After a morale-boosting win in the third and final ODI, India will have enough options to choose from to pose a stiffer challenge to mighty Australia when the two sides clash in a three-match T20 series beginning at the Manuka Oval, Canberra on Friday. The 1-2 ODI series loss reaffirmed that India have a lot of work to do in the ODI format but they possess a much more balanced squad in the shortest format.

Before the pandemic suspended cricketing activities around the world, India had blanked hosts New Zealand in a five-match series and they will be taking a lot of confidence out of that result into the contest against Australia. The presence of Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar and T Natarajan, who did well on his ODI debut on Wednesday, lends much-needed balance to the bowling department. Sundar will be high on confidence after a solid IPL where Royal Challengers Bangalore and India skipper Virat Kohli used him effectively in the powerplay and middle overs. Yorker specialist Natarajan, who was a late addition to the ODI squad, could also make his T20 debut on Friday having shown enough promise in his maiden international appearance. Yuzvendra Chahal, who had a forgettable outing in the ODIs, will also be looking to bounce back. In batting, KL Rahul, who batted at five in ODIs, is expected to go back to his preferred opening slot alongside Shikhar Dhawan.

With plenty of match-winners on both sides, let us take a look at the players to watch out for in this much-anticipated T20I series between two cricketing heavyweights.

INDIA

KL Rahul – In absence of India’s white-ball stalwart – Rohit Sharma, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of wicketkeeper-batsman KL Rahul in the T20Is versus Australia. Rahul finished as the highest run-scorer in the 2020 edition of IPL with 670 runs in 14 matches. Rahul single-handedly shouldered the bulk of the responsibility for Kings XI Punjab in the batting department. In the upcoming T20I series, the 28-year-old will open the batting along with senior opener Shikhar Dhawan and look to continue his fine form. Earlier this year, Rahul played a key role in India’s 5-0 series whitewash against New Zealand.

Jasprit Bumrah – Hailed as one of the best white-ball bowlers in the modern era, Jasprit Bumrah will once again spearhead the Indian cricket team’s bowling attack against Australia. After an average outing in the ODIs, Bumrah will be eager to show his class and win matches for his team in the shortest format.

During IPL 2020, the 26-year-old Bumrah raised his game in the absence of Lasith Malinga and played a primary role for Mumbai Indians to defend their title. The right-arm pacer picked up 27 wickets in 15 games at an impressive economy rate of under seven runs per over.

Hardik Pandya – Hardik’s form with the bat was one of the biggest positives for Team India in an otherwise forgettable ODI outing against the Aussies. Making a comeback to the national squad after a back injury, the younger Pandya made an instant impact and played a couple of crucial knocks while batting a No.6. The 27-year-old all-rounder scored 210 runs in the three-match ODI series vs Australia, including a match-winning unbeaten knock of 92 in the third match, which India won by 13 runs.

AUSTRALIA

Aaron Finch – Australia’s limited-overs captain Aaron Finch finished as the highest run-scorer in the ODI series against India, scoring 249 runs at an average of 83. Finch hammered a couple of half-centuries and a brilliant hundred that provided Australia a solid start in all the matches. After a below-par outing in IPL 2020, Finch would look to make amends in the shortest format when the two teams meet on Friday. The batsman has scored 2114 runs in 64 T20Is at a strike rate of 154.64 and an average of 38.43. Finch’s tally comprises of two centuries and 12 half-centuries.

Steve Smith – Right from the word go, Australia former skipper Steve Smith looked like a man of a mission when the hosts faced India in the ODI series. After enduring a quiet season with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL 2020, Smith scored two back-to-back hundreds at the SCG to power Australia to a series win over India. However, he had a rare failure in the final match where he was dismissed by Shardul Thakur at the score of 7. In T20Is, Smith would look to continue his batting form and shun all the critics who accuse him for being conservative with his gameplay in the shorter version. In IPL 13, Smith managed to score 311 runs in 14 matches at an average of 25.91 in the tournament.

Glenn Maxwell – Failing to live up to his reputation of a big-hitter in IPL, Glenn Maxwell’s sudden return to form surprised everyone. After not being able to hit a single maximum on UAE grounds, Maxwell smashed boundaries and sixes at will against India in the ODI series. He was one of the top performers for the hosts, scoring two crucial half-centuries in the three-match series. With 167 runs at a strike rate of over 200, Maxwell could well and truly be the player to watch out for in the upcoming T20 series against India.