MOHALI: One positive to emerge from India’s forgettable Asia Cup campaign was the century scored by Virat Kohli after a gap of three long years. Playing after a six-week break, Kohli scored a fiery 71st international century, although in an inconsequential affair against Afghanistan.
That Kohli special (122 not out off 61 balls) was made possible, according to the bats man himself, by sticking to a “tried and tested” template in which six-hitting wasn’t a priority. Kohli said as much in a chat with skipper Rohit Sharma.
Now that the burden of getting to that elusive ton is over, all eyes will be on Kohli’s approach when he takes the field in the first of the three T20Is against Australia here on Tuesday. After this series, India are slated to play South Africa in three more T20Is from September 26 before the T20 World Cup in Australia in October.
Apart from keeping an eye on Kohli’s form, India will also be keen to lock their best combination in these home games, with skipper Rohit Sharma having given his boys the license to extend their “limits”.
Eye on Rahul
One eye will also be on how Rohit’s primary opening choice, KL Rahul, approaches his innings against a quality bowling line-up led by Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. “KL Rahul will open for us at the T20 World Cup. We are not going to experiment with that position a lot. His performances often go noticed. He is a very important player for India,” Rohit had said.
On his part, Rahul said on Monday, “The roles that have been defined to each player in the last 10-12 months have been very clear and a player understands what is expected of him and everyone is working towards it. I am looking forward to the challenge against the Australian team, and working towards how I can better myself as an opening batter and see how I can have the most impact for the team when I walk out to bat. ”
Pant or Karthik or both?
Suryakumar Yadav and Deepak Hooda will be tasked to man the middle order while the wicketkeeper’s slot will once again attract suggestions from various quarters, with left-hander Rishabh Pant, despite his repeated failures in the shortest format, having a slight edge over the ageless Dinesh Karthik, also the designated finisher.
“Both of them (Pant and Karthik) are high-quality players, these decisions are not easy. But it all depends on what kind of combination we want to go in seeing the conditions and secondly the teams we are playing against. As a team, the coach, captain and the leadership group, we look for whoever fits the role on that particular day, he gets to play,” Rahul said.
In the absence of star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma could be tempted to test the like-for-like replacement in Axar Patel for the sixth bowling option, although skipper Rohit feels off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s batting abilities could come in handy too. Jasprit Bumrah and Harshal Patel’s return clearly adds sting to the pace department with the in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar leading the pack.
Depleted Aussie pace line-up?
Reigning world champions Australia are undefeated in their last two visits and will look to carry on in the same vein. The Kangaroos have rested their main players, including David Warner, for the brief tour. Despite that, the team has no dearth of resources with the likes of Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and skipper Aaron Finch boasting of enough IPL experience. Also the new addition to the side, Tim David, is no stranger to Indian wickets, given his association with IPL franchises.
While the selectors decided against risking the trio of Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh, all nursing minor injuries ahead of the World Cup, the replacements Daniel Sams, Sean Abbott and Nathan Ellis will be keen to prove a point against a strong home challenge.
From an Indian perspective, the series opener at the PCA Stadium could provide Rohit & Co. a great opportunity to plug the gaps after a dismal Asia Cup.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc), Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandaran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Deepak Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav
Australia: Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Aaron Finch (c), Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Kane Richardson, Daniel Sams, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Adam Zampa