The much-maligned bilateral ODI series doesn't have much going for it on paper, but it invariably ends up capturing the imagination. Take this one between India and Australia, for example. The format itself seems too formulaic or too long to some. Then it was possible overkill, coming as it did just after a long tour of Australia. It continued to feature a depleted Australian side. Experimentation just before the World Cup was possibly going to dilute the contest a little. Team combinations, selection trials, MS Dhoni going back to Ranchi, all sorts of things were used to build anticipation, but a close versatile contest was the last thing of the mind.
And yet again, ODI cricket has surprised us. Australia have run the supreme Indian side close in all three matches, finally winning one in Ranchi to keep the series alive. Aaron Finch has struggled out in the open, and has possibly turned a corner. Usman Khawaja has presented his credentials. Dhoni has shown his temperament for some of his lost hitting powers is a trade-off worth the consideration. The best bowler and batsman in the world, Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kohli, have found ways to be even less believable at what they do. The length of the contest has allowed for a variety of facets of the sport to come into play.
The final leg is set up beautifully now as it goes to north India. If Australia can bat well, they have the bowling to challenge India. India will be frustrated at not stamping their authority yet. Not only will they want to seal the series in Mohali, they will want to do so with a big win in which they control the game throughout. New narratives are set to emerge: India have promised change in personnel, Dhoni has been rested, Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul could get chances. If we can get the same level of competition in Mohali, we will have had a memorable series when that was the last thing expected ten days ago.
(last five completed matches)
In the spotlight
Vijay Shankar has made a late start but he is making all sorts of claims to be in the World Cup squad, especially with Hardik Pandya's fitness not a given. India have been putting him in difficult situations to test what he is made of: use him as a fifth bowler and not sixth, bat him in tough situations. He has two more chances to show more of what he's got, and possibly close one game from the kind of situation he batted in in Ranchi.
Adam Zampa is not as spectacular with the dip and drift and turn as India's world-beating wristspinners, but he has made crucial strikes in the middle overs, which is the edge every ODI side is looking for. Twice he has beaten Kohli clean on the inside edge. He now has seven wickets in the series, only one behind Kuldeep Yadav, the leading wicket-taker.
It must have been a last-minute decision to play Mohammed Shami ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar after Bhuvneshwar attended the pre-match press conference and said he was going to get his chances now. Kohli gave further indications that there would be changes, which could mean the return of Bhuvneshwar, whose batting down the order should allow for India to use both their wristspinners. It remains to be seen which of the quicks - Shami or Bumrah - India rest. With Dhoni rested, Pant is sure to get two games. Rahul might get a look-in too, but in whose place: Shikhar Dhawan or Ambati Rayudu?
India (possible) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt.), 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Vijay Shankar, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Mohammed Shami/Jasprit Bumrah
After getting a rare win under their belt, Australia will be tempted to retain the XI.
Australia (possible) 1 Usman Khawaja, 2 Aaron Finch (capt.), 3 Shaun Marsh, 4 Peter Handscomb, 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Marcus Stoinis 7 Alex Carey (wk), 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Nathan Lyon, 10 Jhye Richardson, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
A pleasant day, no rain and a flat track are expected in Mohali. Dew could play a big part.
Stats and Trivia
Kedar Jadhav has Kane Williamson, Steven Smith and David Warner among his victims, but Aaron Finch showed him scant respect, eliminating him as a bowler and putting pressure on the others in the pack. Finch has now taken 36 runs off 21 balls he has faced from Jadhav, without being dismissed.
It was only in October that Kohli reached 10,000 runs. Only 12 matches later, he has reached 10,816. The mind boggles.
"The guys who have got out, I'm sure they want to make the most of those opportunities. We don't want to see any more collapses. We want to see mini-partnerships to get us going and then get a strong total in the middle or chase totals like we had to today."
Kohli's message to other batsmen is clear
"There's nothing like winning, especially against a really good Indian side. But with Virat batting well, you can never count your chickens."
Khawaja knows how difficult it is to beat India