Series on the line for under-pressure India
January 17, 2016
Start time 1420 local (0320 GMT)
You travel 7286 kilometres, two-and-a-half hours ahead in time, to arguably the most isolated city in the world, where your batsmen pile up runs but you don't come close to defending 309. So you travel another 4338 kilometres from Perth to Brisbane, another two hours ahead in time, rack up another big score and still don't come close to defending 308. Now there are 1676 kilometres to Melbourne, another hour ahead in time, to get up the next morning to see if the bowlers can do any better and save India from losing the series in six days.
MS Dhoni, though, seems to have asked his batsmen to do more, perhaps because he doesn't expect better from his bowlers and fielders: it doesn't matter if you get out for 280 trying to go for 340, but don't bother defending 310. Or just ask the batsmen to chase whatever the bowlers concede.
Australia is no longer alien to India because of these frequent visits but Steven Smith's side, despite fielding an almost third-choice attack, have given them a rude welcome. Playing a physical game, Australia have proven that their fielders' arms are stronger, their batsmen run harder, and they are more aware. India are an excellent fielding unit on smaller grounds, but Australia have exposed their arms and knowledge of angles by running them ragged on large outfields.
Australia won't be worrying too much when they reach Melbourne on Saturday, but they would like a strong performance from at least one of their bowlers.
Australia: WWWLL (last five completed matches, most recent first) India: LLLWL
In the spotlight
Aaron Finch has been the exception to Australia's method of out-running India. He is one of the less subtle Australian batsmen, but as he showed in sprinting from 38 off 66 balls to 71 off 81 in Brisbane, his power-hitting has brutal potential. He rediscovered his touch during that innings and if he carries on with that, India haven't seen the worst yet.
Shikhar Dhawan cannot easily be dropped because India have only five established specialist batsmen in their squad. However, at his second home, Melbourne, Dhawan will have to produce more than what he has been of late because knives are sharpening. The good news for the fastest Indian to 2000 ODI runs, though, is that he has got his captain's backing. Now is the time when the captain needs him to come good.
The crowd is bound to be a talking point after the BBL Melbourne derby at the MCG had 80,883 spectators. To put the number in perspective, the 2015 World Cup final, which holds the record for the biggest crowd at a cricket match, brought in 93,013. The group match between India and South Africa was watched by 86,876 at the ground. With the BBL on, the pressure is on this bilateral series with little context: the first two ODIs registered less than stellar response from fans, especially when compared to some of the Big Bash attendances.
Australia retained the services of John Hastings, who could play at his home ground after the selectors decided to rest Josh Hazlewood for the remainder of the home summer. Mitchell Marsh's comeback to the squad will leave Australia with an interesting choice: which of the four quicks from the Brisbane game does he replace? Kane Richardson might be the one to miss out after leaking runs at a higher rate than the others.
Australia (probable) 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Shaun Marsh, 3 Steven Smith (capt), 4 George Bailey, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Mitchell Marsh, 7 Matthew Wade (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 John Hastings, 10 Scott Boland, 11 Joel Paris
Dhoni all but ruled out playing Rishi Dhawan or going with fewer than two spinners. Shikhar Dhawan, too, has his backing. Manish Pandey cannot be left out without giving him even one proper innings. So expect India to play the same XI. The only change might be Bhuvneshwar Kumar coming in for Umesh Yadav.
India (possible) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Umesh Yadav/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Barinder Sran.
Pitch and conditions
In the five ODIs at the MCG during the 2015 World Cup, the side batting first reached 300 comfortably four times. Only in the final did New Zealand falter. These from Hastings, a local, are heart-breaking words for bowlers: "The white-ball wickets have been fantastic at the MCG this year throughout the Big Bash. They've actually had a bit more pace in them than usual. I think it will be another high-scoring affair."
Stats and trivia
- Australia last lost a home ODI in November 2014. They have now gone 17 home ODIs without losing, one short of the longest unbeaten streak at home. If the washout against India in Sydney last year is discounted, this winning streak of 16 is the joint longest.
- Rohit Sharma's 124 at the Gabba was his smallest hundred as an opener. His seven other centuries as an opener have been bigger than 137.
- India are only the third team to have lost consecutive matches despite scoring 300 in each of them.
"There are two options: either put pressure on [our] batsmen and score 330 or chase down the score, give them the batting first. These are the only two options we have got. We will have a look and decide what suits us the best."
India captain MS Dhoni doesn't think his bowlers and fielders can defend 300 in these conditions
"We had found out in Perth that our bowling attack has had less games than Mitchell Johnson by himself. So it is a real credit with the way the guys are applying themselves."
Australia opener Aaron Finch backs his side's rookie attack
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo