New Delhi: Reigning World Champions, winners of the Champions Trophy and on top of the ODI rankings - India wear an intimidating look similar to Australia's in the first decade of the 21st century. Things have changed since that second day of April 2011 when India won their second World Cup and the world saw a shift in ODI power from the yellow and gold to striking blue.
Australia have won four of the six bilateral ODI series with India, but this Australian team is not even remotely as good as any of its predecessors and still trying to climb out of the hole the exodus of stalwarts left behind. The chance to reclaim No. 1 ODI spot, thus, is a rank outside one - requiring the visitors to go back home 6-1 winners. That scoreline is possible, but only in India's favour.
This first game of the marathon seven-ODI series will be played at the newly built Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune that will make its 50-over debut on Sunday after earning the status of an international ground last year with a T20 between India and England.
Barring an ODI series loss to Pakistan earlier in 2013, India have won virtually everything in the limited-overs arena - home and away - thanks largely to their batting that has rediscovered its vigour at the top with Shikhar Dhawan and now looks more vibrant in the middle with the comeback of Yuvraj Singh.
Australia's wounds of a 4-0 Test mauling earlier this year were reopened by Yuvraj with a 35-ball 77* that overpowered Australia's daunting 201 in the T20, giving a fair indication that the 50-over leg is going to be dominated by the batsmen on flat Indian decks.
In that light, Australia will sorely miss Michael Clarke - who is resting his back, back home. George Bailey is captaining in Clarke's absence, but it's Shane Watson on whose shoulders most of the responsibility rests.
With 165 ODIs, over 5000 runs and over 150 wickets in 50-over cricket, Watson is the most experienced and most prolific tourist in the squad. But it's unreasonable for Australia to expect the allrounder to churn out match-winning performances day in and day out. Mitchell Johnson (129 ODIs) and Brad Haddin (96 ODIs) will need to make their experience felt with game-changing performances if Australia were to compete, let alone win.
The experience of IPL and CLT20 would have probably counted for Australia had they been playing anybody here but the hosts, who are expert in all the tricks on offer on these run-laden tracks.
The Aussies asked Johnson to warm the dug-out in the T20, but it would be a mistake to leave him out in the ODIs, especially after his effective spells in England where Australia won the 50-over series after a disappointing Ashes. Clint McKay, who gave away 50 runs in his 4 overs in the T20, could make way for the left-arm pacer. The visitors are thin on spin, but Doherty gave a good account of his left-arm orthodox stuff in the T20 and will continue to be the one-man spin army.
Australia will have to decide who opens alongside in-form Aaron Finch, with Nic Maddinson returning after the T20. Haddin, who has opened for Australia in the past, could be pushed up. But if Phil Hughes pips Callum Ferguson to the eleven, we might see a left and right opening combination for the visitors. There's still a question mark over the availability of Adam Voges, who though has joined the squad having recovered from a back injury.
India's only worry, if any, could be their bowling. Ishant Sharma leaked 52 runs in his four overs on Thursday, with R Ashwin's 12 balls haemorrhaging 41. Besides the two wicket-takers - Vinay Kumar (3 for 26) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (3 for 35), only Ravindra Jadeja was able to put a lid on the Australians in his four-over spell of 1 for 23 in the one-off T20.
Dhoni has Jaydev Unadkat and Mohammad Shami available to replace Ishant, and Amit Mishra in the squad as the second specialist spinner. But considering this is the first ODI in a long series, Indian skipper won't be in a hurry to make wholesale changes; in fact, he might opt to go in with an unchanged squad.
All matches in the series commence an hour early at 1:30 p.m. than the usual 2:30 p.m. start to the day/night one-dayers in India. The BCCI have preponed the timings by 60 minutes to negate the evening dew, which gives an undue advantage to the side batting second.
India: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Vinay Kumar
Australia: 1 Aaron Finch, 2 Brad Haddin (wk), 3 Phil Hughes / Callum Ferguson, 4 Shane Watson, 5 George Bailey (capt), 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Moises Henriques, 8 Mithcell Johnson, 9 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 10 James Faulkner, 11 Xavier Doherty