Aus must overcome possible rain, weaknesses to challenge India

Match details

Eden Gardens, Kolkata
September 21, Thursday; 13:30 IST
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The main picture

Australia by now will have reviewed Sunday’s ODI and said to themselves that it was a match they let slip. They will also have drawn a couple of conclusions: firstly, their bowling, at least beyond Patrick Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile (who can be expensive and erratic), lacks penetration; secondly and more importantly, the batting line-up is short on experience, again, beyond the usually prolific David Warner and Steve Smith. The return of Aaron Finch might ensure that the visitors don’t fall apart as they did with the bat, in a chase of 164 runs, on Sunday. The sooner this Victorian right-hander returns to the playing XI, the better for his team.

Australia won’t and don’t have to panic after Sunday’s loss. But if they are to bounce back with a series-levelling win in Kolkata, they ought to be more ruthless with the ball and sensible with the bat. Australian bowling attacks of yesteryears hardly ever let teams off the hook if they had them reeling at 87/5, a position from where India added 194 runs for the loss of only two more wickets. The two-hour rain stoppage did play a part in the eventual result and Australia being unable to chase down the DLS target of 164 runs in 21 overs. But Steve Smith himself admitted in the post-match press conference, that the 118-run partnership between MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya changed the match. And the fact that the ODI rules mandate the use of two new balls even in a shortened match didn’t help the visitors in the close-to-eight-runs-an-over chase.

Nathan Coulter-Nile, in particular, benefitted from bowling under the grey Chennai sky and made optimum use of the swing on offer. His pitching the ball up and bowling a length that was fuller than his natural length helped matters, of course. The newly-laid Eden Gardens pitch is one he will enjoy bowling as well, having done so in an IPL 2017 match for Kolkata Knight Riders against Royal Challengers Bangalore, who were bundled out for 49. Not only Coulter-Nile but Australia, I think, will enjoy playing on the Kolkata pitch, which has offered extra bounce and pace since being re-laid. As a matter of fact, the Chennai pitch offered more bounce than usual too, but the Australian batsmen, strangely, didn’t maximise the more home-like conditions.

Shifting focus to the Virat Kohli-led India, you cannot help but remind yourself that they did to Australia what the boys from down under did to teams back in the day. The middle and lower middle order batted resiliently and took the calculated risks at the opportune moments. The presence of MS Dhoni and the familiarity he has with the match situation he walked into (64/4) obviously helped, but the maturity shown by Hardik Pandya and later by Bhuvneshwar Kumar cannot be overlooked or understated either. They played as important a role in India’s recovery and the victory as their former captain.

Just as in Sri Lanka, Kohli’s India, against a far stronger opposition, rose up to the challenge they were posed with. Though a no-brainer, the Men in Blue will go into the Kolkata ODI high on confidence. Yes, they will have to guard against complacency and rise up to a potentially fresh challenge on Thursday. But having won a match in which their two most prolific run scorers in recent times, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, lacked fluency and failed with the bat, India can only get better.

From a fanatical viewpoint, India may have gone on to win the first ODI comfortably by 26 runs (DLS method), but we were treated to an absorbing contest. Australia made a head start only to be pegged back by a resourceful Indian side who, after getting their noses in front and being assisted slightly by the weather and the consequent change in the equation, didn’t botch up an opportunity to go 1-0 up. You can expect another good contest on Thursday.

However, the city of joy has received plenty of rain in the last two days (Monday and Tuesday) and the forecast is for more rain in the upcoming days. The pitch and the entire outfield have been under the covers. The Indian team also cancelled their scheduled practice session because of the inclement weather. Australia aren’t alien to shortened matches and disruptions caused by inclement weather in recent times, but they will be frustrated by the regular occurrence of this element.

India vs Australia head to head in ODI

Team India closed the head-to-head gap against the Aussies to 42-72 in 124 ODI meetings, with 10 other matches producing no results.

The Eden Gardens has hosted only one India vs Australia ODI before, and Ricky Ponting’s men beat Sourav Ganguly’s team by 37 runs in the Final of the TVS Cup in 2003.

Recent form

India: WWWWW (last five completed matches, from left to right)

2nd ODI: India vs Australia playing XI

Taking into account the valuable, match-changing performances of a handful of individual players, the hosts do not have to alter their playing XI. However, the conditions may coerce them to make one possible change: Mohammed Shami might feature for India at his home ground if the Eden Gardens pitch sports a bit of grass and is seamer-friendly, as it has tended to over the last year for both Test and ODI matches. Other than this, I don’t foresee India making personnel changes unless a player picks up an injury between now and Thursday afternoon.

Probable, predicted India playing XI for the second ODI: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, and 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

Australia may leave out Adam Zampa, not because he was a touch expensive (1/66 in 10 overs) and was targetted by Hardik Pandya, but they, too, might go in with a frontline pacer. Kane Richardson didn’t feature in Chennai and should logic prevail and the conditions be as expected, this South Australian pacer might well replace Zampa in the Australian playing XI. In Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head, the visitors have two good part-time off-spinners.

Another Aussie who is in danger of being left out is Hilton Cartwright, who made his debut on Sunday and flopped for the second time in a row, after being dismissed for a duck in the practice match last Tuesday as well. Peter Handscomb may replace him and bat at No. 4, with Travis Head moving up to open the batting with Warner in Finch’s potential absence.

Possible Australia playing 11 for the 2nd ODI: 1 Steve Smith (C), 2 David Warner, 3 Travis Head, 4 Peter Handscomb, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Matthew Wade (WK), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 10 Patrick Cummins, and 11 Kane Richardson

Match prediction

Australia must make the most of playing on an Eden Gardens pitch which has tended to offer pace and bounce. It’s the sort of pitch they get back home and so, the batsmen and the bowlers will be more accustomed to it, presuming the pitch for Thursday’s match is of the same nature as when India played England in January, in a Test match against New Zealand late last year and the IPL 2017 matches took place. Of course, weather permitting, playing a full match will help the Aussies as well.

India are on a seven-match winning streak and they just keep going from strength to strength. MS Dhoni, who is not the batsman he was a couple of years ago, has found form and the two sixes against James Faulkner on Sunday showed that he can play the big shots once he gets his eye in. The former skipper’s batting form makes India’s batting line-up more formidable. And with India’s bowling being incisive too, the visitors need to come up with a better display overall to beat the home team.

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