November 27, Friday; 09:10 IST
Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Sydney
Live on Sony Sports
The main picture
It’s now a distant memory but back in the early days of lockdown, a huge shadow of doubt hung over India’s scheduled tour of Australia. Australian government’s travel restrictions to control the pandemic remain in place, but professional sport was allowed to resume in June and Cricket Australia (CA) have salvaged the lucrative Indian tour worth AUD 300 million after the inevitable cancellation and postponement of the T20 World Cup.
Australia has had comparatively fewer COVID numbers but the pandemic regulations vary across its six states. Western Australia (Perth), Queensland (Brisbane) and South Australia (Adelaide) were seen as entry points for the touring Indian side, but eventually it was the New South Wales government that approved CA’s quarantine proposal, allowing Indian players, moving from one bio-secure environment to another, to train during the mandatory two-week isolation.
India and Australia begin the men’s summer of cricket Down Under with a three-match ODI series, starting at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday (November 27). The SCG will open its gates for 23,000 fans (half the capacity) to watch the first two ODIs, two T20Is and the New Year’s Test in somewhat of a return to the old normal.
The build-up to the limited-overs leg of the tour has been somewhat diluted by the increased attention on the four-match Test series starting on December 17 for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Multi-format players in the Indian squad were put through Test-match simulation sessions during the first week of their quarantine in Sydney before beginning preparations in earnest for the ODI series, while the white-ball specialists have had a mix of match simulation and net practice, too, during the quarantine.
The series will be India’s first in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League, in which each of the 13 teams will play eight best-of-three ODI series. Though Virat Kohli and co. are guaranteed qualification for the 2023 World Cup as the tournament host, thirty points are up for grabs in each World Cup Super League series and, therefore, India will play their part in other teams’ bid for qualification.
For Australia, 11 members of their 18-man ODI squad featured in IPL 2020 in the UAE, some of them getting substantially more playing time with their franchises. The likes of David Warner, Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins, and Aaron Finch played significant roles in their franchises’ journey deep into the tournament. With the bilateral series coming on the heels of IPL 2020, where a majority of the Indian and Australian first-choice XIs shared the same dressing rooms and plotted the dismissals of their own countrymen, the head-to-head match-ups (Adam Zampa v Kohli, Marcus Stoinis v Shikhar Dhawan, et cetera) provide an interesting subplot early on the tour.
Sydney Cricket Ground pitch report and weather forecast
SCG hosted the last international cricket fixture played in Australia before the pandemic threatened to wipe out the 2020-21 summer of cricket, with Aaron Finch’s men beating their trans-Tasman rival, New Zealand, by 71 runs.
Each of the last five completed ODIs played at the venue has been won by the team batting first, with Australia’s 353/6 against Pakistan in 2017 being the highest score batting first. The recent lopsided win-loss ratio for teams batting second is an indication the pitch isn’t conducive for strokeplay in the second half, particularly in the absence of dew, which in this part of the world doesn’t affect cricket matches as often as in the sub-continent.
Therefore, expect the captain winning the toss to opt to bat first and aim to get a good score on the board.
A clear, sunny afternoon is forecast for Friday after a cloudy morning. Humidity is fairly high at 82 per cent.
India vs Australia 1st ODI playing 11
India have a Rohit Sharma-sized hole at the top of the order but Mayank Agarwal is likely to get the nod to partner Shikhar Dhawan following his exploits for Kings XI Punjab in IPL 2020 and having been India’s opener during their last ODI series away to New Zealand earlier this year. KL Rahul, as he did in the home series against Australia in January and in the ODIs against New Zealand, is likely to slot in at No. 5 and keep wickets, with Hardik Pandya and Manish Pandey in a two-way tussle for the No. 6 spot. With Ravindra Jadeja almost a certainty at No. 7, Yuzvendra Chahal could be the lone specialist spinner.
Probable Indian playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Mohammed Shami, 9 Navdeep Saini, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Australia’s top order is settled, though Steven Smith will return to the playing 11 after entirely missing the three-match ODI series against England in September with a concussion suffered when batting in the nets. Seam-bowling all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who featured in that series, isn’t part of the squad after sustaining an ankle injury in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s opening fixture of IPL 2020. Smith is expected to take Marsh’s place.
Head coach Justin Langer has, however, said Australia “really like that extra bowling option”, which they would miss in Marsh’s absence, so either Moises Henriques or uncapped Western Australian Cameron Green could still play ahead of Marnus Labuschagne with the returning Smith slotting at No. 3.
Probable Australian playing 11: 1 Aaron Finch (c), 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Marnus Labuschagne/Cameron Green/Moises Henriques, 5 Alex Carey (wk), 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood
Both teams are well-balanced and boast quality, dependable players from Nos. 1 to 11. Australia, being at full-strength, start as a slight favourite because of their knowledge of the conditions. India, though, have the cutting-edge in their bowling arsenal, and their batting line-up, despite Rohit’s absence, has enough experience and flair to take on a strong Australian bowling attack.