Post the 2021 T20 World Cup, India have played a total of 29 T20Is heading into this series. Australia, meanwhile, have played just nine. Irrespective of their prep, Australia might turn up in their usual confident manner at the T20 World Cup – but this time they’ll have to defend the title in their backyard. And they have quite a bit to figure out compared to their better-prepped opponents.
In the age of packed cricket calendars and schedules, it does seem quite surprising that these two teams haven’t played each other in a T20I since December 2020. India won that away series 2-1, while Australia won the last T20I series they played in India, in February 2019. Also, how can we forget that match in Mohali, when Virat Kohli left Australia speechless? Irrespective of the format, the meetings between these two countries have always been high-octane and largely competitive, and this series should be no different, provided Australia can overcome a few selection questions.
Their captain Aaron Finch‘s recent form seems to be among the biggest of concerns. Steven Smith‘s middling strike rate has also raised questions around his place in the XI. And, Australia are without the injured trio of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis for this series, while David Warner has been rested. The team playing this series looks quite different from Australia’s first-choice World Cup side. But it does give Australia the space to experiment with the back-ups but they will also want to build a winning momentum. They have five more matches after this series – a two-match series against West Indies and three T20Is against England at home – before the T20 World Cup.
It’ll be interesting to see how Tim David, who will be in Australia colours for the first time, fits into the international set-up. Australia are also likely to experiment with Josh Inglis, making him open alongside Finch. Finch said there will be a lot of “mixing and matching” ahead of the World Cup.
India, meanwhile, have had some time to figure out what has worked for them and, more importantly, what hasn’t. They’re back home after some travelling, having won bilateral T20I series in Ireland, England and the Caribbean. But it was their most recent prep – at the Asia Cup – that left them with key takeaways.
After the Asia Cup Super 4s exit, captain Rohit Sharma said India were “90-95% settled” ahead of the T20 World Cup. Their aggressive approach has largely worked out well. Kohli finally hit form, so his place in the XI is – at least for now – no longer a debate. They are entering the series with the strongest available squad and will be looking to mainly focus on making roles clearer.
The return of Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel means Hardik Pandya no longer has to be the third seamer in the side. India will also want to see how they can use the likes of allrounders Axar Patel and Deepak Hooda better. Rohit was clear KL Rahul has his backing as the opener. As for Pant, India will be hoping he comes good in the series. India still have a home series against South Africa to go before the T20 World Cup to further firm up their plans.
India WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
All eyes will be on Tim David, who will be looking to showcase his power-hitting skills, this time in Australia colours. The Singapore-born batter has impressed in various T20 competitions, most recently in the IPL as well, and he’ll be looking to replicate his success on the international stage. His big-hitting skills aside, his ability to take on spinners and quicks alike makes him a must-have in a T20 side. He averages 32.48 with a strike rate of 164.12 in T20s. He is likely to take up the middle-order spot in Stoinis’ absence in this series. But Australia will not be able to accommodate him if both Stoinis and Marsh are fit when the World Cup begins. It’s Smith’s position that appears a bit vulnerable as of now – but he too has the reputation of being the anchor in the XI – so it remains to be seen how Australia fit David into their XI at the World Cup.
Rishabh Pant has not quite been able to live up to the expectations in the T20 format. In T20Is since 2020, he has averaged just 27.63 and has struck at 129.95 in 32 innings. At the Asia Cup, Pant had to be brought into the XI in place of Dinesh Karthik following an injury to Ravindra Jadeja as India wanted a left-hand batter in the middle. But he could only make scores of 17 and 14 against Sri Lanka and Pakistan respectively in the Super 4s. While having Pant and Karthik in the squad offers them flexibility, it looks like India can currently accommodate only one of the two in the XI. Pant will have to make use of his time in the middle in the upcoming T20Is to get back into form before the T20 World Cup.
Umesh Yadav, who was originally meant to undergo rehab for a quad injury in Bengaluru, has been called into the squad after Mohammed Shami tested positive for Covid-19. But with the return of Bumrah and Harshal, India are unlikely to play Umesh in the XI.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Rishabh Pant/ Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Axar Patel, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/ Deepak Chahar, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
With Marsh absent, Smith will bat at No. 3 against India. David looks set to make his Australia debut in the middle order. Australia are also likely to play Inglis – who has so far played at No. 3 and in the middle order in T20Is – as an opener and push Matthew Wade down the order. Cameron Green, who has been impressive with the ball and the bat, has been brought back into the T20I squad – having played a solitary match in April this year – and is also likely to find a place in the XI.
Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Josh Inglis, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 Matthew Wade (wk), 6 Tim David, 7 Cameron Green, 8 Adam Zampa, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Sean Abbott
Pitch and conditions
It is expected to be partly cloudy and humid in Mohali tomorrow, with a 25% chance of precipitation in the evening. In T20s since 2018, the chasing team has won seven out of 11 matches at the ground. On the eve of the match, Finch said the wicket had “a bit of grass on it”.
“… Only we know what role is expected of each person. Everyone is trying to give their best, and not every time will a player succeed. And that is the kind of environment we have created, that players are not afraid to play, or players are not afraid to make mistakes.”
KL Rahul on constant criticism from outside
“The last thing you want to do is have an injury derail your whole campaign because you’re pigeon-holed into playing one style of cricket or one structure of team.”
Aaron Finch is open to experimenting with the XI