The two T20Is against Australia followed by five One-Day Internationals will be their last assignment before the mega-event in England and Wales and these games provide the opportunity for an extended audition for the World Cup hopefuls, who are yet to confirm their spots.
Skipper Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah are back from their well-deserved breaks, but the focus will largely be on Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Vijay Shankar who have emerged as serious contenders for the remaining spots. Pant is part of both the series and has managed to leapfrog Dinesh Karthik who has been dropped from the ODI squad without doing much wrong.
Karthik has been playing the role of the finisher and has done a commendable job for India in quite a few games recently. The 33-year-old will look to make a statement in these two T20Is and push his claim for the World Cup spot further, something that will also be on Vijay’s mind. The all-rounder had a decent series in New Zealand and with Hardik Pandya ruled out of the Australia series, it will provide him an ideal opportunity to make his case even stronger.
Rahul has struggled in the last couple of months both on and with events off the field as well. The 26-year-old will look to make the most of these games in order to get a place in the World Cup squad as a back-up opener. There has been talk about playing Rahul at No. 3 just to give him some game-time, and if that's not the case, India might try to include him in the XI by resting one of their regular openers.
Meanwhile, Kohli too will want to straightway be back among the runs after a superb 2018 where he ended the year with an astounding 2735 runs from 38 matches across formats. He averages over 60 against Australia in 13 T20Is and will be their biggest threat alongside Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
The established openers didn't get big runs in New Zealand and this series will serve as a perfect platform for them to get some runs behind them before the IPL starts. Similarly, MS Dhoni will be keen to build on his encouraging form in recent games in Australia and New Zealand.
With the return of India's No. 1 paceman Bumrah, the bowling department looks quite sorted. Siddarth Kaul and Umesh Yadav too will have a point to prove in case India are looking to include four pacers in the World Cup squad.
While rookie legspinner Mayank Markande is in the squad, India in all likelihood will go in with the tested pair of Yuzvendra Chahal and Krunal Pandya, who have done reasonably well for the home team in recent times. Kuldeep Yadav has been rested for the T20Is but will be back for the ODI series.
Meanwhile, the Aaron Finch-led side are fresh from the Big Bash League campaign with six players including the skipper featuring in the all-Melbourne final on February 17. Player of the Tournament D'Arcy Short and competition's leading wicket-taker Kane Richardson will look to build on their form, and the onus will be on the former to rectify his stats on Indian tracks.
The series will be equally important for Alex Carey, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Peter Handscomb, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Ashton Turner and Adam Zampa who are all part of the World Cup plans. Marcus Stoinis has been in good form and will look to make an impact as he did in 2017.
Also, with Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood injured, this will be a solid opportunity for bowlers such as Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Coulter-Nile and Behrendorff.
India haven't been very consistent in the shortest format of the game and recently lost 1-2 to New Zealand, and while their both eyes will on the World Cup, they will want to make sure that those "World Cup goals" aren't achieved at the expense of series.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Krunal Pandya, Vijay Shankar, Siddarth Kaul, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mayank Markande.
Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Alex Carey, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, D'Arcy Short, Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Peter Handscomb, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon, Ashton Turner, Adam Zampa.
First Published: February 23, 2019, 3:26 PM IST