India take on Australia in 3-T20I series    Getty Image
India take on Australia in 3-T20I series Getty Image

Led by MS Dhoni, India had returned home as heroes from their 2015-16 Australia tour despite going down 1-4 in the ODIs. Why? They thumped Australia 3-0 in the T20I series that followed. Australia can do the same. And if they do, they certainly will enter The Ashes with high morale. The ODIs are over. The attention shifts to the slam-bang format. Ranchi is the arena that will host the first T20I of the series. Australia aren t used to heavy defeats.

Can they do the same to India what the latter did two seasons back?

It sure will be a herculean task. All they can do is count on their IPL experience and give their best shot. T20 is one format where Australia have produced some fine players, but they haven t done well as a unit. They are languishing at No. 7 in ICC T20I Rankings. Not that the No.5 India are the best in the world, but they have dominated Australia enough.

However, a whitewash will help India climb to the No.2 spot in the rankings. Virat Kohli s men rule the roost in Tests and ODIs, and the ruthless side will want to dominate this chart as well, more so because T20 s cream league has its roots here.

This Australian camp has commendably made no excuses, and has bluntly admitted their on-field flaws. Stand-in coach David Saker s scared Australia quotes can be debated as positive or demoralising.

Scared Australia?

A lot of them are playing a little bit scared, which we try not to do. We try and make sure they play with a lot of freedom and express themselves as much as they can. But when you are losing, you play scared, you go insular and you start looking after No. 1, Saker cited this as the reason for overreliance on captain Steven Smith.

Australia have been scary for major part since international cricket s inception. Them being scared is as scarce it gets. Sometimes overtness of frankness can backfire in a team sport.

To Australia s advantage, they have a few fresh faces in their T20I squad, someone who do not carry any scars of the ODI series. Jason Behrendorff is amongst the lot. The 27-year-old left arm pacer is set for Australia debut. The Western Australian is rated highly.

I am 100 per cent focused on these games here and making my debut, Behrendorff said.

If Australia get his 100 per cent on field and he reaps results that he does in domestic circuits, Australia will be well served this series.

Intimidating Indians

It was in the 2015-16 tour of Australia when Jasprit Bumrah made his debut for India. He started with a bang and has only grown in stature since. He is amongst the finest bowlers in limited-overs cricket. At 23, he is destined to greatness. To his advantage, he has had great mentors, from Sachin Tendulkar to Ricky Ponting to Shane Bond to Lasith Malinga. Bumrah, by his own admission, has focused on improvement and not results. They are inter-related, aren t they?

To his glee, Ashish Nehra, at 39, has joined the national camp, again. It s always great fun playing alongside him. He has got plenty of experience to share and is very helpful. As a youngster, I keep asking him questions and seek his advice. The team atmosphere also becomes very good with his presence, so it’s very nice to see him back.

A hallmark of a great outfit is having horses for courses. India have plenty of firepower in their batting and adequate armoury in the bowling. And mind you, the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja haven t managed to find a spot in this squad.

India s dominance

It was during the group match of 2012 World T20 when Australia last beat India in a T20I. Their win drought in T20Is against India has crossed half a decade now. In fact, India have won their last 6 T20Is against Australia; this includes a whitewash. India are yet to lose a 3-match 3 T20I series.

India s Likely XI

Much of India s dominance against Australia can be attributed to the rise of Kohli. His last four innings in T20Is against Australia read: 82 (51)*, 50 (36), 59 (33)* and 90 (55)*.

Kohli is the best limited-overs batsman. Shikhar Dhawan is in the form of his life. Rohit Sharma, IPL s most successful captain, was the highest run-getter in the ODI series. Hardik Pandya is improving every game. When most chips are down, the Ranchi lad MS Dhoni is there to harbour the ship to safety.

Akshar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have spun a web around Australians. Kohli s preference for wrist spinners may see Akshar being benched. But it will be a tight call between Akshar and Kuldeep. There is the experienced Ashish Nehra. Then Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Bumrah seem irreplaceable. Either of Nehra or Bhuvi will have to sit out.

Kohli has a happy headache when it comes to choosing the best XI.

India s probable XI: Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Manish Pandey, KL Rahul/Kedar Jadhav/Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ashish Nehra/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah

Australia s Likely XI

Among the fresh inductees, all-rounder Daniel Christian is one to watch out for. He played his part in Rising Pune Supergiant s (RPS) success in IPL 2017. His team ended as runners-up. He played a great hand in helping Nottinghamshire win the NatWest T20 Blast. In the final, he belted an 8-ball 24 to help his side finish at 190. Few minutes later, he sent back Warwickshire skipper Grant Elliott. He also finished as a CPL champion with Trinbago Knight Riders (TKK).

David Warner and Aaron Finch love batting with each other, and are in sublime form. However, Glenn Maxwell blasted that memorable hundred as an opener in Sri Lanka last year. Maxwell hasn t been firing in the middle-order, and it would not be an unwise idea to send the Victorian at the top alongside Warner, and push Finch to No.4 to stabilise the middle-order alongside Smith. Finch has often batted in the middle-order for Gujarat Lions (GL).

The impressive Nathan Coulter-Nile will spearhead the pace attack in the absence of Pat Cummins. He will surely eye Kohli s scalp for the fifth time in six months.

Australia s probable XI: David Warner (vc), Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith (c), Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Daniel Christian, Tim Paine (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson, Jason Behrendorff

Venue and conditions

India and Australia were greeted with rains as they arrived in Ranchi for the first T20I. There is thunderstorm predicted on Saturday afternoon. This means the pitch is expected to be on the damper side as it will spend more time under the cover.

The rains threat to play a spoilsport. Ranchi may have produced one of the finest limited-overs cricketers, however the Jharkhand capital doesn t gets its proper share of T20Is as the city has no IPL sides. They have hosted a couple of neutral IPL games in recent years, but that was it.

Earlier this year it hosted India and Australia in a Test, Ranchi s first ever. The Test remains the only draw of the year when we consider matches that spanned full five days in 2017.

Keep the fingers crossed and pray to the weather God.

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma (vc), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Akshar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra

Australia: Steven Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine (wk), Daniel Christian, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye, Jason Behrendorff.

Time: 19.00 PM IST