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Feature

Can Suryakumar crack the ODI format? Kishan or Rahul as keeper?

Key questions for India during their three-match ODI series against Australia

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
16-Mar-2023
Can Suryakumar Yadav bring his T20I success to ODI cricket?  •  Associated Press

Can Suryakumar Yadav bring his T20I success to ODI cricket?  •  Associated Press

After retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy by winning a challenging Test series 2-1, India switch focus to the ODI against Australia, their last three 50-over fixtures until July. And with the World Cup at home in October and November, every series is an opportunity to fine tune their best combination.
India began 2023 with ODI wins at home against Sri Lanka and New Zealand and a number of regulars who missed those series, such as Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul, are back now. Others like Shreyas Iyer, Jasprit Bumrah and Rishabh Pant are out with injuries, with no definite timeline on their return.
Here are some of the key questions regarding India's team combination in the ODI series against Australia:

Will Shreyas Iyer's absence open up a spot for Suryakumar Yadav?

Shreyas has been prolific at No. 4 - 805 runs at an average of 47.35 with two hundreds and five half-centuries in 20 innings - but injuries have been an issue lately. He missed the ODIs against New Zealand because of back stiffness and is now out of the Australia series with a recurrence of the same problem.
Suryakumar Yadav took Shreyas' spot during the New Zealand series and scored 31 and 14 in his two innings. However, he hasn't been able to carry his explosive and consistent T20I form into ODIs. In 50-over cricket, Suryakumar averages only 28.86 with just two half-centuries in 18 innings. If India are determined to unlock his potential in ODIs, they could look to give him three more games against Australia.

Ishan Kishan back to being reserve opener?

Suryakumar will compete with Ishan Kishan and Rahul for places in the middle order. Kishan batted in the middle order during the New Zealand series, but wasn't able to build on his record-breaking fastest ODI double-ton against Bangladesh in December.
After that knock, Kishan was widely expected to become India's first-choice opener, but the team management backed Shubman Gill in that role, a move that has paid off. While Kishan is likely to open with Gill in Rohit Sharma's absence in the first ODI, he could slip back into being a reserve opener once Rohit returns.
Gill has scores of 70, 21, 116, 208, 40* and 112 in six ODI innings this year - all as an opener, making it tougher for Kishan to play when Rohit is back, unless the team management picks him ahead of Suryakumar in the middle order.
Kishan's recent form hasn't helped his cause. Since that double-hundred in Chattogram, he has a highest score of 37 in nine innings across white-ball formats. What Kishan does bring is the left-handedness that India's top order is currently lacking, with Pant unavailable and Shikhar Dhawan out of favour.

Rahul - first-choice keeper in Pant's absence?

It was co-incidentally in January 2020 - when Australia last toured India for ODIs - that Rahul was first considered as a regular wicketkeeping option in white-ball cricket. Pant had a concussion in the series opener in Mumbai, which opened the door for Rahul and he grabbed the opportunity with some superb glovework and explosive middle-order batting; his 52-ball 80 at No. 5 helped India level the series before they clinched it 2-1.
Rahul has since become a regular keeper in white-ball cricket, and even did the job for his former IPL franchise Kings XI Punjab. In 16 innings for India at No. 5, Rahul has made 658 runs at an average of 50.61 and strike rate of 102.17, with one hundred and six fifties. Having lost his Test spot to Gill, Rahul will be eager to build on his burgeoning middle-order credentials in the ODI format.

What is India's ideal allrounder combination?

One of key decisions India have to make is striking a balance between batting depth and enough bowling options. In Jadeja's absence, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur filled in the bowling allrounders' role to good effect in the New Zealand series.
With Jadeja back, India can further strengthen their batting depth, especially if they play all three - Hardik Pandya, Washington and Jadeja (Axar Patel is an option as well).
This will mean they have three bowling spots to fill. They could either go with Thakur, Mohammed Shami, and Mohammed Siraj, or sacrifice Thakur's batting at No. 9 for Umran Malik's bristling pace or Jaydev Unadkat's left-arm variety.
The other option they could consider is to pick one of Jadeja or Washington at No. 7 and Thakur at No. 8. This will allow them to play a wristspinner in Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav, with Shami, Siraj and Malik tussling for two slots. Or if they decide the conditions warrant three spinners and just two quicks, they have the option of picking two spinning allrounders, a wristspinner, and two specialist fast bowlers, in addition to Hardik Pandya as a third seam-bowling option.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo