BRISBANE, Nov 20: 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 here on Wednesday.
Virat Kohli and Aaron Finch with the T20I series trophy in Brisbane, on Tuesday.
In a bid to assert themselves as favourites for the Test series, which starts on 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 an 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 but has been retained.
Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, both of whom have proven to be more consistent and explosive in recent times compared to Rahul, have also been included in the final 12.
The team has instead left out Manish Pandey, continuing his run of limited opportunities of late.
Pant will don the keeping gloves, something that was amply clear during the net session as well. He practised glove-work under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri, while Karthik only did some out-fielding.
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 the West Indies, has expectedly made way for Bumrah.
The spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been retained in the final 12 but remains to be seen if both make the playing XI on Wednesday.
India: Virat Kohli (C), 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 (C), 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
Match starts at 1.20 pm IST