Melbourne, Jan 17: All set to defend their ICC World Cup crown in less than a month, India will get their preparations underway with the aim of finding the right combination for the marquee event when they take on Australia in their opening match of the ongoing ODI tri-series here tomorrow (January 18, Sunday).
While this tri-series provides the perfect setting for experimentation, the need of the hour is to get a settled combination going ahead to instill confidence in the side. In the recently-concluded Test series, these same set of players did compete well despite a 0-2 score-line saying otherwise. ('Binny best seam all-rounder in India')
However, the change in format cannot be negated and there will always be a few cobwebs to be cleared. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will return to international cricket after a little over two weeks since his Test retirement at the same venue, and he will have some decisions to make. (World Cup schedule)
The first order of business will be to make a firm choice about the opening combination. With less than a month to go before their opening World Cup encounter against Pakistan in Adelaide, it is worrisome that India's openers are yet unknown. (Ishant, Jadeja out of opener)
Ahead of Sunday's game, the team management has failed to specify whether it will be Ajinkya Rahane or Rohit Sharma pairing up with Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order, or indeed whether a third possibly-surprising combination might be thrown up. (Team India WC guide)
The choice of openers will have an effect on the rest of the batting order as well. If Rahane opens with Dhawan, where will Rohit fit in? Indeed, if Rohit opens the innings, will Rahane return to number four, a position he has not been comfortable with. (All 14 squads for WC)
Or, will Virat Kohli be moved down a spot from his favoured number three, a move he experimented with while leading the side at home against Sri Lanka. Unlike the team's preparations ahead of any Test match, their net-sessions for an ODI do not throw up any suggestive patterns and it was the same on Saturday as well. In no particular order then, all batsmen enjoyed a decent hit in the nets including Ambati Rayudu and Stuart Binny.
How Dhoni's bowlers joust with the likes of David Warner, How Dhoni's bowlers joust with the likes of David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner in this limited-overs setting over a span atleast two matches in the next couple weeks will set the tone for the next two months.
Playing back-to-back matches, for the hosts, it will be about gaining momentum and even more confidence under George Bailey's leadership in case Michael Clarke doesn't recover in time for the World Cup. Even at this early stage in the tri-series, another win should give Australia a firm hand on a spot in the final at Perth on February 1, leaving India and England to fight it out between them.
Australia: Michael Clarke (captain), George Bailey (vice-captain), Pat Cummins, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin (wicketkeeper), Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Shane Watson.
India: MS Dhoni (captain and wicketkeeper), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Ravindra Jadeja, Dhawal Kulkarni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
Match starts 8.50 AM IST. Live on Star Sports
Match 1 Result: Australia won by 3 wickets
Match 3: India Vs England on January 20 (Tuesday) - 8.50 AM IST