Less than a year after the disastrous tri-series in Australia which was succeeded by an impressive World Cup campaign thwarted only by the Aussies, India are back Down Under for an ODI and T20 series. They begin their campaign with the first match at Perth on Tuesday. In spite of the fact that they won both their warm-up games handsomely, India will go into the series as underdogs. History has it that apart from the 2007-08 CB series when the Indian ODI team was its peak, and when Sachin Tendulkar was at his restraint best, India have struggled to stand up to the Aussies. MS Dhoni and his men will have to play out of their skins to tilt the scales.
There are two major concerns for India as they head into the Perth encounter. The first is the paucity of big-hitters who can go all-out in the last ten overs. In the last decade, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dhoni himself did that job commendably. But, things are not the same anymore. Yuvraj does not seem to be in the scheme of things in one-dayers anymore though he is part of the T20 squad. Raina too has been axed from the 50-overs squad following a poor series at home against the South Africans. And, while Dhoni has retained his place as captain and wicket-keeper batsman, he is past his prime, when he was at his attacking best.
India will be in a definite dilemma with regards to the batting order at Perth, especially since Raina won't be there at number six. With the top four all but certain, and Dhoni being forced to bat at number five considering the lack of options, either of Gurkeerat Singh or Manish Pandey could get a look in at the number six spot. Whoever gets the opportunity will have an unenviable task on hand, as he will mostly be coming in when the slog is on. Experts would agree that number six is among the toughest slot for a batsman in 50 overs as he rarely gets time to get his eye in. At the same time, it is a golden opportunity for a youngster to seize his chance.
Deaths overs bowling is another massive worry for Dhoni's men. They have been dealt with a big blow even before the series has begun with Mohammed Shami, who was supposed to make a comeback, being ruled out again due to injury. With Mohit Sharma also unfit, India will be without two of their bowling heroes from last year's World Cup. That leaves Umesh Yadav as the sole pace-bowling success from that tournament. He will have to shoulder a humungous burden since Ishant Sharma has never set ODI cricket on fire. India might hand Barinder Sran his international debut, but there are also talks of all-round Rishi Dhawan getting the go-ahead.
Even keeping those woes aside, India will not head into the series high on confidence. In the post-World Cup period, Dhoni's men have endured a horrific run in one-day internationals. After being thrashed in the semi-final at Sydney, they were subjected to 1-2 embarrassment in Bangladesh. Even at home against South Africa, they proved to be second. The abovementioned causes have chiefly contributed to India's poor record. If they don't find suitable solutions in Australia, they will be easy prey for Steven Smith's men. Another big challenge awaits Dhoni for sure.
-- By A Cricket Analyst