After tasting a 34-run defeat in the opener at Sydney, India stormed back to level the three-match ODI series with a six-wicket victory at Adelaide.
The ODI series against the Australia serves as a chance for Virat Kohli and his men to finetune their preparations for the 2019 ICC World Cup in England and as such, they will be looking to put on a fine show in the upcoming decider at Melbourne.
With the series on the line, we take a look at three things the Men in Blue have learned ahead of the series decider.
NUMBER FOUR CONUNDRUM REMAINS FOR INDIA
After Ambati Rayudu’s performance in the Asia Cup last year, India thought they had solved their number four conundrum ahead of the World Cup. However, the last two ODIs have shown that question marks still remain over Rayudu who has failed to make the position his own of late.
The top-order batsman was dismissed for a duck in the series opener at Sydney and threw away his wicket after generating a decent start in the Adelaide clash.
There have been calls to move wicketkeeper MS Dhoni up the batting order to number four given his waning powers with the bat down the order, but the veteran’s performance in the two matches will have once again thrown a spanner in the works in that regard.
While India’s top-order remains one of the best in limited-overs cricket, the middle order is still unconvincing at best and there is plenty of work still to do to fix this gaping hole in the coming few months.
PACE RESERVES FAILING TO CONVINCE
While Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar form a formidable new-ball pairing with the white ball for India and Mohammed Shami provides a solid third seaming option, India’s pace cupboard beyond the three is looking bare.
Khaleel Ahmed was initially being eyed to fill that role by Kohli with the youngster’s left-arm pace bringing in some much-needed variety in the fast-bowling attack. However, a listless display in Sydney by Ahmed saw India turn to debutant Mohammed Siraj in Adelaide.
Siraj was highly expensive in his debut ODI and was carted for 76 runs in his 10 overs. The Hyderabad-born pacer has impressed in his red-ball outings for India A in recent times, but looks ill-suited to the limited-overs format at the moment.
It will be important for India to find a backup to the three frontline pacers before the World Cup gets under way and they will have to take a quick call on whom they choose to groom for that role in the next few months or so.
RAVINDRA JADEJA PROVIDING AN ALTERNATIVE TO PANDYA
Two big gaping holes have been exposed in the two matches so far for India, but the performances of Ravindra Jadeja will please the team management no end.
With Hardik Pandya facing an uncertain future in the ODI squad post his controversial remarks on a television show, Jadeja has shown that he can fill in aptly in the all-rounder’s slot. The southpaw has not been afforded many chances with the bat so far in the series but his performances with the ball and in the field have been excellent.
With the all-rounder’s slot being crucial to India’s team balance in the World Cup, Jadeja’s recent resurgence in limited-overs cricket has come at the perfect time and will ease some of the headaches of Kohli and the team management.
Whether Pandya makes a comeback in the international arena in the near future remains to be seen but for now, Jadeja has shown that a viable alternative exists in his position.
The tall seamer’s last cap came at Edgbaston in 2017, a resounding victory for the hosts in their inaugural day-night Test, but having battled back from a stress fracture he is angling to feature at the Kensington Oval on January 23.
Joseph started well, having Keaton Jennings caught off bat and pad at short leg, but saw his new ball burst safely negotiated by Burns. The Surrey man lasted more than two hours as he contributed 35 to a stumps total of 317 for 10, the final wicket falling at 284 before Jennings reemerged for a second life.
“For me it was quite a big advantage (facing Joseph),” he said.
“I know I haven’t played against a lot of these guys or in these conditions much so anyone I can get a good look at, or get a bit of confidence against, the better. It was nice to have a look at him today.
“It was a decent day’s cricket and a good hit out.”
For the likes of Burns and Ben Stokes, who made 56, the outing represented solid acclimatisation time and valuable middle practice against a team containing six internationals and a second Test seamer in Miguel Cummins.
Joe Root was a class apart though, the captain reeling off 87 care-free runs at exactly a run-a-ball. The Yorkshirman is fresh from a disappointing Twenty20 stint in Australia’s Big Bash but gave every impression of being on top of his game with 12 boundaries and two sixes punctuating a fluent innings.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be happy to play second fiddle,” acknowledged Burns.
“When a batsman gets away and you have to dig in that’s fine, he played very nicely. If someone is off and flying you’ve got to stay with him, that’s what a good partnership is and I thought we dovetailed nicely. It’s not always free-flowing cricket that gets played here and it was quite attritional at points.”
England would have eagerly settled for attrition during the evening session, at one stage losing five wickets for 31 runs inside eight overs.
That saw them eventually ‘bowled out’ for 284, but the loose arrangements of the 12-a-side match meant the innings continued with Jennings returning for a second bite at the cherry.
His partnership with Burns at the top of the order is still in its early days, with neither having nailed down a long-term slot, but with every game and every long catching session after nets their bond is increasing.
“We’ve had six weeks off from each other and now we’re back in each other’s pockets,” Burns joked.
“We’ll keep taking our catches together, scoring some runs together and see how we go. It’s only going to grow the more time we spend together.
“I feel like I’m shaping up nicely and putting myself in decent positions. I haven’t had the score I’d like to for England yet, to hammer it home, but that’s cricket sometimes.”
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Maxwell dazzled with a 37-ball 48 while batting at No7 in the Adelaide clash which India eventually won by six wickets. The right-hander’s entertaining cameo lower down the order has Langer convinced about his long-term suitability in a finishing role.
“I remember the days when Michael Clarke used to bat seven and Michael Hussey used to bat seven,” Langer told reporters after the second ODI.
“I used to muck around with Huss (Hussey) saying, ‘mate, you have got the best job in the world, you never bat, you get paid a fortune but you never bat because the team is going so well’.
“But when Maxi can come in an put the finishing touches on like he does, for me it’s the perfect position.”
There have been calls to push Maxwell up the batting order after he was afforded only five deliveries to bat in the first ODI at Sydney but Langer feels that the 30-year-old is best suited to add the finishing touches in the dying overs.
“He has been captain of the (Melbourne) Stars, he has got good leadership qualities as well,” Langer stated.
“So if he can come in and put the finishing touches on like he does, it’s always a nervous time for an opposition when you still know you have got a Glenn Maxwell or a Mike Hussey coming in down at seven.
“Maxy will be a very important part of our team if we’re to win the World Cup.”
While maintaining that the No7 spot was ideal for Maxwell, Langer has kept the option of shuffling his batting position around as a ‘floater’ open.
“I honestly think, despite the debate, that is his best spot in our team for us at the moment and we’ll flick him in (earlier) every now and then when we need a little cameo,” the Aussie coach explained.
Australia and India are currently level at 1-1 in the three-match ODI series and will meet in the decider at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Friday.