India and Australia enter the final, decisive ODI of their bilateral series at the cusp of a World Cup but also another important juncture - the end of their pattern of lengthy 50-over series dating back to 2001. Since that time, the two nations have played off in no fewer than six 50-over bouts played out over at least five matches and as many as seven, with the ledger standing at 3-2 in Australia's favour. From May 2020, all 50-over series that are part of the ODI League will be capped at three matches' duration, and had that rule been in effect, this series would have been over at 2-1 to India.
Instead, Australia were able to claw back to level pegging with Ashton Turner's Mohali pyrotechnics. That effort also vaulted the team - led by Aaron Finch and coached by Justin Langer - into legitimate World Cup-contender status on the basis that they had finally uncorked the kind of scoring power required to match not only India but also the tournament hosts England. Of course there are a few complications to this, not least that Turner was only substituting for Marcus Stoinis, even as room will somehow have to be found for at least David Warner and perhaps also Steven Smith in the World Cup XI. Peter Handscomb and Usman Khawaja have made good strides on their call-ups to the ODI sides, while Finch and Shaun Marsh are both looking shaky.
For India, meanwhile, there are fewer personnel questions but more queries about how well they are actually playing at this point of the calendar. That a previously struggling Australia have been able to push Virat Kohli's team in both series at home and away since January not only indicates that Langer's team are making progress. It also suggests that India have some work to do in terms of tactics and mindset before the Cup begins, and with the IPL rollercoaster to follow immediately after this series there will be precious little time to do it. The schedule, then, means that the Delhi decider takes on more significance, as a marker flag for where India and Australia are headed in their bids to lift the global trophy in the last cycle before the ODI league comes in to being.
(last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
Numerous variables swirl around the place of Rishabh Pant in India's plans ahead of the World Cup. With MS Dhoni ensconced as the first-choice gloveman, Pant needs runs to give himself a chance of squeezing into the first XI as a batsman alone. But equally important, and this is of longer term import to India than merely their goals for 2019, is whether Pant as a wicketkeeper is capable of complementing Virat Kohli as a leader in the field in the manner that Dhoni clearly has. While Pant has nothing like Dhoni's experience, a wicketkeeper is duty-bound to support his captain with tactical advice and keen marshalling of the outfielders.
Granted a chance by injury, Ashton Turner will likely get another chance to solidify his place in the Australian side on the cusp of a World Cup in the series decider. His combination of power, composure and invention gave the selectors a poser given the lengthy record of good scores in losing teams that Marcus Stoinis had built up prior to his broken thumb. Equally, there is the question of whether Turner can provide some all-round benefit to the team - he first emerged is an off-spin bowler, playing a tour match for the Australians on the 2013 Ashes tour, before his batting developed further.
MS Dhoni is out for the final game too, and Mohammed Shami is being rested as a precautionary measure. There must also be a be a temptation to field KL Rahul one more time, but who goes out?
India (possible) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 KL Rahul/Ambati Rayudu, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Vijay Shankar, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Marcus Stoinis' broken thumb opened up a spot for Ashton Turner, while Jason Behrendorff and Nathan Lyon would appear to be vying for the final bowling spot.
Australia (possible) 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Peter Handscomb, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Ashton Turner, 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Lyon, 10 Jhye Richardson, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
A fine and mild if slightly cloudy day is forecast for Delhi.
Stats and Trivia
Australia last won a bilateral ODI series in India in 2009, and have never won an ODI series from 2-0 down
According to the ODI league due to begin in 2020, this will be the last five-match ODI series between Australia and India before all series that are part of the league are capped at three games
"The wicket remained good throughout. We've been on the wrong side of the dew twice in two games, but that's not an excuse. Especially with five down, giving 10 runs an over in the end was a bit of a harsh pill to swallow, but, look, it was very difficult to bowl in the end."
Virat Kohli will be hoping for a drier night in Delhi
"As a cricket fan and a kid who has watched a lot of cricket growing up, I know how hard it's been historically for Australian teams to win series over here in India. So to win this series, it'd be awesome in itself but also great preparation leading up to the UAE then beyond that to the World Cup."
Ashton Turner on what a series win would mean for Australia