India recorded a confidence boosting six-wicket win over hosts Australia in the deciding T20 to end the three-match series on a high. But for the persistent rains in the second T20 at Melbourne, the tourists could have even ended up with a series win.
Now, the attention shifts to the hotly anticipated four-match Test series which gets underway at the Adelaide Oval on December 6. Very rarely has a touring Indian team been considered favourites in a Test series in Australia but that is the tag that Virat Kohli and his men find themselves labelled with.
With the hosts still feeling the aftershocks of the ball-tampering scandal with the international bans handed out to Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in force, many former players including Shane Warne see India as the favourites to triumph in the Test battle.
Australia have failed to really get going under new head coach Justin Langer with victory over Pakistan in a one-off T20 in the UAE being the only bilateral series the side has won across all formats in his tenure so far.
However, despite how beleaguered the hosts might look, No1 ranked India can’t take it easy in the Test series. Here, we look at three reasons why.
AUSTRALIA’S PACE TRIO
India’s batsmen remain vulnerable against pace in red-ball cricket as shown by their displays in South Africa and England where only Kohli was able to come out with his reputation intact.
Australia have plenty of firepower in their fast-bowling arsenal in the form of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Hampered by injuries, the pace trio have been wrapped in cotton wool in the lead up to the series with Australia resisting the temptation to unleash them in the dusty and slow pitches of the UAE against Pakistan.
Even when Starc was given a surprise T20I recall in the series decider against India, he showed how menacing he can be by taking the wicket of a well-set Shikhar Dhawan in a tight spell of fast bowling.
The three pacers will prove to be a handful on home conditions and will be raring to have a go against the Indian batting card after an extended period of rest and rehabilitation.
AUSSIE BATSMEN’S STRONG HOME RECORD
The absence of Steve Smith and David Warner from the Test squad is the biggest factor which has seemingly skewed the balance in India’s favour.
The duo are undoubtedly Australia’s two best batsmen and their loss would weaken any Test side, let alone the hosts’. Australia’s batting struggled at times against Pakistan in the absence in what was their maiden Test series under Langer’s tenure.
The Marsh siblings – Shaun and Mitchell – were criticised for their dismal performances with the bat in the two-Test series but closer inspection shows that the brothers can be a force in home conditions.
In the most recent Test series on Australian soil (the Ashes), the Marsh siblings struck two tons each as the hosts romped to a 4-0 win. Usman Khawaja is another batsman who relishes home conditions and he will be coming into the series with some confidence after his superb efforts in the series loss to Pakistan.
Aaron Finch is still taking his initial steps in the Test format but he could prove to be dangerous in home conditions if he gets going.
AUSSIES SEEK REDEMPTION
It has been a bleak period on and off the pitch for the Aussies ever since the ball-tampering saga at Newlands. The scandal continues to engulf Australian cricket even after all these months.
Cricket Australia’s review into the episode opened up more can of worms which saw some high-profile resignations. All in all, Australian cricket is probably at the lowest it has been in many years.
However, there can be no better way for Australia to turn the mood around than beating the No1 ranked Indians in front of their own fans. A series victory against the Indians might be just the tonic Australian cricket needs to come out of its shell.
It also helped the Men in Green level the three-match series at 1-1 and set things up perfectly for the decider in Dubai on Sunday.
For all their domination in the T20 format where they are the undisputed No1 team, Sarfraz Ahmed‘s men have failed to translate that form to one-day cricket. Despite having all the makings of an excellent limited-overs squad, Pakistan have failed to really impose themselves in the ODI format with their recent showing in the Asia Cup a testament to their woes.
Skipper Sarfraz had touched upon the importance of transforming their 50-over fortunes in the build-up to the ODI series against the Blackcaps. One of the aspects the wicketkeeper batsman had stressed upon was the need for his top-order batsmen to fire in order to reduce the pressure on the rest of the batting order.
The 31-year-old lamented the lack of partnerships at the top and has highlighted it as one of the reasons for Pakistan’s struggles in the format.
With what he saw on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, the Pakistan skipper can very well be pleased. Set a tricky target of 210 to chase, Pakistan openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq set things up perfectly with a half-century stand between them before the latter was struck by a vicious Lockie Ferguson bouncer and had to retire hurt.
Imam’s start to his international career has been sensational to say the least and his partnership with Fakhar at the top has all the makings of an excellent long-term opening combination for Pakistan.
The in-form Babar Azam then took charge at Sheikh Zayed Stadium after Imam’s retirement as he stitched together a century stand with Fakhar that all but won the game for Pakistan. While Babar was his usual composed self, it will be the form of Fakhar which will please Sarfraz and the team management most.
The explosive opening batsman has been off colour of late in ODIs following his heroics on the tour of Zimbabwe where he became the first Pakistan batsman to register a double ton in the format.
Since then, the left-hander has failed to fire with his patchy form costing Pakistan dear in the Asia Cup. His 88 on Saturday was his first ODI half-century on Asian soil and it could not have come at a better time for Pakistan.
With the series on the line on Sunday and Imam a major doubt after the blow to his head, Pakistan will need Fakhar to fire if they are to quell the Kiwi challenge.
Babar is in excellent form while veteran Shoaib Malik can be relied upon in any give situation in the middle-order. The bowling department has a solid look with young Shaheen Afridi looking mightily impressive in the two matches so far with his eight wickets.
The left-arm pacer’s stellar form has been the biggest positive for Pakistan in the series so far although it is puzzling that Sarfraz has opted to not utilise his full quota of 10 overs in both games.
Hasan Ali remains an experienced campaigner with the white-ball while Faheem Ashraf provides another seaming option. The spin department remains one of Pakistan’s biggest strengths on the slow tracks of the UAE with Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez forging a solid unit.
The win in the second ODI could very well be the turning point for Pakistan’s fortunes in the format as they get ready for the series decider. However, this form will once again be dependent on their top-order and how Fakhar and Babar fare on Sunday could very well be the deciding factor.
If the two ODIs so far against the West Indies have taught India anything, it is the fact that their pace arsenal in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar is nothing to shout home about.
While Wednesday’s dramatic tie at Vishakapatnam will be remembered most for skipper Virat Kohli’s record-breaking innings of 157, it partly overshadows what was a poor bowling display from the hosts.
In the two matches in the series, the Indian bowlers have conceded 321 and 322 runs respectively against a much-depleted West Indies side missing many of their star names.
The same Windies batsmen who couldn’t buy a run to save their lives in the preceding Test series have gone on to make a striking impact in the ODIs, with Shimron Hetmyer and Shai Hope being the prime examples.
In the first ODI at Guwahati, India went in with a three-man pace attack of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Khaleel Ahmed. While both Umesh and Khaleel conceded 64 runs each from their quota of 10 overs, Shami was taken for 81 runs.
In the second game at Vishakapatnam, skipper Virat Kohli opted to go with a two-man pace attack with Khaleel being the unfortunate bowler to miss out. This time it was Shami who finished with respectable figures of 1-59 while Umesh was carted for 78 runs, including the 13 runs he conceded in the final over of the match.
The countdown for the 2019 World Cup to be held in England is fast under way and every ODI India play between now and then is geared towards forging a settled unit capable of challenging for the coveted title.
The top-order batting remains exceptional while a few worries still remain about the shaky middle-order. The spin contingent is covered too with the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, while Ravindra Jadeja provides a third option.
While the pace-unit bears a strong look once Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar are back in tow, question marks remain over the third option, as well as the reserves.
While Kohli has the luxury of playing just two bowlers on subcontinent tracks, a third option will be required on England pitches at times.
Shami will definitely be the frontrunner to take the third seamer’s slot in England but beyond him, the options for Kohli and India are not so mouthwatering.
Umesh blows far too hot and cold in the limited-overs format, as shown by his display in Vishakapatnam on Wednesday, even though he is only in the side after injury to Shardul Thakur. Thakur, in the first place, has never really inspired any confidence in the short international career he has had so far and his latest injury should push him back further in the pecking order.
With time running out for the World Cup, India could be well served by giving Khaleel and even Mohamed Siraj an extended run. Khaleel in fact looked the best out of India’s three pacers in Guwahati and it was a surprise to see him dropped for the second ODI.
The 20-year-old brings much-needed variety to India’s fast-bowling machinery with his left-armed pace. Siraj, on the other hand, has been a tad expensive in the three T20s he has played so far, but he has since enjoyed a fine run of form across all formats with India A and in domestic cricket.
Both these pacers bring something new to the table for India and can very well be developed into surprise elements for the World Cup.
Another option is Test stalwart Ishant Sharma, who has only recently returned to India’s limited-overs setup. He is a bowler with plenty of experience of bowling in English conditions, especially with his summer stint in county cricket.
There are plenty of options to choose from for India, but none seem ready-made contenders just yet. Three more matches remain in the ODI series against the Windies and those would be the perfect opportunity for Kohli to test out his reserve pace strength.