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India start favourites against weakened, unsettled Australia

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Brisbane |  An Australia in turmoil both on and off the field has made India the firm favourites in the compelling rivalry’s latest battle which begins with a T20 International series here on Wednesday.

In a bid to assert themselves as favourites for the Test series, which starts December 6 in Adelaide, India would be hoping to dominate the three T20Is. The touring side has won its previous seven T20I series dating back to November 2017, and its last defeat in the format was against West Indies in July last year.

Not to mention, on their last visit here, the Men in Blue won the T20I series 3-0. So, they will be riding high on a wave of confidence and eager to make an early mark on this trip. Australian cricket, in contrast, has been dogged by structural reform in the wake of the ball-tampering saga in South Africa in March and it has resulted in turbulence on the field as well.

Only on Tuesday, Cricket Australia ruled out reducing the bans of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in reply to a plea submission from the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA). In the absence of Smith and Warner, Australia’s results have fallen off a cliff. Since the ban, they are yet to win a T20I series against an opposition of note since March.

They lost to England in a one-off game in June, then lost to Pakistan in the T20I tri-series final in Zimbabwe, lost 3-0 to Pakistan again in the bilateral series in the UAE, and then lost to South Africa in a rain-curtailed one-off match on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether being on home turf would raise the spirits for the once invincible Aussies.

The one significant change for India ahead of this series is the return of skipper Virat Kohli, who was rested for the three-match contest against West Indies at home.

While it undoubtedly strengthens the visitors, all eyes will be on how the Aaron Finch-led Australian side deals with the best batsman in world cricket at the moment.

While there are calls from all quarters for Australian cricket to keep a check on aggression and play the game in right spirit, Kohli has always garnered attention whenever he has visited here.

On his early trips Down Under, he has never quite been the Australian fans’ favourite.  But starting 2014, his batting exploits have taken centre-stage. He scored 199 runs in three innings during that 2016 T20I series’ whitewash.

South African skipper Faf du Plessis has professed a “silent treatment” to Kohli and it remains to be seen if the Australian cricketers and the public can ignore him at all. Kohli’s return to the side means that one front-line batsman will have to make way.

In England, the skipper batted at number four, allowing KL Rahul to bat at number three in light of his stupendous form in the 2018 Indian Premier League. Rahul’s current form though is nothing to write home about. He managed only 16, 26 not out and 17 against the West Indies in the recent T20I series.

Rahul’s absence could allow the team management to retain both Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant, both of whom have proven to be more consistent and explosive in recent times compared to Rahul. The other option is to leave out Manish Pandey, who has got limited opportunities of late.

Early indicators from India’s final pre-match practice suggest that Pant will don the keeping gloves. He practised glove-work under the watchful eyes of coach Ravi Shastri, while Karthik only did some out-fielding.

It also suggests that the team management might make the surprise call to leave Karthik out altogether, allowing Rahul an early taste of conditions keeping in mind the Test series.  The bigger concern for India is to find a balance in their bowling attack in Hardik Pandya’s absence. With ample bounce anticipated on the Gabba pitch, three pacers — Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Khaleel Ahmed — are certain starters.

Washington Sundar, who played the last T20I against West Indies as Bumrah was rested, is expected to make way. Kuldeep Yadav too is expected to be a first-choice spinner, ahead of Yuzvendra Chahal as was the case against West Indies. Krunal Pandya was the all-rounder against West Indies, and should he continue to play, then it remains to be seen if the team management will pick two left-arm spinners.

Australia are also considering fielding a spinner, after taking the field against South Africa with a full-pace attack on Saturday. Glenn Maxwell was the lone spinner then, but it is understood that the hosts will alter their plans keeping in mind the conditions and bigger dimensions of the ground here.

Starting off with the aggressive shortest format is Australia’s best bet to upset India’s plans for this summer of cricket, wherein unlike their prior trips here, the visitors are already considered the better side in all departments.

Teams:

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant, Krunal Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Washington Sundar.

Australia: Aaron Finch (capt), Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Ben McDermott, Glenn Maxwell, D’Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.

Match starts at: 1.20 pm IST.

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People make mistakes, let’s move on: Ganguly on Pandya-Rahul comments row

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Mumbai | Former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly on Thursday said “we should move on” from the controversy surrounding Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul’s sexist comments because he is sure the two will learn from it and become better persons.

Speaking at an event here, Ganguly said he hasn’t seen the ‘Koffee with Karan’ episode in which Pandya and Rahul’s misogynistic comments on women led to a provisional suspension on them. But he offered a sympathetic view on the under-fire duo.

“People make mistakes, let’s not go too far here. I am sure, whoever has done it will realise and come out a better person. We are human beings not machines that we will always be perfect. We should move on and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Ganguly said on the raging controversy.

Pandya and Rahul were forced to return midway through the ongoing ODI series against Australia and India captain Virat Kohli condemned their statements on hookups with multiple women as “inappropriate”.

They have been show caused twice by the BCCI since then and are also being put through an inquiry.

Ganguly said most cricketers are “great guys”.

“…they (cricketers) are humble, every now and then one or two make mistakes but I know most of them personally and they are great guys,” Ganguly said during the trailer launch of ’22 Yards’ at a suburb here.

Pandya and Rahul, pending the outcome of the inquiry, will not be a part of the Indian team. After missing the ongoing ODI series, they are set to miss the upcoming New Zealand Tour as well.

Ganguly, who has been credited with shaping Indian cricket during his captaincy stint, said it’s not that modern-day cricketers are not obedient.

“Look at Virat Kohli, he is such a fantastic role model. India is a fortunate country, every generation produces players who all of us cherish, there was (Sunil) Gavaskar, then came (Sachin) Tendulkar, when Tendulkar finished people thought who’s next, now it’s Virat Kohli.

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Balance that Pandya creates is crucial for team: Shikhar Dhawan

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Shikhar Dhawan

Melbourne | Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan on Thursday said suspended fast-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya is “crucial” for the team’s balance but rejected suggestions that the side was struggling for a fifth bowler in the ongoing ODI series against Australia.

India takes on Australia in the series-deciding third and final one-dayer here on Friday. There are bound to be changes to the team composition in the light of Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Siraj failing to impress in the first two matches.

Dhawan came out in support of the two young pacers, but added that the presence of an all-rounder in the side is imperative for balance. India is missing Pandya owing to the provisional suspension imposed on him for sexist comments on a TV show, condemned as “inappropriate” by skipper Virat Kohli.

“The balance that Hardik (Pandya) creates when he’s in the team is very crucial for our team,” Dhawan acknowledged in the pre-match press conference here Thursday.

“Even when Kedar (Jadhav) plays, the overs of off-spin he bowls are very beneficial for us…I would say he is our golden arm, and he always takes wickets when he comes on. So often, he’s broken a big partnership. An all-rounder in Tests and limited-overs’ cricket is equally important,” he added.

Talking about Ahmed and Siraj, Dhawan said the youngsters will mature and get better with time.

“It’s not a worry (about the bowling). They just came in. They are young blokes. We will back them. That’s how they’re going to learn when they play against a good side,” he said.

“If they go for runs, that’s where they have to lift themselves up and think more about their game and strategies. That’s how they’ll become more mature players. It’s good that they are getting chances over here,” he added.

Dhawan said the team is looking to make history by winning the first ever bilateral ODI series on Australian soil, following up on the 2-1 Test series’ win here. He felt the batting line-up, including veteran Mahendra Singh Dhoni, finding form only bodes well for their preparations ahead of the 2019 ODI World Cup.

“Winning the series will mean a lot to us. Winning both Tests and if we win tomorrow, it is going to be a big achievement for us. We are going to value it and cherish it,” he said.

“It was good to see a good team performance in the last game, especially how Dhoni performed well in both the games. We are very happy that Dhoni is getting his touchback. Because a player of his stature, gives so much of confidence to the batsmen at the other end,” he added.

He also lauded the role played by Dinesh Karthik during the successful chase in the second ODI in Adelaide.

