ODI giants resume battle ahead of World Cup

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The last two World Cup winners. The top two ranked ODI teams. Two of cricket’s three financial giants. There is much that is momentous about any 50-over meeting between Australia and India, especially so close to the start of another World Cup.

But there is also plenty that is uncertain. India are being led by a captain who has just retired from Test matches and is hanging on for another tilt at the limited-overs crown he lifted in 2011. Australia’s captain has been ruled out of this tournament entirely, and is no certainty to take any part in the Cup itself, leaving leadership in the hands of George Bailey.

Then there is the shadow of the recent Border-Gavaskar series, in which Steven Smith and Virat Kohli each showed themselves to be their country’s pre-eminent Test batsmen by a distance, but their team-mates provided reasons for pause. Australia’s batting did not always look certain despite a succession of exceedingly friendly pitches, while Mitchell Johnson’s pace ebbed away a touch from the peak he hit last season. India’s bowlers proved too inconsistent to maintain pressure on Australia’s vast grounds, raising the question about whether a decidedly similar ODI combination can manage to do so in this series.

Bailey and MS Dhoni opposed each other in the last one-day series between these sides, an encounter of thrilling conclusions and astronomical run scoring. Australia led the series early before fading, and lost the final match when Johnson had been sent home to prepare him for the Ashes. Johnson will be missing again on Sunday, but this time the goal for both sides will be clear – bed down their combinations, build confidence, and perhaps dent a little of their opponents’ ahead of the Cup proper. They may well meet again at the MCG come March 29.

Form guide

Australia WWWWL (completed matches, most recent first)

India WWWWW

In the spotlight

For at least his first two overs of any ODI, Mitchell Starc has claims to being the world’s most dangerous paceman. The fast, late swing he can generate with the new ball proved all too much for England at the SCG on Friday, more or less deciding the contest in the face of its first three deliveries. Starc has a confidence and role clarity about him in ODIs that he is yet to find consistently in Tests, but that development issue will be of little concern to Australia on Sunday, or for the next 10 weeks.

Off the back of a poor Test series, Rohit Sharma can be expected to relocate the cape he seems to wear whenever India’s ODI team convenes. His feats against Sri Lanka were just the most recent of a string of notables, with the only query for this series being his ability to maintain them on pitches offering a little more bounce. He showed signs of regaining touch and confidence in the final Test at the SCG, and the return to India’s blue limited-overs strip should energise him further.

Team news

David Warner is under something of a cloud after complaining of hamstring soreness but may well play because neither of the other batting options in the squad, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Marsh, are fit to replace him. Gurinder Sandhu and Kane Richardson may be considered in place of Xavier Doherty.

Australia 1 Aaron Finch, 2 David Warner, 3 Shane Watson, 4 Steven Smith, 5 George Bailey (capt), 6 Glenn Maxwell, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Pat Cummins, 11 Xavier Doherty.

India are waiting until match day to confirm who will open with Shikhar Dhawan – both Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have their hands up. Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja, both recovering from injury, will not play. The selection of five specialist bowlers is considered essential by Dhoni.

India (possible) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Akshar Patel, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Umesh Yadav

Pitch and conditions

While the MCG’s Test pitch was slow and unchanging, there is some chance of the ODI surface offering a little more in the way of pace and bounce as it has occasionally done so in the past. A fine, temperate Melbourne day is forecast.

Stats and trivia

India’s only triangular ODI series victory in Australia was in 2008, at the tail end of the “Monkeygate” summer

Five of the 10 highest ever innings totals in matches between Australia and India were achieved during their most recent series, in October and November 2013

Quotes

“The last series [against them] was one of the most remarkable series I’ve been involved in, and probably in history, with the amount of runs scored in 50 overs. I’m sure there’s going to be another big score tomorrow for whoever bats first.”

James Faulkner casts his mind back to the 2013 encounter in India

“Getting used to the conditions is very important. The wickets will be quite similar to what we may get in the World Cup, but at the same time we have to stay in the present. We are playing against two very good teams.”

MS Dhoni tries to look ahead and stay in the moment at the same time