India vs Australia: Ashwin nostalgia, Siraj vs Shami mini-battle among 5 burning questions ahead of IND vs AUS ODIs

Sep 22, 2023 06:51 AM IST

As we approach the first ODI in Mohali on Friday, a look at some of the pressing questions Team India faces against Australia.

The final stop is here. 16 days before India open their World Cup campaign against Australia, they face the same team in a series in bit of a warm-up exercise. India's key players have been rested for the first two matches and comprising the squad is a mix of old and new, with the return of Ravichandran Ashwin and the inclusion of Asian Games-bound Ruturaj Gaikwad and Washington Sundar. Still, when it's India vs Australia, the level of competition is high, and although it may solve little purpose on paper, the reality is far from it. Ahead of the first ODI in Mohali on Friday, we attempt at answering some of the burning questions Team India is tasked with.

How long will the Ashwin magic last? Or will Siraj be preferred over Shami?(Getty Images)
How long will the Ashwin magic last? Or will Siraj be preferred over Shami?(Getty Images)

1 Will Ashwin's dream return be spoiled by obstacles?

From the very moment Rohit Sharma mentioned in the press conference that he has been on the phone with Ashwin, the off-spinner's return seemed inevitable. But as heartwarming as a dose of nostalgia can be, it tends to brings its share of baggage. Axar Patel's unexpected injury has opened the doors for Ashwin and his shot at a last-minute redemption. It is expected that if Axar does not recover in time, Ashwin could replace him in India's World Cup squad as the deadline for squad alterations is looming on September 28th. But for that to happen, a lot of puzzles need to fit in place, starting with Ashwin's fitness. At 37 years old, Ashwin is no spring chicken and will be challenged for a place in the side with a lot of youngsters.

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Secondly, with 16 wickets from 15 matches at an average of over 49, Ashwin's record against Australia isn't then most exciting either. Third, irrespective of what Rohit or BCCI chief selectors Ajit Agarkar says, Ashwin's lack of match-readiness for an ODI cannot be ignored – the guy has played two ODIs in last six years – regardless or what Rohit or chief selector Ajit Agarkar may believe. Lastly, barring David Warner and Alex Carey, Australia don't even have too may left-handers. If Ashwin can last through all this, India might as well have missed a trick by not putting him into the World Cup squad straightaway.

2 Can India's bench strength change the narrative?

Lately, Hardik Pandya's two-year-old statement of 'India can pick two more teams and win any competition in the world' went viral lately, garnered attention for less favourable reasons. India's T20I series defeat to West Indies last month exposed a loophole when it comes to the readiness of fringe players to face formidable and high-quality opponents. Without Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Hardik and Kuldeep Yadav, guys like Gaikwad, Sundar, Tilak Varma and Prasidh Krishna have the opportunity to reshape this narrative. Gaikwad has played just two ODIs for 19 runs, while Tilak was dismissed for 5 on his ODI debut during Bangladesh at the Asia Cup. He has though, looked like a million bucks with scores of 39, 51 and 49 in his first three ODIs. India's defeat to Bangladesh at the Asia Cup – where they played with just Rohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Axar Patel as the senior pros, serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the second-string team. But if this group manages to secure a victory against a fully-strengthened Australian team, it would undoubtedly represent a significant turning point in the careers of these young players.

3 What's happening with Shreyas Iyer?

The return of Shreyas Iyer in India's Asia squad was celebrated with much aplomb, but it quickly turned into a whimper when he caught back spasms limiting him to just one game. Suddenly, all the chatter around Iyer being the solution to India's No. 4 woes has disappeared with KL Rahul scoring a century in his first match back in 6 months and Ishan Kishan showing the maturity of playing in the middle order. With 818 runs from 18 innings at an average of 51.12, including 1 century and six fifties, Iyer remains the most successful middle-order batsman for India over the past two years. However, the fierce competition within the team can quickly overshadow individual records. Shreyas will undoubtedly feature in India's Playing XI, given the dynamic nature of the format that requires varied combinations for each match. However, whether he secures the role of the primary No. 4 will be contingent on his performance in the upcoming three games.

4 Will KL Rahul's return as captain hurt Hardik Pandya's plans?

Before Hardik Pandya rose to superstardom as Gujarat Titans captain in the IPL 2022, KL Rahul was the natural successor to Rohit Sharma's captaincy. He had captained India in South Africa in both ODIs and Tests before a string of injuries put him on the shelf. Naturally, one individual's loss is an opportunity for another. In Rahul's absence, his coffee buddy Hardik became BCCI's go-to man. He led India to series wins in Ireland and New Zealand, against Sri Lanka and New Zealand again at home, en route to be touted as the next in line when Rohit steps away.

Four injuries and two surgeries later, Rahul meanwhile is slowly crawling back into the scheme of things. He looks a certain in India's ODI plans although there is no clarity over his place in Tests and T20Is. But a change in captaincy fortunes can surely trigger a wind of change for KL. In 7 ODIs led by Rahul, India have won 4 with a win percentage of 57.15, while Pandya though has won 10 T20Is out of 16 two ODIs out of three. If Rahul can prove his fitness and form, the selectors just may just throw him back in the captaincy fray.

5 Shami vs Siraj – who will partner Bumrah at World Cup?

It's evident that Mohammed Siraj has beaten Mohammed Shami to become Jasprit Bumrah's new-ball bowling partner for India. Siraj is one of India's fastest risings stars along with Shubman Gill and has been constantly getting the preference over Shami as the second frontline pacer which could be due to Shami's lack of match practice – he has played just three internationals for India since the end of the IPL. At 33, the writing could be on the wall for Shami. For all you know, the management may have decided to take a different route with him already – quite possibly preserve him for Tests with Bumrah's workload management now more important than ever.

But if Shami gets a chance to play against Australia and meets all expectations, it could significantly enhance the intrigue surrounding India's World Cup pace lineup. Twice this year, Siraj has risen to become the world's No. 1 bowler, while Shami has struggled to break into the Playing XI - India even opted for Shardul Thakur over the veteran quick. Shami's inclusion in the World Cup squad may be assured, but his prospects of getting playing time will largely hinge on his performance against the Australians.

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