A top-order rejig can help Australian team rediscover their one-day mojo in India

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It's been a struggle at the top for Australia.

Australia captain Steven Smith lamented another batting collapse at Eden Gardens as his team went 2-0 down in the five match ODI series in India. Chasing a modest target of 253 on Thursday, the Aussies had a few thing going for them. The outfield retained moisture following a brief shower and late evening dew, which meant the Indian bowlers struggled to grip the ball for the latter part of the innings.

Even after the tourists lost two early wickets, Smith and Travis Head were on top of things and handled the biggest threat – wrist spinners – competently. Then, Yuzvendra Chahal bowled a knee-high full toss, Head smashed to it mid-wicket and the wheels came off.

The Aussies are understandably perturbed at the alarming dip in form; they have now lost 10 away completed ODIs in a row. While it is easier said than done, they should look at their own efforts in India over the years in ODIs and draw strength from it.

The Australians have struggled in the longest format in India but have excelled in ODIs. Remember the iconic 2001 series in India where Harbhajan Singh single-handedly dismantled the mighty Aussies? Well, the Baggy Green won the ODI series 3-2. The Aussies lost the 2008 Border-Gavaskar Test Trophy 2-0 but had won the seven-match ODI series the previous year 4-2 and clinched a seven-match series in 2009 by the same margin. They were blanked 4-0 in Tests in 2013 and later in the year lost a closely contested ODI clash 3-2, bowled out for 326 chasing 384 with five overs to spare in the final match.

So what was it that worked so well? The answer is simple – a top-class top order.

In 2001, Australia’s top three of Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting got the better of the Indians. Six years later, it was Hayden – 290 runs from five innings – who played a big role in maintaining Australia’s stronghold.

In 2009, Shane Watson’s consistency at the top – 256 runs from six innings without a ton – helped the men in green and gold emerge victorious. It is, therefore, not surprising to see Smith’s side struggling in India right now.

David Warner and Hilton Cartwright found it tough to put bat to ball in the first two matches and that has had a cascading effect. India’s top order, on the other hand, got back on track after the first match with Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli scoring commanding fifties on a tough wicket in Kolkata.

Opener Aaron Finch’s calf injury put a spanner in Australia’s works before the series started and it is unlikely that a greenhorn like Cartwright will be able to tackle Indian conditions with the visitors already behind in the series.

The best way forward is to have Head open with Warner, Peter Handscomb bat in the middle with Smith staying at one down. Warner’s role should be to hold the innings together while one of either Smith or Handscomb can take on the spinners as both have proven their credentials against top-class slow bowlers in the longest format.

Nothing is certain in life, but if Australia do sort out their top-order and hit India hard in the first half of the innings, they will have the best chance of pulling things back. It’s a formula that has worked well for them in the past.

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Pakistan vs Sri Lanka: Complete guide including squads, fixtures, schedules and more

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Sarfraz Ahmed will make his Test captaincy bow for Pakistan.

Sarfraz Ahmed will take charge of his first series as the captain of the Pakistan Test squad in the upcoming bilateral series against Sri Lanka.

Pakistan are scheduled to play two Tests against the Sri Lankans, starting on September 28 in their second home, the UAE.

This in fact will be the first such series where Pakistan will be without the services of the iconic Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, both of whom called time on their distinguished careers after the tour of West Indies earlier this year.

Sarfraz created history earlier this summer when he led Pakistan to a surprise maiden ICC Champions Trophy triumph in England.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had announced the 16-man squad for the Sri Lanka series on Friday with a maiden call-up for left-arm pacer Mir Hamza and off-spinning all-rounder Bilal Asif.

There was disappointment for teenage leg-spinning sensation Shadab Khan though. The 18-year-old, who has created ripples ever since bursting onto the international scene earlier this year against West Indies, has not been selected.

The series in the UAE will mark the start of a new era in Pakistan cricket which has shown plenty of upswings lately.

After winning the Champions Trophy against all the odds, the Mickey Arthur coached side recently completed a 2-1 win in the Independence Cup over the visiting ICC World XI at Lahore as international cricket made a long-awaited comeback to the country.

The upcoming series against Sri Lanka will also feature a day-night Test in Dubai, which will be a first for the islanders. Apart from the Tests, the two sides will play five ODIs and three T20Is.

Sri Lanka are coming into the series on the back of a thumping at the hands of the Indians in the Tests and the limited-overs series. The team was whitewashed in all the three-formats in their own backyard, a first for them in their long cricketing history.

Sri Lanka had named a 15-man squad led by Dinesh Chandimal for the series but the islanders have suffered a huge setback after stalwart Angelo Mathews was ruled out of the opening Test.

The all-rounder suffered a grade one tear to his calf-muscle during a training session on Wednesday.

The third and final T20I which was originally supposed to take place at the UAE has now been shifted to Lahore with Sri Lanka agreeing to play in Pakistan for the first time since the terrorist attacks on its team bus in 2009.

PAKISTAN 16-MAN SQUAD FOR TESTS

Sarfraz Ahmed (C), Azhar Ali, Sami Aslam, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Abbas, Bilal Asif, Mir Hamza, Wahab Riaz.

SRI LANKA 15-MAN SQUAD FOR TESTS

Dinesh Chandimal (C), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kusal Mendis, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Rangana Herath, Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Vishva Fernando, Lahiru Gamage.

Standby: Dhananjaya De Silva, Jeffrey Vandersay, Akila Dananjaya, Lahiru Kumara, Dasun Shanaka.

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India's tour of South Africa to start on January 5 with Test series shortened

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India will now play three Tests instead of the previously planned four.

The dates for India’s eagerly-anticipated tour of South Africa have now been confirmed in a joint statement by Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) late on Wednesday.

There has been a reduction in the length of the Test series with the matches being cut short to three from the originally scheduled four.

Instead, there will now be six ODIs instead of the five initially planned between the two sides earlier. Three T20Is will accompany the Tests and 50-over contests.

India are scheduled to arrive in the African country on December 28 and will kick-start the tour with a two-day warm-up match at Boland Park on December 30 and 31.

The first Test between the two sides will begin on January 5 at Newlands in Cape Town. The rest of the itinerary is still to be worked out between the two Boards and remains unannounced at the moment.

India’s arrival in South Africa has been delayed due to the BCCI adding a series with Sri Lanka which is to take place after the completion of New Zealand’s tour of India.

CSA have also announced a four-day Test with Zimbabwe starting on Boxing Day, a Test it had earlier scheduled with India.

With India’s arrival delayed, CSA have invited Zimbabwe to participate in its traditional Boxing Day Test with the match proposed to be a day-night affair and be played out at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth.

The South African board is hoping that the ICC will grant the four-day game a full Test status.

CSA chief Haroon Lorgat announced the news in a release.

CSA chief Haroon Lorgat announced the news in a release.

“We have now finalised the fixtures for a very busy home summer of international cricket.The Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Test series starts at Newlands on Friday, January 5 and will be a series to be watched as the number 1 and 2 best ranked teams in the world challenge for the Freedom Trophy,” CSA chief Haroon Lorgat said in a news release.

“The time constraints faced by India have forced us to reduce the Test matches to three while increasing white ball cricket to six ODIs and three T20I matches,” he added.

“The Proteas are currently ranked No. 1 and India No. 3 in ODI cricket, so fans will have the chance to see great cricket in the limited overs format too.

“To ensure we do not disappoint our loyal fans over the traditional Boxing Day period and to take advantage of our brand-new lights at St George’s Park, we will host Zimbabwe in the first ever four-day day-night Test match to be played. The Test status of the match is subject to ICC approval,” Lorgat said about the Zimbabwe game.

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