BRISBANE: An Australia in turmoil both on and off the field has made India the firm favourites in the compelling rivalry’s latest battle which begins with a T20 International series on Wednesday.
In a bid to assert themselves as favourites for the Test series, which starts December 6 in Adelaide, India would be hoping to dominate the three T20Is.
The touring side has won its previous seven T20I series dating back to November 2017, and its last defeat in the format was against West Indies in July last year.
Not to mention, on their last visit here, the Men in Blue won the T20I series 3-0. So, they will be riding high on a wave of confidence and eager to make an early mark on this trip.
Australian cricket, in contrast, has been dogged by structural reform in the wake of the ball-tampering saga in South Africa in March and it has resulted in turbulence on the field as well.
Only on Tuesday, Cricket Australia ruled out reducing the bans of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in reply to a plea submission from the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA).
In the absence of Smith and Warner, Australia’s results have fallen off a cliff.
Since the ban, they are yet to win a T20I series against an opposition of note since March.
They lost to England in a one-off game in June, then lost to Pakistan in the T20I tri-series final in Zimbabwe, lost 3-0 to Pakistan again in the bilateral series in the UAE, and then lost to South Africa in a rain-curtailed one-off match on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether being on home turf would raise the spirits for the once invincible Aussies.
The one significant change for India ahead of this series is the return of skipper Virat Kohli, who was rested for the three-match contest against West Indies at home.
While it undoubtedly strengthens the visitors, all eyes will be on how the Aaron Finch-led Australian side deals with the best batsman in world cricket at the moment.
While there are calls from all quarters for Australian cricket to keep a check on aggression and play the game in right spirit, Kohli has always garnered attention whenever he has visited here.
On his early trips Down Under, he has never quite been the Australian fans’ favourite.
But starting 2014, his batting exploits have taken centre-stage. He scored 199 runs in three innings during that 2016 T20I series’ whitewash.
South African skipper Faf du Plessis has professed a “silent treatment” to Kohli and it remains to be seen if the Australian cricketers and the public can ignore him at all.
Kohli’s return to the side means that one front-line batsman will have to make way.
In England, the skipper batted at number four, allowing KL Rahul to bat at number three in light of his stupendous form in the 2018 Indian Premier League.
Rahul’s current form though is nothing to write home about. He managed only 16, 26 not out and 17 against the West Indies in the recent T20I series.
Rahul’s absence could allow the team management to retain both Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, both of whom have proven to be more consistent and explosive in recent times compared to Rahul.
The other option is to leave out Manish Pandey, who has got limited opportunities of late.
Early indicators from India’s final pre-match practice suggest that Pant will don the keeping gloves. He practised glove-work under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri, while Karthik only did some out-fielding.
It also suggests that the team management might make the surprise call to leave Karthik out altogether, allowing Rahul an early taste of conditions keeping in mind the Test series.
The bigger concern for India is to find a balance in their bowling attack in Hardik Pandya’s absence.
With ample bounce anticipated on the Gabba pitch, three pacers — Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed — are certain starters.
Washington Sundar, who played the last T20I against West Indies as Bumrah was rested, is expected to make way. Kuldeep Yadav too is expected to be a first-choice spinner, ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal as was the case against West Indies.
Krunal Pandya was the all-rounder against West Indies, and should he continue to play, then it remains to be seen if the team management will pick two left-arm spinners.
Australia are also considering fielding a spinner, after taking the field against South Africa with a full-pace attack on Saturday.
Glenn Maxwell was the lone spinner then, but it is understood that the hosts will alter their plans keeping in mind the conditions and bigger dimensions of the ground here.
Starting off with the aggressive shortest format is Australia’s best bet to upset India’s plans for this summer of cricket, wherein unlike their prior trips here, the visitors are already considered the better side in all departments.
Teams: India (Final 12): Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant (wk), Krunal Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed.
Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.—PTI