Indian Cricket Team will look to fine tune their ICC World Cup 2019 preparation in the three-match ODI series starting at Sydney Cricket ground on Saturday. The controversy surrounding Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul has provided a big distraction for the Virat Kohli and company. In the latest development, a BCCI source said Rahul was not considered for selection while Pandya will not feature at least in the game on Saturday, reports PTI.
However, India captain Virat Kohli said in a press conference that he is not too stressed about the possibility of a ban on all-rounder Hardik Pandya for his "inappropriate" comments on women as the side has a ready replacement in Ravindra Jadeja.
K L Rahul was unlikely to get a place in playing 11 owing to both his poor form and the presence of a well-settled opening pair in Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. The bigger question though is regarding Pandya's absence, for the all-rounder provides crucial balance to the ODI side with his ability to bowl 10 overs as well as bat in the middle order.
Pandya's absence could mean that India might have to rejig their bowling attack. Jasprit Bumrah has already been rested for this series, as well as the tour of New Zealand, and this allows the Indian team management to conduct one final experimentation with their bowling attack.
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After not getting a single game in Test series, Bhuvneshwar Kumar will make a comeback, and thereafter it depends if captain Kohli wants to go in with a three-man pace attack to compensate for Pandya's loss. In such a scenario, Mohammed Shami and Khaleel Ahmed are expected to get the nod, as India continue zeroing on the pace quartet for the ICC World Cup 2019 India squad.
Can Dhoni fill the middle order vacuum ahead of the World Cup?
With the two openers, and Kohli at number three, the remaining batting line-up picks itself. Jadhav, MS Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu will form the middle order, and there will be keen interest in the latter duo's form here. Dhoni had an off-colour 2018, managing 275 runs in 20 ODIs at average 25 without a half-century. While this is a meagre return for a batsman of his stature, the worrying aspect is Dhoni's strike-rate of 71.42, which is remarkably lower than his ODI career strike-rate of 87.89. The Indian middle-order has often come unstuck with Dhoni at the crease, and the team management will be hoping for a fiery start to the year from the stalwart.
Can Ambati Rayudu justify No 4 spot in India playing 11?
India brought in Rayudu for the all-important number four role, and since the Asia Cup last September, have given him a long run in the middle order. In this interim, Rayudu scored 392 runs in 11 ODIs in the Asia Cup and against West Indies at average 56 including a hundred and three half-centuries.
While he put in a more consistent showing than any of the other previously tried contenders, this run came in conditions different from those in England. As such, how Rayudu fares on this twin tour of Australia and New Zealand will be a closer representation of whether the Indian team has finally cracked the number four quandary.
Similar middle-order issues plagued the visitors when they last toured here for an ODI contest, losing 4-1 in January 2016 when Dhoni was still captain. Sharma and Kohli topped the charts with 441 and 381 runs in the five-match series, respectively, while Dhawan also scored 287 runs.
Here is India vs Australia, 1st ODI playing 11:
India playing 11 probables: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, M S Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneswar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Khaleel Ahmed/Yuzvendra Chahal.
Australia playing 11: Aaron Finch, Alex Carey, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Glen Maxwell, Nathon Lyon, Peter Siddle, Jhye Richardson, Jason Behrendorff
India vs Australia ODI record
India's ODI record in Australia is quite poor. Apart from the 1985 World Championship and 2008 CB Series wins, they have lost 35 out of 48 ODIs played against Australia on their home soil.
Watch: Here's what Virat Kohli has to say about Hardik Pandya's controversial remark against women?
Here is India and Australia ODI series squad:
Australia ODI squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Peter Siddle, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Ashton Turner, Adam Zampa
India ODI squad: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj