Can MS Dhoni make his 300th appearance in ODIs for India special? (Image courtesy: AFP, Getty)
Can MS Dhoni make his 300th appearance in ODIs for India special? (Image courtesy: AFP, Getty)

Another week and it will be a yearlong overseas-win drought for Australia. In the last week of September 2016, they had won a one-off ODI against Ireland at Benoni, South Africa (if anyone cares). Isn t more expected out of the world champions? If they lose this series, they will slip in the ICC ODI Rankings.

Eden Gardens, Kolkata is being set for the second ODI amidst heavy rain. It s the very venue where Australia laid their hands on the World Cup for the first time (30 years back, though). A washout will further make it difficult for Australia, as they will be left with no option but going for three consecutive wins in order to win the series. Even if the clouds have mercy, threats continue looming over the visitors

I think (David) Warner is under pressure when he is playing me. He feels I can get him out any time. I feel good when I bowl to Warner. I set up a plan when I bowl to him. Hopefully, I will get him out on more occasions in the next four ODIs, Kuldeep Yadav told reporters ahead of the ODI.

If you think it s arrogance taking precedence for the 8-ODI-old youngster, then read what he has to add. Half reporting, like half knowledge, is dangerous. In Tests, I have seen him (Steven Smith) reading the balls well. He knows how to eke out singles. I feel it is tough to bowl to him. Generally, he prefers playing on the leg stump. Whenever he feels, he hits a four and likewise takes a single at will. So I feel it is tough to bowl to him, Kuldeep spoke highly about Smith.

Yes. Barring Smith, spin has been troubling the Australians for a long time. They had serious subcontinent woes against India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in recent times. If Glenn Maxwell and leg-spin made headlines during the IPL much to the fury of the former, he has shown, like in the first ODI, that he can clear ropes of any length. But you need more than bravado to succeed against the wrist spinners, and the keyword here is technique. On Sunday, five Australian batsmen found themselves stuck in the spin web hurled by Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal.

Australia will hope for captain Smith to come good on his 100th ODI. The rest of the side should just look to play around him.

Ahead of his milestone game, Smith recalled his innings against India in the 2015 Word Cup semi-final as the most memorable . Australia will exactly hope for a repeat of that 93-ball 105.

Pitch and conditions

The build-up is all about Smith vs spin. But will the spinners have their say on this surface? Smith was surprised to see grass on it.

Little bit of grass on it. Probably more than I have seen in India for a while, said Smith before adding, Looks alright, few cracks on the wicket but I think don t think they will play a big part. Looks the wicket s been used somewhere, I don t know in what game. I will have another look tomorrow, see what the weather is doing, see if there is any change to the wicket in the morning they might cut it (grass) I don t know and then take a call on the team.

The surface at Eden Gardens has favoured spinners of late, which also forced Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to alter their strategy this season. Kuldeep plays for KKR and knows the conditions well and, if it s going to favour seamers, then his franchise teammate Nathan Coulter-Nile will expect to have a ball. He already had the Indian top-order in deep trouble in the first game.

However, the Indian bowling attack isn t one-dimensional. Under clouds, the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and co. will relish the opportunity to bowl on a grassy surface.

Thunderstorm is expected on Thursday, and temperature will be between 27 and 31 degree Celsius. Rain has played a spoilsport for teams practice sessions, and the conditions do not change much. India may well be tempted to unleash local boy Mohammed Shami.

Likely XIs

Even if Australia topple the spin, weather and surface-hurdle, they have one man staring at them. Rohit Sharma cannot do anything wrong at this venue, can he? He scored his IPL century at this venue, lifted 2 IPL titles here, scored a hundred on Test debut here, scored his record 264 and, even last year, he bailed India out of a precarious situation in a Test against New Zealand.

List A, First-Class, T20s, name any format and Rohit gifts the boisterous crowd here a cloudburst of runs. Sticking to ODIs, he has just played a game and belted that 264. Across formats in international cricket, Rohit is the Bradman here. He has 535 runs from 5 innings at 107, including two 100s and a 50. Irrespective of the fact he takes strike or not, his name has to go there first. India, in all likelihood, retain the same XI.

Add MS Dhoni to the equation. It is eastern India, and the very city where a young, longhaired boy played most of his cricket. It is also the very state where he worked as a ticket collector. Dhoni is loved dearly in this land of Sourav Ganguly. He will look forward to make his 300th appearance for India a special one.

Skipper Virat Kohli, too, has a special affair with this ground. It was here, in 2009, where he registered his first ODI hundred. He went on to score 29 more. He won t mind adding to the tally.

Manish Pandey? KL Rahul might be itching to go out in the middle, and Pandey s duck at Chennai did not help his cause. Pandey may still cling onto the spot, courtesy the KKR factor.

India probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli (c), Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah.

Aaron Finch was seen attending the indoor practice sessions, but according to reports the opener hasn t regained full fitness. With Hilton Cartwright looking completely out of sorts in Chennai, Australia may want to open with Travis Head and add more solidity in the middle-order by roping in Peter Handscomb.

Australia probable XI:David Warner, Travis Head, Steven Smith (c), Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Adam Zampa

Only solace Australia can draw ahead of this encounter is the fact that they have never lost an ODI here. They have played two tournament finals here and won both of them. Like in Chennai, India, who now have won 10 matches (across formats) in a row, will look to change this by registering another victory.