India vs Australia: Focus on Iyer, Ashwin in World Cup dress rehearsal
India's three-match series against Australia is a chance for both teams to fine-tune their game plans for the World Cup
Watching the Indian and Australian teams train at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium on Thursday on the eve of the first ODI, one got a sense that preparations for the World Cup have very much begun. The 50-over spectacle is now just two weeks away and both teams have to look at the bigger picture.
India go into this three-match series on the back of winning the Asia Cup. Australia are formidable alright, but recently lost a five-match series to South Africa despite being 2-0 up. More than the series outcome, both teams will have their eye on fine-tuning their game plans.
India have chosen to rest skipper Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Kuldeep Yadav and Hardik Pandya for the first two games as they look to manage workloads and give opportunities to a few other players. At Mohali, opening batter Shubman Gill, who is familiar with every nook and corner of the PCA Stadium, will be looking to make the most of home conditions and build on his recent run of form. He racked up 302 runs in the Asia Cup at an impressive average of 75.50. As one of the most promising young batters in the world right now, he will be in the spotlight during his first-ever World Cup as well.
With this series being the final opportunity before the World Cup for players to get some confidence behind them, coach Rahul Dravid will be hoping that Shreyas Iyer in particular gets going. The middle-order batter needs to prove his match fitness in the series after a back spasm restricted his appearances in the Asia Cup to two. If Iyer is to force his way back into the playing eleven for the World Cup, it is imperative that he has a fruitful series. Then there is off-spinner R Ashwin, who has made a comeback to the Indian ODI team for the series against Australia after 18 months. With Axar Patel nursing a left quadriceps strain, the door is open for one of Ashwin or Washington Sundar to be included in the World Cup squad.
“The series is going to be an important one going into the World Cup,” Dravid said during the pre-match press conference on Thursday. “It gives us a chance to test our players in this tough three-match series. We can rotate our pacers and give game time to the players. Having someone like Ashwin who is very experienced... he provides the ability to bat at No. 8 and if there are injuries and an opportunity comes up, he is someone who is in our plans. I know he has not played a lot of ODI cricket but someone of his experience can deal with it well.”
KL Rahul will lead the side in the first two games before Sharma returns to lead a full-strength squad in the third and final ODI on September 27.
On Kohli and Sharma missing the first two ODIs, Dravid said: “It is very important to give both Rohit and Virat the physical and mental space they want to be in. A lot of these decisions are made keeping them in mind and taking their view. Based on discussions, we come up with mutual decisions. So, they could be mentally fresh and join in Rajkot before some very tough months get underway for the team.”
India and Australia will face each other in their opening World Cup match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on October 8.
Dravid thinks this series will also be an opportunity for Suryakumar Yadav to get some runs under his belt. “We completely back Surya, the kind of ability he has. He can change the course of the match. We are behind him. He will get enough chances in these three games,” said Dravid.
Australia captain Pat Cummins, who returns from a wrist injury, had a good look at the pitch on Thursday. “We have plenty of people at different stages. I am feeling pretty good. My wrist is all healed now. I am 100 percent fit. I hope to play all three games,” Cummins told reporters.
"We are looking at the balance of the team in the series and it is an advantage that we can play in India ahead of the World Cup and experience the conditions," added Cummins.
The Mohali surface is likely to offer plenty of runs to the batters. In the T20 league conducted by PCA two months ago, some high-scoring games were on view.
As for the fans in Mohali, the India-Australia game is all they have got with no World Cup game allotted to the venue.
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