The home team wins the first ODI of a three-match series, at Sydney. Both India and Australia have been here before, the last time they played a bilateral series in Australia in fact. On that occasion, India came from behind to win it 2-1, but that was in January 2019. Back when Covid was just five letters that wouldn't have been terribly useful at Scrabble.
In November 2020, Australia are fortified by the returns of Steven Smith and David Warner, and they also have all three first-choice pace picks playing. None of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc played in the 2019 matches. India too were not at full-strength then, with Jasprit Bumrah rested and the duo of KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya suspended. They did have Rohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar fit and in the XI though. India now have a lopsided look where players with great individual skills make up the XI, but the batsmen can't bowl and the bowlers can't bat. That means there is no scope for 'relief' overs if you need them, and the batting strength falls off a cliff after No.7. It's not like they have allrounders in their squad they can call on, so for this series at least, India will have to find a way with the resources they have, especially with Pandya still not match-ready for bowling.
The second game of a three-match series is by default a must-win for one team and a chance to sew up the series for the other. More than losing, or winning, the series though, this will be an opportunity for several of the players to continue the adjusting phase to a format longer than 20 overs. Players will tell you it's a mental shift more than anything else, and playing more games helps transition into that groove quicker. There are three T20Is after the ODIs yes, but they clash with the three-day tour games scheduled before the Tests, so it's a good bet that most multi-format players in the ODI side will transition from 50-overs cricket to three-day cricket to Test cricket.
Not pertinent to the result of the series, but not insignificantly either, the first ODI was also the first international cricket match post the Covid-19 pandemic to have spectators in the stands. This game will have fans too, and every cricket match that is held safely with an audience in these times, is a step forward.
Australia WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Mitchell Starc has the best bowing strike rate in ODI history, given a minimum of 500 overs bowled, and is one of the format's best-ever bowlers. Strangely though, he has been fairly ordinary against India. In 12 matches, his average, economy rate and strike rate are 34.70, 5.80 and 35.8, each one significantly worse than his overall figures. He began the first ODI taking the new ball and sending down a 20-run first over that lasted 11 balls. Starc was among the few men on either side not part of IPL 2020, so that first game effort could be down to rustiness. And although 12 matches is hardly a large enough sample size, the last three times Starc has bowled against India, he has gone at more than seven runs per over each game and picked up a solitary wicket. That's something to rectify soon, rustiness or not.
Shreyas Iyer's ODI career is only 19 games old and his stats in the format so far are formidable enough, with an average of 46.87 at quicker than a run a ball. But Iyer will have eyes trained on him with more focus than normal, particularly because of how he got out in the first ODI: too late to get out of the way of a short ball from Hazlewood, and too ungainly when he did so with the bat sticking out over his head. That mode of dismissal pretty much ensures that Iyer can expect few deliveries pitched in his half. How he'll deal with the expected short-ball barrage could determine his near-term prospects.
Marcus Stoinis walked off the field in the first ODI after just 6.2 overs, having picked up an injury. Cricket Australia later said Stoinis had a "low grade side strain", which makes it unlikely that he'll be available for this game, or even the next. His unavailability is a blow, with Stoinis having started to develop into a powerful presence in the top order and a more than useful option with the ball.
Australia do have options to replace Stoinis with though. Cameron Green and Moises Henriques are both seam-bowling allrounders, with Green in particular highly rated. Neither has bowled too much in recent times though. Apart from them, there is Sean Abbott, more of a bowling allrounder, but who has clattered 271 runs in five innings in the Sheffield Shield while being out just twice, and with a bagful of wickets too. Ashton Agar is also a bowling allrounder, if Australia want to add more spin.
Australia (possible): 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Marnus Labuschagne, 5 Alex Carey (wk), 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Cameron Green/Sean Abbott, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Josh Hazlewood.
India could be keeping a bit of an anxious eye on Yuzvendra Chahal, who had also walked off the field during the first ODI, but after bowling his full quota. Chahal's issue didn't look anything worse than a cramp though, but if he has a niggle, it could lead to a change in the XI. India might want to consider bringing in someone like T Natarajan for Navdeep Saini too.
India (possible): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 T Natarajan/Navdeep Saini, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal/Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.
Pitch and conditions
It's forecast to be a hot day in Sydney, with temperatures touching 40 degrees centigrade in the afternoon. The first game was a high-scoring one, which was true to recent form for the SCG, but what effect the baking sun and playing a match so soon on the heels of another has on the surface remains to be seen. The spinners found some turn in the first ODI, but that apart, there was nothing much in it for the bowlers.
Stats and trivia
- 11.40 - that's Virat Kohli's ODI average at the SCG, the third lowest he averages at any ground, and the lowest on a ground where he's batted at least five times. When you consider that the 21 he made in the first ODI equalled his highest score at the venue, and thus lifted his average, the curious anomaly of Kohli not scoring runs at the SCG is amplified, especially because Kohli has scored runs by the tons in Australia otherwise.
- 1 - Hardik Pandya's rank among Indian batsmen, when sorted by strike rate in ODIs, given at least 1000 runs scored. Pandya went past 1000 runs in the first ODI during a career-best 90, and his ODI strike rate now stands at 115.81. This is among the reasons why even if he isn't bowling, his batting is enough for a spot at No.6.
- Cameron Green's first-class batting average is touching 50, while his bowling average is 22.5, which is still higher than his age at 21 years old. You can see why he's got everyone excited about his potential. Green has played only nine List A games though, and his numbers in those (27.8 and 34.4) aren't as eye-catching. There's no doubting his potential though.
"It was just see-ball, hit-ball and obviously the foundation had been set so I could be quite aggressive. I picked my bowlers and where I wanted to hit them, and just played some good shots to the areas of my strengths. It was nice to hit a few in the middle, and spend a bit of time out there and hopefully it holds me in good stead for the rest of the summer."
Steven Smith on his match-winning 105 off 66 balls in the first ODI.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo