India’s cricket team jetted off for Australia this week, ready to get their 2016 schedule underway by attempting to achieve some long overdue success Down Under. With a history of being far stronger at home, India have never won a series in any format in Australia. Their latest opportunity to correct that record comes when they contest five One-Day Internationals and three Twenty20 matches starting next Tuesday.
There are plenty of painful memories from visits to Australia, including their most recent one, which ended in a semifinal defeat at the 2015 World Cup to the hosts and eventual champions. But now the focus is very much on the upcoming ICC World Twenty20, which will get underway in India in March.
There is considerable pressure on India, and particular captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to offer some encouragement in both limited-overs formats after recent defeats to South Africa, and a first ever ODI series loss to Bangladesh last June. With that in mind, Dhoni and the selectors will be keen for some big performances from the squad in conditions that haven’t traditionally been to their liking. Here are three players to look out for:
Several players have been rewarded for their impressive domestic form in India by being handed a chance to impress on the most challenging international stage. And it could be Pandey who makes the biggest impact. India have endured problems with their middle-order in recent times, with Dhoni’s powers as a finisher waning, and the captain keen to move up the order. There is an opening, too, after the selectors elected to omit the experienced Suresh Raina from the ODI squad.
“One of [Mandish Pandey or Gurkeerat Singh] will get to play at either Nos 5, 6 or 7,” Dhoni said. “We have four very good top-order batsmen. No. 6 or 7 is the most difficult spot for any batter to come in if you are making your debut. In the past we have tried almost everyone but very few have been successful. We will evaluate if I feel No 5 is good slot for a newcomer and I take the pressure of batting at 6.”
Pandey impressed on his one previous international appearance, when he struck 71 in India’s ODI victory over Zimbabwe last year. And with the 26-year-old keen to shed the tag of being a T20 specialist, earned thanks to several memorable performances in the Indian Premier League, this could be his time.
After finishing the 2015 World Cup as the competition’s joint-fourth-highest wicket-taker, taking 17 at an average of 17.29, the future for the pace bowler looked bright. Yet almost as soon as the World Cup prizes had been dolled out, his knee gave way, requiring surgery and a long nine months of recuperation.
“No one should face such a time,” he said this week, according to the Indian Express. “It was really tough times. When injury happened the doctors prohibited me from getting up from bed for two months. That was the toughest time for me. I was allowed to walk only up to the bathroom.”
After defeat in the recent ODI series to South Africa, Dhoni criticized the performance of his fast bowlers, thus he will surely be delighted to get Shami back and give him a threat to go along with in-form spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
Having risen rapidly from relative obscurity, Pandya will now have the chance in Australia to earn himself a dream spot at the World Twenty20 on home soil. The all-rounder came to prominence during last year’s IPL, when he produced two notable quick-fire innings to help change the course of proceedings for his Mumbai Indians team. With India on the lookout for a player who can do damage lower down the order and also contribute on the bowling side, Pandya may have a sizable part to play.
“Before the IPL no one knew who Hardik Pandya was,” he said in an interview with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. “I said after the final that IPL will change my life, and it has.
“I am definitely eyeing the all-rounder’s position in the team. With my decent pace and batting abilities, I can be the perfect No. 7 that India are looking for. That is the reason why I insisted on becoming an all-rounder, rather than a batsman who can bowl a bit.”