Can the batters fight back in spin-friendly Chennai?
The fast bowlers have dominated the series so far but it is likely to be less seam-friendly in the series decider
Big picture: Can the batters fight back?
Two of the best sides in the world. Two of the deepest batting line-ups in men's ODI cricket. Yet in the first two matches of this series, the fast bowlers dominated. It is unusual to see back-to-back ODIs in India where the team batting first have failed to reach 200. India were left shell-shocked in Visakhapatnam after a shellacking from Australia to level the series at 1-1. Mitchell Starc tore through India's top order again taking his 9th ODI five-wicket haul. Sean Abbott and Nathan Ellis also took five between them as India were routed for just 117, before Mitchell Marsh and Travis Head mowed the total down in just 11 overs to hand India their largest-ever ODI defeat in terms of balls remaining.
What then is in store in Chennai infront of an expected full house? Both teams will be looking for some runs at a ground that isn't known as a high-scoring venue. There hasn't been an ODI played at MA Chidambaram Stadium since 2019. Australia last played here in 2017 but it was a rain-affected match.
For India, it is their last ODI until the tour of the Caribbean in August and they may only have three more at home before the World Cup begins. They experimented with three spinners in the line-up in Vizag but it was their batting that let them down. Whether they reshuffle the top order, particularly to avoid being so right-hand heavy when Starc is swerving missiles into their front pads, remains to be seen. Rohit Sharma noted after the second ODI that India's batters know what to expect from Starc and simply need to handle it better.
Like India, this is one of Australia's last opportunities on Indian soil before the World Cup although they may play a warm-up series in October. They too don't play another ODI until a tour of South Africa in late August. Their middle order hasn't had much of a chance to settle in this series. In game one they tried to be too aggressive following Marsh's early onslaught and in game two they were not required. The Marsh-Head opening combination has been a roaring success but David Warner's impending return is likely to reshape the line-up.
India LWWWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Suryakumar Yadav and David Warner
Two balls, two first-ball ducks. Suryakumar Yadav has had a torrid start to this ODI series with Starc pinning him lbw twice in two deliveries with searing inswingers. Rohit has stated that he wants to give the world's No.1 T20I batter 7 to 10 games to find his feet at ODI level. Former Australia captain Aaron Finch observed that he needed to be sharper in his first few deliveries. For as good as Suryakumar has been at T20 level, he rarely has to deal with swinging conditions but with two new balls in play in ODIs it is different to T20Is. He has twice entered when the new ball has been less than three overs old in this series and Starc has still been swinging it. He has walked out to bat inside the first three overs in three of his last six T20Is, but twice he has faced a spinner first-up bowling with the new ball. Batting No.4 in ODI cricket when the ball is swinging is a different challenge.
David Warner has not played since he was subbed out of the Delhi Test with concussion. He also suffered a hairline fracture of his elbow in the same innings. Marsh has made a strong statement in his absence blasting 81 and 66 not out at the top of the order. Warner and Head have been an equally devastating opening combination sharing stands of 284, 269 and 147 in three of the seven innings they have opened together. While Warner's Test form over recent years has waned, his white-ball returns have been outstanding during the same period. He remains committed to playing in Australia's next two World Cups across ODI (2023) and T20I (2024) cricket. He batted for around half an hour in the nets on the eve of the match in Chennai and, if in the XI, will have a point to prove to dispel any hint of a thought that Australia might be better served with Marsh and Head remaining at the top of the order.
Team news: Spin to win
India will consider three spinners again despite the conditions conspiring against them in Vizag. They may go back to the well again with the same team to give the batting group and the three-spin combination another chance in friendlier conditions in Chennai.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suryakumar Yadav, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/Washington Sundar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Australia will continue to experiment. If Warner and Glenn Maxwell are fit both are likely to return. Warner would open and Marsh could slide to either No.3 or 4 depending on how they want to structure the middle order. Marnus Labuschagne would likely miss out. Australia could trial an all-rounder-heavy line-up again. Marcus Stoinis did not bowl in the last game which may have been in part due to workloads but also because Nathan Ellis played as a fourth specialist bowler, meaning he was not needed. Ashton Agar could be a chance if the pitch looks like it will take spin with an all-rounder at No.8, two spinners and one quick an option Australia could consider.
Australia (probable): 1 David Warner, 2 Travis Head, 3 Steven Smith (capt), 4 Mitchell Marsh, 5 Alex Carey (wk), 6 Cameron Green, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Marcus Stoinis, 9 Sean Abbott/Ashton Agar/Nathan Ellis, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Adam Zampa
Pitch and conditions
It rained in Chennai on Monday which interrupted Chennai Super Kings training but it is expected to clear on Wednesday. It could be hot and humid again though so there is the prospect of more swing and seam movement available, although MA Chidambaram Stadium is known to be far more spin-friendly in limited-overs cricket in recent years, especially in the IPL.
Stats and trivia
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo