Remember Dave Warner tickling everyone’s funny bone the last time an ODI was played in Mumbai? Three years ago, Warner and Aaron Finch had helped Australia sweep past India with a 258-run opening partnership in a 10-wicket win.
“We’ll both be 36 or 37. I’ve got three kids, and I hope that’s the last one. We’ll take one step at a time.” Warner had then said when asked if the duo would be around to play the 2023 ODI World Cup in India.
Although Warner’s a doubtful starter for the ODI on Friday, his desire to play in the upcoming World Cup is still burning bright. Finch, on the other hand, is now playing veterans’ cricket. But that doesn’t mean Australia will be short on firepower. Glenn Maxwell is all set to return after a long layoff, Mitch Marsh is also back, just as a batter for now. They also have the young Cameron Green and the explosive Marcus Stoinis in the line-up. That, for now, seems like enough ammunition to take advantage of the batting-friendly Wankhede surface.
HARDIK’S FIRST ODI AS CAPTAIN
Local hero and India captain Rohit Sharma is taking a breather from the action and that will once again bring into focus the captain-in-waiting Hardik Pandya. Former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar has already tipped Pandya to take over as permanent captain after the ODI World Cup later this year.
“The feeling is great. Obviously, very honoured,” Pandya told reporters on the eve of his first outing as India ODI captain. “From where it started, now leading the ODI side has filled my chest with more pride. Looking forward to the new challenge… as many games as possible.”
For Shubman Gill, this will be another opportunity to cash in on his purple patch. Suryakumar Yadav will try to fill Shreyas Iyer’s shoes and find his own ODI form. Washington Sundar would want to give further evidence of his improved strike-rate with the bat. Australia have seen all that Ravindra Jadeja can do with the red cherry in the past six weeks. But even he, playing an ODI after eight months, would be a tad nervous.
As the Indian team went through the paces in their pre-match net session, fitness (or the lack of it) was the buzzword. A whole bunch of World Cup prospects have broken down in recent times. Spearhead Jasprit Bumrah has undergone back surgery. Prasidh Krishna is recovering from a stress fracture. Kuldeep Sen and Deepak Chahar have had their share of back trouble. Unsurprisingly, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj gave the optional training session a miss.
“Jassi (Bumrah) has not been around for a long time now,” said Pandya. “Obviously, having Jassi makes a massive difference. But to be honest, we are not much bothered because the guys who have taken over have been quite confident and they have been doing very well.”
While Bumrah’s been away, no other Indian fast bowler has been in a better rhythm in ODI cricket than Siraj. The Hyderabad quick with his mix of seam-up and cross-seam deliveries has picked up 38 wickets since 2022. In this series, he will have Shami, young tearaway Umran Malik and the returning left-armer Jaydev Unadkat for company. Between them and Pandya, India will be searching for some role clarity, with this being the first set of the two three-match bilateral outings against Australia before the World Cup.
Usually, bilaterals struggle for context but in the World Cup year, every match matters. India will know that and so will Australia.