India's Virat Kohli (C) bowls as he attends a training session ahead of the first one day international (ODI) cricket match of a three-match series between Australia and India, at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on January 13, 2020.
India's Virat Kohli (C) bowls as he attends a training session ahead of the first one day international (ODI) cricket match of a three-match series between Australia and India, at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on January 13, 2020.
AFP Photo

When India take the field tomorrow, it won’t be against the same fractured Australian side they had lost to less than a year ago. And perhaps, this will also be the only instance since then when India are not starting off as overwhelming favourites in a bilateral series.

Return of the once ‘tainted duo’ David Warner and Steve Smith in the Australian line-up, prospect of the latest Test sensation Marnus Labuschagne making impression in ODI colours, and the potent others of the squad such as IPL’s costliest buy Pat Cummins, Deadshot Mitchell Starc and a wily Kane Richardson, gives a hint how Australia, in the middle of their premiere T20 league, have come with more than just an intention of beating India.

They are here to psychologically dent the Indian side which feeds on the immense intensity of Virat Kohli.

Hosts on the other hand, are no sitting ducks. With revenge in sight, the management may also tinker with the traditional approach and include Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan in the line-up, with Kohli pushing himself down the batting order.

“Look, a guy in form is always good for the team. You obviously want to have the best players available and then chose from what the combination should be for the team. There might be a possibility that all three (Rohit, Shikhar and Rahul) might play. It will be interesting to see what balance we want to take in on the field," Kohli said on the eve of the match.

India are coming into the series after commanding victories against South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka. And lethal pair of Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will be bowling back in tandem to match the firepower of Warner and Australian captain Aaron Finch.

With no dearth of talent in the wings, the biggest challenge for India will be to make sure the best combination takes the field on the day.

Extended batting line-up of Sharma, Dhawan, Rahul and Kohli in top four might leave India a bowler short in case of an Australian onslaught. Either Manish Pandey or Shreyas Iyer at No. 5, and India will be forced to drop Rishabh Pant or Kedar Jadhav for No. 6, as tempering with Ravindra Jadeja’s No. 7 position will reduce the bowling options to four. Kohli was "very happy" to accommodate all three in-form openers and move from his usual No. 3 spot, but left the plans on the lower-order combination for everyone’s imagination.

Also, with Wankhede pitch promising to be a belter, it is highly unlikely India will go with two wrist spinners. And considering Kuldeep Yadav’s record against Australia, he looks set to pip Yuzvendra Chahal for the spinner’s spot.

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