addition of wily off-spinner Ravi Ashwin, drafted in the squad for the Aussie series due to Axar Patel’s thigh injury, is an important pick. He brings in a wealth of experience along with pedigree and if eventually included in the World Cup squad, Ashwin could provide the much-needed variety that the Indian spin attack lacked at the Asia Cup.
The historic demolition of Sri Lanka at the Asia Cup final, where India bundled them out for just 50 runs, brought joy to millions of Indian fans. Moreover, it was a reassurance that all key players were now fit and in decent form for the ODI World Cup. Through the tournament, it was a show of total dominance by the Indians. Now, the India-Australia series is ideal preparation for both sides who are top contenders for the World Cup to hone their skills barely a fortnight before their showdown at the marquee event on 8th October in Chennai.
The Aussie ODIs also give a breather for some mega stars like Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and enable Team India to check its bench strength. For the first ODI, India rested the star of the Asia Cup final Mohammad Siraj but still bowled out Australia for 276 after winning the toss on a flat deck in Mohali. Later, they comfortably chased down the target owing to a century-plus opening stand between Ruturaj Gaikwad and Shubhman Gill. But it was the SuryaRahul partnership that will put smiles on Indian team management’s faces. After a mild wobble where India lost 4 wickets for just 43 runs after the opening stand, Suryakumar Yadav curbed his free flowing stroke play to hit a responsible fifty to go along with Rahul’s unbeaten half century as India cantered to a comfortable win.
Earlier, Shami bowled an incisive spell and grabbed 5 wickets while Ashwin bowled economically giving away 47 and picking up 1 wicket. Jasprit Bumrah too looked sharp and will be a crucial cog in the Indian attack for the World Cup. The Aussie batters were circumspect to start the innings with Warner and Smith consolidating after Mitchell Marsh’s early wicket. While Warner hit a fifty, Smith fell on 41, bowled by a Shami special. It was an aggressive cameo at the end by Pat Cummins that took their total beyond 250.
The 3 matches of the series will be played out in six days. In such a scenario, it is imperative that both teams balance rest and gametime for their players as the World Cup begins just days after the current series ends. Many key players from Australia are returning to action after injuries. Captain Pat Cummins, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc are back in the team and Maxwell is all set to join the side later in the week. But the Aussies will miss the services of their destructive left-hand batsman, Travis Head, who fractured his hand and might miss the entire World Cup!
For Team India, Axar Patel’s thigh injury is a major concern. It has opened the door for Ashwin and Washington Sundar to return to the ODI team and prove their usefulness for the World Cup. Through their presence, Team India can have the much-needed variation as off-spinners can play a vital role especially against batting sides with several left-handers. In addition, both Ashwin and Sundar are fine batters in the lower order. Kuldeep and Jadeja are in good form but they will need support from a quality third spinner if India gets turning tracks in World Cup games.
Before the World Cup campaign, India will play a couple of warm-up matches against England and Netherlands. The team will have to get ready for the grind as the long World Cup will involve a lot of travel across the length and breadth of the country. Public expectations will be sky high just as they were in 2011. All that Team India needs is to shut out the noise and play their natural game - as they showed in the Asia Cup. If they play to their potential, it won’t be easy for any team to stop India from lifting their third ODI World Cup this year!
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL
Siddhaarth Mahan The writer is a specialist on Sports and Cinema who works as an actor in the Hindi film industry