The Test series has been woefully one-sided but Twenty20 tends to close the gap between teams, and Australia and India have each won two matches against each other in the format. As Sydney's Stadium Australia opens its doors to international cricket on February 1 for the first of two Twenty20s, the stakes have been considerably leveled considering India's recruitments and Australia's influx of rookies.
The prospect of facing Brett Lee, Brad Hogg, Daniel Christian and the uncapped James Faulkner should hold some appeal for India, who urgently need to shed their inhibitions and get back to playing winning cricket. For the tourists, the aim is to win something on tour and gain some positive ahead of the tri-series starting February 5. The Test series was marked by inconsistent bowling and under-par batting, but India will hope for a turnaround in fortunes in blue clothing.
Boosting those chances is the presence of a bona fide limited-overs match-winner in Suresh Raina. With an average of 32.38 and strike-rate of 140.48, India's only Twenty20 international centurion is a versatile player whose capabilities with bat and ball are immense for this Indian side. Throw into the mix the presence of Rohit Sharma, who has warmed the bench all tour, and the fresher legs of Ravindra Jadeja and Irfan Pathan, and there is hope for a revival.
Unlike Australia's 14-man unit, India have a 17-man pool to choose from. From the Test attack, Umesh Yadav and Vinay Kumar should lead the way, with offspinner R Ashwin in tow. Whether or not there is place for Irfan and Jadeja remains to be seen. From the Test XI, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli and of course MS Dhoni should also all feature. Getting the openers and captain back into form ahead of the ODIs is imperative for India.
Whereas India's squad contains several members from the 4-0 whitewash, Australia's dramatically changes its look from whites to coloured clothing, with David Warner and Shaun Marsh the only Test players likely to play in Sydney. For Australia, the plan is to see some new players in action with an eye on the future, specifically the ICC World Twenty20 in September, and they are likely to give each player an opportunity in at least one of the games. Aaron Finch, Travis Birt, Daniel Christian, Mitchell Marsh, Xavier Doherty and James Faulkner should play either in Sydney or in the second game in Melbourne, and there will be Caribbean trips up for grabs if they perform well. Victoria's Matthew Wade could do with a strong showing after being named in the squad for Australia's first three matches of the upcoming tri-series, as he pushes for a place as full-time limited-overs' wicketkeeper.
Personnel-wise, the two surprise choices for this series were the naming of Tasmanian George Bailey as captain and the recall of 40-year-old chinaman spinner Brad Hogg. Bailey, who will make his international debut when he leads Australia on Wednesday, has not done much of note with the bat in the past three domestic Twenty20 seasons, but comes highly rated as a leader. He has spoken strongly about how his captaincy record "stands up against anyone" but will need to walk the talk, more so with runs than tactical decisions, considering how Michael Clarke was discarded from the Twenty20 set-up after struggling with the bat. The 29-year-old is seen by the selection panel as the man who has the best chance of leading Australia to success in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.
Hogg, who retired from international cricket three years ago, was a consistent performer in the recently-concluded Big Bash League and has been told by Cricket Australia that his selection against India is purely a one-off. Needless to say, even though Bailey and Hogg are in contrasting positions, there will be much attention on their every action.
The match is a milestone for Stadium Australia, which was built for the 2000 Olympics and seats far more than the SCG. It becomes the 19th venue in Australia to host international cricket, and there is much speculation as to how the drop-in pitch will play.
Australia: 1 David Warner, 2 Shaun Marsh, 3 Aaron Finch, 4 David Hussey, 5 George Bailey (captain), 6 Travis Birt, 7 Daniel Christian, 8 Matthew Wade (wk), 9 Brad Hogg, 10 Brett Lee, 11 James Faulkner.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 MS Dhoni (captain, wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Irfan Pathan, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Praveen Kumar, 10 Vinay Kumar, 11 Umesh Yadav.