“The good thing is we have got all fit players and very mature players, very experienced. That makes us a very strong batting unit. And of course, we have been performing very well and consistently over the past few years,” he said.

The left-hander is one of the three batsmen, along with Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu, to have not played active cricket while the Australia-India Test series was on.

Dhawan said he felt in a good rhythm on account of the T20I series and chose to take the break to work on fitness and his skills.

“I had 5-6 weeks off and I was training hard. It was good because, looking forward to the World Cup, it was a good break for me. Now I’m happy to be back in the side, playing matches and raring to go.

“I think my rhythm is there, the way I was hitting the ball. It is very important to take a break and feel fresh, which we Indian cricketers don’t get much of, so we’re not used to it,” he said.

India has a set and firing opening combination along with a perennially in-form Virat Kohli at number three. In comparison, Australian skipper Aaron Finch is struggling for runs, and his partnership with Alex Carey at the top hasn’t really clicked.

Dhawan said he bats in auto mode with Rohit Sharma since they understand each other so well.

“Batting with Rohit, it’s normal, comfortable and we both know what to do and what not to. Not much discussion is needed. We play in automatic mode and keep having fun with each other. There is a sense of calmness and peace,” he said.

The opener said the Indian team has done its homework on Finch to be able to get him out for cheap all summer.

“…we are hitting the right areas against him. We are not giving him singles or boundary options too easily. Once you create that pressure on a batsman, especially in limited-overs, he’s going to do something extra and take more risk to rotate the strike or score runs…,” he said.

Talking about Friday’s match, Dhawan said the Australian team is missing the likes of Steve Smith and David Warner, while the experience of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami is giving the Indian team an advantage at the start of their innings.

“Australia have a good all-round side, they have a well balanced side. Of course, the presence of Smith and Warner is missing in this side. They are legends of their country and big players in the cricket world,” he said.

“At the same time, Bhuvi (Kumar) is very experienced as well as Shami. That’s why in the first 10 overs, we have been dominating the game. We would like to do it the same way. So we will be on our guard,” he signed off.

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Bowling attack makes India WC favourites along side England, says Gillespie

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India

Adelaide | Former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie feels the current Indian bowling attack led by Jasprit Bumrah makes the team one of the favourites for the upcoming ICC World Cup, along side hosts England.

“I think the Indian attack is well balanced. Bumrah has been rested for obvious reason but their attack is still quite good,” Gillespie told PTI in an interview.

“Everyone offers different things, and you add Bumrah to it, so they are well placed to mount a challenge for the World Cup. I think England are the obvious favourites, but India won’t be far behind,” he insisted.

Gillespie singled out Bumrah for special praise and said the young right-arm pacer’s unorthodox action makes him a different bowler from others.

“I enjoy watching Bumrah bowl. He just ambles in but when he gets to the crease, he almost has a slingshot action. He bowls at good pace, hurries the batsmen up, and he can also change his pace a lot. He is a very fine bowler,” the 43-year-old former pacer said.

“His action does stand out. It is a braced front leg, delayed bowling arm action. It gets you to the crease quickly, and delivers that sling shot. It is what generates his pace. But you need to be strong to be able to do that. Bumrah is robust and fit to bowl long spells in Test cricket. He keeps his pace up throughout a Test and this is what makes him an exciting bowler,” Gillespie said.

India and Australia are tied at 1-1 in the ongoing three-match ODI series with the decider scheduled to be played at Melbourne on Friday.

The Australian team, which is currently going through a rebuilding phase, are eyeing its first ODI series win since January 2017 and Gillespie said it is the best for opportunity for youngsters to stake a claim in the World Cup-bound team.

“Obviously they are missing a couple key personnel from both batting and bowling perspectives. But the team will look very different in the World Cup. So it is a wonderful opportunity for these players and selectors to look at different options in pressure situations,” said the Adelaide Strikers’ coach.

“It is a great opportunity for young players to show what they can do and enjoy the moment of representing their country. It gives selectors more information when they get together to pick the World Cup squad,” Gillespie added.

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