Triangular shapes as big series for India
Australia was the original home of premier multi-nation ODI tournaments outside the World Cup before Sharjah and later the ICC Champions Trophy came along. There was following, prestige and recognition for all those who did well here. Coloured clothing, night cricket, excited commentators were the thing in the '80s, and that happened only in Australia.
Even in the '90s, even as other countries caught up and started their own events, ODI cricket in Australia remained big. The three finals were a unique concept, the jerseys remained funky, but with Australia becoming more and more dominant it became increasingly difficult to maintain the quality of competition over a whole summer.
Eventually the triangular gave way to more focused bilateral series, based of course on some market survey. It started as a big success with a competitive series between the hosts and South Africa, but last year was painful, when England had nothing left in the tank after the Ashes win. The triangular is back this year. Uncertain of its future but back nonetheless. It features the No. 1 side in ODIs, the reigning world champions and the side that lost the final.
However, the ODI world champions have just been handed a good-old thrashing in Tests and until last night seemed to have forgotten how to win away from home, the runners-up haven't been paid for a while and are going through administrative and leadership crises, and the No. 1 ODI side are on a roll from their Test triumph. On paper this can't be good news for a tournament making a comeback from the dead. And it's a format of the game struggling for relevance at a time when Twenty20 leagues are dominating the limited-overs market; the administrators are battling to bring context to those middle overs of ceasefire, constantly introducing new rules and gimmicks.
Around Christmas you could feel on the streets and in the pubs that a Test series was around. There was a buzz, which is all but absent now. It doesn't reflect in the numbers at the grounds, though. Try booking a hotel in Perth next week to find out. Forget the WACA, hotels in Perth are all sold out. There is a huge interest around this triangular, especially among the Indian fans.
In terms of a cricketing contest this summer can only go up. One-day cricket can be the levelling field. India can only improve from their show in the Tests. That lethargy and passivity is gone. The team is noisy, bouncing around, diving around, hitting the stumps direct. MS Dhoni has become more active. The change in the mood was an essential prerequisite after a gloomy summer and a half. Now comes the challenge of the skill. You can win the odd Twenty20 on fielding alone, but in ODIs the same young members of the side will have to pass the test of technique, and convert this enthusiasm into runs and wickets. There will be at least three batsmen wanting to stake first claim to the Test spots that open up later in the year. The next month is big for the Indian team.
Sri Lanka are going through a complex flux themselves. Millions of dollars were spent on building stadiums for the World Cup, but the players are not getting paid. While their first Test win in South Africa should ideally have been a catalyst for a major turnaround, it was followed by the change of captain. Coach Geoff Marsh was summarily sacked. So much goes on behind the doors there that the BCCI looks like a model organisation.
All this while, the players, though, need to march on regardless. This is the format Sri Lanka most love. It was in the 50-over format that they won their first series in Australia, last season. Angelo Mathews, the man responsible for the turnaround then, is now tipped to be the next captain, but such is the vacuum in the leadership that Mahela Jayawardene is making a comeback as skipper until such time that Mathews is considered mature enough. At least they are coming off a tough tour of South Africa, where, albeit after the series was lost, they became the first Sri Lankan team to successfully chase 300 in back-to-back games.
Rightly Australia go in as favourites, as Michael Clarke said. They are the No. 1 ODI side in the world, they are on home turf, they know the conditions best, and are carrying the confidence from the Test whitewash. They have been rebuilding since the World Cup, but have won all their ODI series since then, in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They haven't won either of their last two home triangulars, though, losing the final to India and England. They will want to regain that lost turf.
The limitations of the ODI format notwithstanding, if the curators dish up juicy surfaces, if all three teams are on, with their three different brands of ODI cricket, and with the following expected for the series, the next month could bring us some exciting cricket.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo