Australian cricket is going through a tough period on and off the field and things could get worse when it comes to matters relating to cricket. Australia are hosting an in-form Indian team with the cavalier Virat Kohli leading the touring party. With the hosts weakened and unsettled by the absence of star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner, India would be smelling blood. The opening contest — first T20I of the three-match series — between these two giants of cricket will take place at The Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday and it will be hard to argue against India’s favourite tag for the series.
Virat Kohli’s team have been quite dominant in the T20I format and even managed to blank the Australians 3-0, the last time they were in the country. India have not lost any of their previous seven T20I series with the last defeat coming against the Windies in July last year.
In contrast, Australian cricket has been dogged by structural reforms in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March, which has resulted in turmoil on the field as well.
Only on Tuesday, Cricket Australia ruled out reducing the length of the bans on 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 been on a downward spiral.
Since the ban, they are yet to win a T20I series against an opposition of note since March. They lost to England in the 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 the Windies 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.
There have been calls from all quarters for Australian cricket to keep a check on aggression and play the game in right spirit but Kohli has always garnered attention whenever he has visited here.
Kohli scored 199 runs in three innings during the 2016 T20I series’ whitewash over Australia. 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 Windies in the recent T20I series. Rahul’s absence could allow the team management to retain Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, both of whom have proven to be more consistent and explosive in recent times compared to Rahul.
With ample bounce anticipated on the Gabba pitch, three pacers — Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed — are certain starters.
India’s 12: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Dinesh Karthik , Rishabh Pant, 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.
(With PTI Inputs)