If you found it hard to believe Sangakkara and others in his team complain about how they were unprepared for this 5-match series—a country where Sri Lanka always find it tough to win in—the practice match against India A will have sealed their worries. Sure, it was an experimental game for them, where they decided to give all their players a bowl and bat, but the way Rohit Sharma and Manish Pandey flayed their regular bowlers to all parts of the CCI ground will leave alarm bells ringing on the eve of what is largely a redundant series.
However, it is Team India that will have to look beyond the flat wickets and expected results to stitch a line-up that will be effective in Australia. After this, they leave for a 4-month long tour Down Under, which will culminate with their defense of the World Cup crown (it’s been 4 years already, can you believe it?. 4 months is a long time, and hence, this series will be a net session for them—a sort of feel-good snack before a grueling eating competition—to get their personnel in place.
This is a Home Series, and could therefore have no effect whatsoever on the final squad selected for Australia, but will definitely put some players in the right frame of mind.
Here are a few issues Team India can address through this ODI series:
If Rohit Sharma hadn’t been injured (again) in England on his finger (again), he’d have been an automatic choice as opener—considering the fact that Dhoni and co. have been grooming him for the spot since last year’s Champion’s Trophy victory. He has averaged in the mid-40s, but hasn’t been effective abroad, much like his partner Shikhar Dhawan. Because of Rohit’s injury, Rahane has entered the setup, and while he hasn’t set pulses racing, he hasn’t done too badly either. Dhoni mentioned that they could be looking at Rohit for the middle order again—he might replace perennial filler-upper Rayadu—Rohit has made his intentions clear with a blistering 141 against Sri Lanka in the warm-up game. What’s more, he went on record saying he wants to open, which basically means that Rahane will have exactly three games to prove his permanent worth at the top, just like Dhawan. Rohit hasn’t been selected for the first three matches, and will make a comeback in the fourth ODI, by when the management should be clear about where they will play each of these batsmen…or if they will need to relegate one of them to a backup opener.
Prediction: Dhawan is a born opener and can’t adjust anywhere else, which means it comes down to the two Mumbai teammates. Rohit might have to let Rahane play his natural game at the top, and could find himself back where he began—in the middle order. Unfortunate for him, but if it serves the team well, why not?
If India have to defend their crown Down Under, they will have to reply primarily on their spinners—just as they did at Home in 2011. The pitches may not be suited to spinners, but they will have to find a way to make them come into play, simply because they don’t have a relentless pace attack. Ashwin and Jadeja are questionable abroad, and the likes of Karn Sharma and Akshar Patel, as well as old dog Amit Mishra will have to be seriously looked at. Youngster Akshar Patel could be the key, with his height and ability to vary his pace, while either Ashwin or Jadeja could be rotated depending on where they’re playing. Both of them should be treated as all-rounders though, as bowlers who can bat more than a bit, while Patel or Sharma could be the main spinner on wickets they probably haven’t bowled on. This could be a risk and India’s greatest challenge, but the dice will have to be rolled. They have a large variety of spinners to choose from, and one can’t say the same about fast bowlers.
Prediction: Shami and Bhuvaneshwar are regulars, with either Aaron or Ishant as the third seam bowler. However, Shami has been ruled out of the ODIs, and Kulkarni could get 5 full ODIs to prove himself if he performs well. Karn Sharma, with his attacking Kumble-type leg-spin, should join them as the main spinner, and compete with wily Mishra for the spot. Either Jadeja or Patel as the all-rounder. Ashwin, meanwhile, will have to work on his variations.
Dhoni may or may not be jaded by the time some minnow games of the World Cup take place. In exceptional circumstances, a wicketkeeper could play a key role to give the Captain some rest. As of now, Saha is the chosen one, but the likes of Samson, Karthik and Ojha aren’t far behind. Technically, Saha is the best keeper, but Samson’s raw batting talent makes it a mouth-watering prospect. Naman Ojha could be preferred too, though, because not only can he play as an opener, he has already played a few scintillating innings down under as part of the India A squad not too long ago. Karthik can kiss his chances goodbye.
Right now, Rayadu is biding his time in the middle order after some impressive half centuries in England. However, he could make place for Rohit soon, and could be back on the bench for the World Cup. Yuvraj Singh has little hope now that Raina is in red-hot form, but it is difficult to ignore an all-rounder responsible for India’s only two World Cup wins this side of the century. Uthappa hasn’t been looked at, but he should be, perhaps to replace the inconsistent Dhawan at the top.
PREDICTED India XI for the first 3 ODIs: Rahane, Dhawan, Kohli (C), Raina, Rayadu, Saha, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvi, Umesh, Kulkarni