This may sound weird after noticing the humbling 4-1 series scoreline, but India could have won it 3-2. Their collapse in Canberra brought back the ghosts of Tendulkar-in-90s past, and a little bit of (umpiring) luck in Melbourne would have meant that the teams would have headed into the last match at Sydney with everything to play for. A season ago, when AB De Villiers’ South African ODI team lost the bilateral series by a similar scoreline in Australia before the World Cup, many thought he had gone cuckoo when he said “South Africa were the better team. We deserved to win the series.”
He wasn’t entirely wrong. The thing with Australia in general is that they’re often inferior or toe-to-toe for large phases of a game, but they don’t know how to lose. They always win that one tiny big moment. Other teams may do everything else right, but that one moment is often the difference in close games – of which there have been plenty in the last month. India scored 300 or more in almost every match, but ended up losing the series 4-1 despite having the top scorers (and Man of the Series) on their side. This shows how much more of a team Australia is, especially under Steven Smith – even considering the fact that they won 18 ODIs in a row.
Still under MS Dhoni, the Indian team will move onto the T20 series now – important in the context of the T20 World Cup to follow. India, ranked a lowly 8 in this format, will play the second-ranked Australia in three matches; the first of which will take place at Adelaide on India’s Republic Day (26th January).
There will obviously be some format-specific changes to each side. India’s changes, however, are quite startling:
Manish Pandey, who took India across the line with a fine century in Sydney in a record-breaking chase, will head home because he isn’t picked in this squad. Instead, the mediocre likes of Gurkeerat Singh Mann and Rishi Dhawan will be retained. The selectors need to be more flexible and resourceful to add last-minute players to the squad. However, there seems to be no place for the in-form Pandey because Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh are returning to bolster an ailing middle order. IPL stars Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra will support youngster Jasprit Bumrah (the only spark in India’s bowling) and Umesh Yadav. Most interestingly, Hardik Pandya, fresh from a stellar domestic season, will be playing Yusuf Pathan’s role in the lineup – that of a big hitter and handy bowler. To be fair, India’s T20 squad looks more balanced than their ODI side, because experience will go hand-in-hand with rawness here.
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh/Umesh Yadav, Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah
Aaron Finch, Australia’s best T20 batsman, is also the captain of this side. Australians have traditionally played this format like a fluffy entertaining side order, which explains why they have never won a T20 World Cup (and reached only the 2010 Final). Though their Big Bash is a competitive league, they thrive on overseas specialists, and rarely do any domestic players come up to play tests through the T20 ranks (unlike India). Most of their T20 teams are guys who’re good ODI players, while the others ply their trade back in India. They do have some electric players though – the likes of Shane Watson and Shaun Tait will be lending their wisdom and much-needed experience to a young side. Then of course there’s Glenn Maxwell, David Warner, Shaun Marsh and Smith – who will lead the top order against opponents they’re very familiar with.
David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh/Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Mathew Wade, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Tait, John Hastings, Kane Richardson
If India sweeps the series 3-0, they will gain eight points to leap to the top of the rankings. If Australia win, however, they will go top over the West Indies (both on 118 points) – and could enter the World Cup as favorites.