At the height of the Chennai (South Indian Classical Music) Margazhi Festival, I attended an exhilarating Remember Shakti concert at The Music Academy. It featured a deluge of musical excellence, an amalgamation of the bewitching talents of U. Srinivas, Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan and Sivamani. I think my hair stood on end for 2 hours after I left the auditorium. The next morning, I found it hard to motivate myself to go watch the performance of a young, talented, upcoming musician. It was my intention to capture Shakti’s exquisite rendition of girirajasudha as my final memory of that ‘music season’, and not have it usurped by a freshman.
Going into the India-Australia ODI series, perhaps I can sniff that same feeling. But hypocrite that I am, apart from a hopeless cricket anorak, I just know that as the clock strikes 00:00 on Sunday, I will be in front of my laptop tuned in to the live streaming video of the first match at Kochi.
Both teams have rested several first choice players, to recharge batteries and allow battle wounds to heal. Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi & the Mumbai Indians has been rewarded with a maiden call-up for a string of consistent performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In all probability, he will open the batting alongside Murali Vijay. Yuvraj Singh is back in his favourite format, and will be expected to don his familiar No. 4 role. He will know that the knives are out for him & his fitness and will be keen to counter criticism. He remains a critical component of India’s World Cup plans. M.S. Dhoni & Suresh Raina selecting themselves leaves Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary and Rohit Sharma to fight it out for 2 batting slots. Tiwary has been in the mix for the last couple of tournaments without quite getting an opportunity. Rohit may find that this is his last chance, with S. Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane & Abhinav Mukund breathing down his neck. The pace attack is not completely innocent of experience. Praveen Kumar will join forces with the enigmatic Munaf Patel and the moody Ashish Nehra. India could still bleed at the death though, and this is where R. Ashwin comes in. He is the lone specialist spinner in the squad, and judging by his performances during the Powerplay in the Champions League, he could steal the show. On comatose Indian pitches, it is highly unlikely that Vinay Kumar will make an impression, and the slot could have been better justified by including either Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav or Abhimanyu Mithun. The biggest mind-boggler, and it has been so for quite a while now, is the unwarranted presence of Ravindra Jadeja. What the selectors see in him, only they know.
Australia will be without Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. The balance that the all round talents of Watson brings to the table, along with his experience of Indian conditions, could be sorely missed. The batting still wears a healthy look. The explosive David Warner, the serene Shaun Marsh and the dangerous Cameron White – all household IPL names – will join forces with the old hands of skipper Michael Clarke & Mike Hussey. Neither Clarke nor Hussey have enjoyed the best of tours, and will look to make amends. Callum Ferguson, a relatively unknown commodity, is an exciting talent. Some of the Indians will have come across him in the Champions League. Doug Bollinger, the hustler, will spearhead an inexperienced attack. His ability to make things happen was sorely missed in the Test series. He will be assisted by the tall rookie Mitchell Starc. Clint McKay & Nathan Hauritz were part of Australia’s setup in the ODI series played in India last year. Both have more than satisfactory records in this format. Hauritz definitely wouldn’t miss Tendulkar, Sehwag & Laxman. Shane Warne’s Tweets might help him more than a coaching manual right now! It will be interesting to watch how the Aussies fit in an all-rounder in the XI. They aren’t short of options though, in the steady James Hopes, the highly reputed Steven Smith (I hope he plays!) and John Hastings, called in as a replacement for the injured James Pattinson. Tim Paine, one of Australia’s success stories from the Tests, has a great opportunity to narrow the gap between him and Brad Haddin.
The venues for the ODI series are Kochi, Visakhapatnam & Goa. One only hopes the attendance mirrors Bangalore and not Mohali. Visakhapatnam will hold special memories for Dhoni, having made his first big splash in international cricket there. In spite of a weakened side, India will start favourites. Dhoni has prior experience of working wonders with young inexperienced cricketers. The leveller will be the greater athleticism of the Aussies, although India, with sprightly personnel in their squad, will be better served than they were in the Test series. Rains across South India will have slowed down outfields, placing greater emphasis on fielding and running between the wickets.
With India riding a Test cricket high, and Australia gearing up for the Ashes, this series will be no more than a filler. Unlike the Test series, its brevity makes it more palatable. I predict India coming up trumps 2-1.
MS Dhoni (Captain & wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Vinay Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma
Michael Clarke (Captain), Cameron White, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Michael Hussey, James Hopes, Tim Paine (wk),Clint McKay, John Hastings, Nathan Hauritz, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger
1st ODI: India v Australia at Kochi
Oct 17, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)
2nd ODI: India v Australia at Visakhapatnam
Oct 20, 2010 (14:30 local, 09:00 GMT)
3rd ODI: India v Australia at Margao
Oct 24, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)
— TS Kartik (Guest Contributor)