Quarantine and the new normal
With quarantine and the state of the world we live in, all the Indian cricketers part of the squad for the Australia tour and the Australian players part of the IPL in the UAE boarded a flight across the oceans soon after the IPL final.
After a 14-day soft quarantine, during which the squad members were allowed to practice at a training facility just a 30-minute drive away from their hotel (which also houses the Australian players part of the IPL), both teams are set for the first ODI to be played at the Sydney cricket ground.
India, Australia missing a couple of players each
In terms of being at full strength, Australia are right up there with almost all their players available and firing with the exception of Kane Richardson, who decided to pull out of the series to spend time with his new-born and wife. Mitchell Marsh also remains unavailable due to injury.
The Virat Kohli-led side will miss the services of Rohit Sharma who has been a shining star for the team in white-ball cricket. However, India have sufficient quality to plug that hole at the top of the order. India will also be without medium-pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar who is recovering from an injury which he picked up during the IPL.
India ahead in head to head
The last time both teams met was when Australia toured India in January this year, and the world was a different place. The visitors started on a resounding note, registering a 10-wicket victory in their first match of the series. However, India came back strongly to win the next one by 36 runs and move to Bengaluru for the decider where it was a chasing masterclass from Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli as India overhauled the target in 47.3 overs to bag the well-contested ODI series.
The last time India and Australia squared off in an ODI series in Australia, India won 2-1 due to the heroics of the now-retired MS Dhoni.
A clash against England or India already has the Australian boys motivated, but to avenge their defeat in the past will be added motivation for the home side.
Dhawan and Agarwal to start proceedings
It is almost funny how much shuffling has been going on at the top of the order for India. After Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma brought India a lot of success for more than five years at the top of the order, KL Rahul has been consistently breathing down their neck after a surge in form from 2018 onwards.
With the emergence of Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw, the Indian team management has even more options for the two slots. The last time that India played in a white-ball series, due to a hamstring injury to Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal were auditioned at the top of the order, but could not grab their opportunities.
With Rohit Sharma recovering from another hamstring injury and KL Rahul having moved down to number 5 in the ODIs due to the added wicket-keeping responsibility, Mayank Agrawal and Shikhar Dhawan are likely to open the batting for India.
That Hardik Pandya will not bowl will affect the balance of the side. They will expect Ravindra Jadeja to rise to the occasion and contribute well with both bat and ball. Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Navdeep Saini are likely to be the three pacers for India while Yuzvendra Chahal will be their leading spin bowling option.
Stoinis to be preferred over Agar
An injury to all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who did a fine job on the tour of England, means that Marcus Stoinis is almost guaranteed a place in the playing XI. Although Australia would give some thought to including Ashton Agar as well, if they want an extra spin option, depending upon the surface.
Australia's top four pick themselves with David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne having done a brilliant job in the past.
If Pat Cummins is good enough to go after a hectic IPL season, he will form a solid combination with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa. Glenn Maxwell can roll his arm over in case either of the bowlers or all-rounder Stoinis has an off-day.
Here's the probable playing XI of both teams:
Australia - David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa
India - Mayank Agarwal, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah