After Test high, India start final preparations for World Cup

After Test high, India start final preparations for World Cup
Highlights

Hit hard by an unexpected controversy after the high of the Test triumph, India will look to finetune their World Cup preparations in the threematch ODI series against an underfire Australia scheduled to begin on Saturday

Sydney: Hit hard by an unexpected controversy after the high of the Test triumph, India will look to fine-tune their World Cup preparations in the three-match ODI series against an under-fire Australia scheduled to begin on Saturday.

Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul have provided a big distraction for the Indian team by making "inappropriate" comments on women during a TV show.

Skipper Virat Kohli underlined that the team management is still waiting for a judgment to be made regarding a ban or punishment to be meted out to the two players.

The team management didn't announce a shortlist for this game and will wait to hear from the BCCI on the two players' availability. Considering the enormity of this developing situation, it is unlikely that both Pandya and Rahul will be available for at least the first ODI.

Rahul was unlikely to get a go owing to both his poor form and the presence of a well-settled opening pair in Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. The bigger question though is regarding Pandya's absence, for the all-rounder provides crucial balance to the ODI side with his ability to bowl 10 overs as well as bat in the middle order.

Pandya's absence could mean that India might have to rejig their bowling attack. Jasprit Bumrah has already been rested for this series, as well as the tour of New Zealand, and this allows the think-tank to conduct one final experiment with their bowling attack.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a shoo-in, and thereafter it depends if Kohli wants to go in with a three-man pace attack to compensate for Pandya's loss. In such a scenario, Mohammed Shami and Khaleel Ahmed are expected to get the nod, as India continue zeroing on the pace quartet for the World Cup squad. There is a sprinkling of grass on the SCG pitch and it could push the Indian skipper to opt for a three-pacer and two-spinner combination.

Kohli also said that, in Pandya's absence, Ravindra Jadeja would step up as the all-rounder. In that light, he would partner up with left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav as India's five-pronged attack, with Kedar Jadhav fulfilling any part-time bowling duties if needed.

With the two openers and Kohli at number three, the remaining batting line-up picks itself. Jadhav, MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu will form the middle order, and there will be keen interest in the latter duo from here.

Dhoni had an off-colour 2018, managing 275 runs in 20 ODIs at average 25 without a half-century. While this is a meagre return for a batsman of his stature, the worrying aspect is Dhoni's strike-rate of 71.42, which is remarkably lower than his ODI career strike-rate of 87.89.

The Indian middle-order has often come unstuck with Dhoni at the crease, and the team management will be hoping for a fiery start to the year from the stalwart.

India brought in Rayudu for the all-important number four role, and since the Asia Cup last September, has given him a long run in the middle order. In this interim, Rayudu scored 392 runs in 11 ODIs in the Asia Cup and against West Indies at average 56 including a hundred and three half-centuries.

While he put in a more consistent showing than any of the other previously tried contenders, this run came in conditions different from those in England. As such, how Rayudu fares on this twin tour of Australia and New Zealand will be a closer representation of whether the Indian team has finally cracked the number four quandary.

Similar middle-order issues plagued the visitors when they last toured here for an ODI contest, losing 4-1 in January 2016 when Dhoni was still captain. Sharma and Kohli topped the charts with 441 and 381 runs in the five-match series, respectively, while Dhawan also scored 287 runs.

But there were no sizeable contributions from the middle, and only Manish Pandey's fighting hundred in the final ODI had saved India from a 5-0 scoreline.

India's ODI record in Australia is not impressive. Apart from the 1985 World Championship and 2008 CB Series wins, they have lost 35 out of 48 ODIs played against Australia on their home soil.

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj.

Australia (Playing XI): Aaron Finch (c), Alex Carey (wk), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jhye Richardson, Jason Behrendorff.

Match begins at 7.50 am IST

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