India and Australia will renew their rivalry on the cricket pitch on Tuesday when the first of five One Day International’s between two of the powers of the world game gets underway in Perth. For India it will be chance to not only improve on a dismal record in Australia that has seen them yet to win a series, but also garner some much needed momentum in the limited-overs formats.
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni steeped away from Test cricket and the captaincy during India’s last tour Down Under, a year ago, it was supposed to allow him to focus on a form of the game in which he has always been more comfortable. Yet since then he has tasted one disappointment after another as captain of both the ODI and Twenty20 teams, while facing repeated questions about his future. As well as the relinquishing of their World Cup crown to Australia in last year’s semifinals, Dhoni has also led the team to a first ever series loss in Bangladesh and both ODI and T20 series defeats on home soil to South Africa.
Doubts have been expressed about whether, at the age of 34, Dhoni still has it in him to be the decisive force with the bat he once was. He has made his desire to move higher up the batting order clear, yet the series with South Africa saw him regularly switch the positions of himself, as well as Ajinkya Rahane and Test captain Virat Kohli. With Suresh Raina having being left out of the squad that traveled to Australia, there is further uncertainty about India’s lineup. One of the inexperienced pair of Manish Pandey or Gurkeerat Singh is set to be given a chance to stake a claim. In a warm-up win over a Western Australia XI on Friday, Dhoni came in at No. 4, with Gurkeerat given the responsibility at No. 6.
On the bowling side, Dhoni does have spinner Ravichandran Ashwin in fine form. Yet India have already suffered a blow, with pace bowler Mohammed Shami, only just back from nine months out with a knee injury, being ruled out of the tour with a hamstring complaint.
India do still sit in second place on the International Cricket Council’s ODI rankings, but they now face the toughest task around. After beating India, Australia went onto clinch the World Cup crown on home soil and confirm their status as the world’s top ranked side. Yet the lineup that India will face over the coming weeks will be significantly changed from their last meeting.
Captain Michael Clarke has retired, to be replaced by the star of that World Cup win, Steven Smith. The 26-year-old led his country to victory in his first ODI series in charge, against England last summer. Now, though, he will take charge of an inexperienced bowling lineup, which will be without the injured Mitchell Starc and the retired Mitchell Johnson. It means Joel Paris and Scott Boland could both make their debuts. Despite those changes, opening batsman and T20 captain Aaron Finch insists Australia warrant their billing as the world’s best one-day side and favorites going into the series with India.
“It's a great challenge and I think that when you have that tag, it means you've played good cricket," he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “It means you're favorites or there's excitement around your team because you've played so well in the past and I think that's something we can hang our hat on. We deserve that tag and there's no reason why there shouldn't be a big build-up and amount of excitement around our team.”
The second ODI between Australia and India will take place in Brisbane on Friday, with the tour schedule taking in a total of five ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals.
Match time: Monday, 10:20 p.m. EST
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