Tactics Board: How India can beat Australia

Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting are veterans of 45 and 46 World Cup matches, respectively Getty Images

If India-Pakistan is the over-anticipated clash that has never quite lived up to its billing at World Cups, India-Australia is the story of a world-beating power that has almost always ended the hopes of a nation. Their match on Sunday will be the 12th time they are meeting in World Cups, the most between any two teams.

There have been a couple of close shaves, and India will always have Ahmedabad 2011, but the reality is that Australia have an overwhelming 8-3 lead in this contest. And they're on a bit of a hot streak: 10 successive ODI wins, including a hat-trick against India on their own turf.

So, how can Virat Kohli and his men reverse these trends - recent and historical?

Win the toss and chase

The Oval has been a chasing ground in recent years. As recently as the Champions Trophy 2017, Sri Lanka chased down India's 321 with relative ease. So, if India win the toss, they should bowl first. It's a near-straightforward decision, especially with their attack.

If there's any help for the quicks, it should be early on, as was the case during the game against England and South Africa. And teams are known to be steady off the blocks rather than explosive when batting first at the Oval.

The average winning total at this ground since World Cup 2015 is around 320, but almost none of that matters, since India are a different side since Champions Trophy 2017, with the two wristspinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. They have been menaces even on high-scoring grounds.

But here are the clinchers. India's chasing record since the last World Cup is next only to England's (win-loss ratio - 2.13). And Australia have not lost a World Cup match while chasing since 1999.

Handling the Starc factor if they bat first

India's openers aren't the greatest against left-arm seamers, and neither of them have faced Mitchell Starc - currently in red-hot form - since the 2015 World Cup.

While Rohit Sharma has found a way to survive against left-armers (average 46, strike rate 89 since the last World Cup) Shikhar Dhawan's struggles are more obvious. Starc has got Dhawan out twice in the three times they've faced off, and Jason Behrendorff, the other left-arm seamer in the Australian squad, has done both of them in the past.

This problem isn't limited to the top two. KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and, in recent times, MS Dhoni too, have had a rough time against the left-arm angle.

...and keep wickets in hand

Australia might be tempted to play Behrendorff, perhaps at the expense of their most recent Player of the Match Nathan Coulter-Nile, who, for all his past success against Kohli and Co, has looked out of touch with the ball.

So India's batsmen have to be careful. A poor start could expose the middle and lower order to Starc and Pat Cummins later on, and the innings could be over before it even begins. That's just how important the early exchanges in this game could be, especially if India are setting a total.

Go after Adam Zampa and the fifth bowler(s)

Adam Zampa might claim to have solved the Kohli puzzle, but let's not forget he's copped some tap from the Indian captain. Kohli, Hardik and Kedar Jadhav have all gone after him in the past, and had a fair degree of success. The plan on Sunday should be for them to go after him again, and let Dhoni handle the other middle-overs bowler Marcus Stoinis, who has never dismissed him.

All of this, of course, depends on the level of difficulty the Indian lower order faces. Dhoni, for instance, had a chance to play out Zampa and take the game deep in middling chases through the three-ODI series in Australia. But, when up against 300-plus totals in the return series at home, that approach backfired, with run-rate pressure resulting in his undoing.

Don't change a winning (bowling) combination

India's wristspin twins are primed to be a force at this World Cup, not least because of the tournament's format. Unlike bilateral series, teams don't get two or three chances to get used to it. It's one and done.

Australia, though, have faced them plenty of times over the course of three separate ODI series since Champions Trophy 2017. In addition to that, they also have a couple of wristspinners travelling with them, and Kuldeep might not be as exotic a commodity as he is against other sides. Nevertheless, India should continue to back them. Even more so given Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah's form early on.

Bhuvneshwar, in particular, is having his best year in ODIs (21 wickets in 11 innings at 22.3) and enjoys a lopsided match-up against Aaron Finch. The Australian captain has struggled against the one that comes back in, and if Bhuvneshwar can exploit that weakness and pick up early wickets, he could make life a lot easier for India.

Will Kohli unleash Bumrah and Chahal on Maxwell?

Maxwell may be one of the biggest hitters in the Australian line-up but his record against two of India's strike bowlers needs some setting right. Chahal gets him out roughly, once every 12 balls in ODIs, while Bumrah's made it a habit of getting him in T20s, once in 14 balls. Should Maxwell come in early, will Kohli bring one of these two on to bowl immediately? History suggests he should.