There is an air of excitement as the seven-match India-Australia series gets underway here Sunday. The teams have a lot to play for as both will be fighting it out to be the number one One-Day side.
The series has also acquired significance because of the ongoing debate over the future of One-Day cricket in the light of the surge of Twenty20. But the poor turnout for the just-concluded Champions League might have saved the 50-overs cricket. And if the series goes to the wire then the format will get a fresh lease of life.
The India-Australia rivalry has become cricket folklore, challenging popularity of even the India-Pakistan battles, such has been the intensity of cricket between the two countries in recent years.
After the pre-series verbal sparring, the teams are all set for the on-field exchanges in the first game here Sunday.
Ricky Ponting's team have a more balanced look now after being jolted by the loss to South Africa in back-to-back home-and-away series. Australia have since beaten Pakistan at neutral counrty United Arab Emirates, embarrassed England 6-1 and won the Champions Trophy in South Africa to be back to the top of the rankings. They have won 14 of their last 17 matches.
As for India, they did well to beat New Zealand and West Indies before winning the tri-series in Sri Lanka beating the hosts and New Zealand, but their charismatic captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni drew flak for the the team's dismal performance in the two International Cricket Council (ICC) events the Twenty20 world championship and the Champions Trophy which were won by Pakistan and Australia respectively.
India were not at their full strength at both the ICC events as two of their most explosive batsmen Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh were sidelined with injuries. They are back and that should inspire the team.
Yuvraj, who missed the Champions Trophy with a finger injury, is unlikely to be rushed straightaway.
"All I can say is that Yuvraj will surely be available for the second match," said Dhoni who himself took bad blow on the knee from pacer Munaf Patel in the nets.
Fast bowling, however, has been an area of concern for India. Ishant Sharma has not been at his best and Zaheer Khan's absence has weakened the attack. The recall of Munaf should bolster the new-ball attack with Ashish Nehra filling the gap left by Zaheer admirably.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wicket-keeper), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Virat Kohli, Amit Mishra, Munaf Patel, Sudeep Tyagi.
Ricky Ponting (captain), Mike Hussey, Shane Watson, Tim Paine (wicket-keeper), Shaun Marsh, James Hopes, Adam Voges, Mitchell Johnson, Cameron White, Doug Bollinger, Nathan Hauritz, Jon Holland, Ben Hilfenhaus, Brett Lee, Peter Siddle.