India vs Australia: Team Indias clinical win heats up race for World Cup slots
Suryakumar Yadav, who has not been able to replicate his T20 form in ODIs, too has scored a crucial half-century, taking India to the winning total. Photo: BCCI

India vs Australia: Team India's clinical win heats up race for World Cup slots

Going into this first of three matches, the final competitive games before the two mandatory World Cup warm-up fixtures, the Indian think-tank has plenty of options to pick from - a happy problem to have certainly

The result was important, of course, but Friday’s first One-Day International wasn’t merely about who won and who lost. It was about who stood up, who settled into their respective roles, who made a strong case for themselves and who still have work ahead of them. Towards that end, lots of clues were accrued, plenty of information gathered. As an exercise towards gleaning greater clarity with the World Cup just two weeks away, India’s five-wicket victory over Australia served its purpose, and more.

Going into this first of three matches, the final competitive games before the two mandatory World Cup warm-up fixtures, the Indian think-tank was seized of the need to figure out if Shreyas Iyer was, finally, match ready. If R Ashwin could summon the nous and versatility that made him such a vital component of the ODI side until June 2017. If Suryakumar Yadav could, at long last, translate his T20 heroics into the longer white-ball format. And if, in the absence of Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya, the batting still had enough muscle against a strong but not yet full-strength Australian bowling attack.
Ashwin's WC slot
This is how things turned out. In his first 50-over international since January 2022, Ashwin understandably took a little time finding his feet, but the more he bowled, the greater the shades of the champion of the past started to surface. It’s worth remembering that as of now, the 37-year-old’s fate is not in his own hands. No matter how well he bowls on Sunday in the second ODI in Indore, whether he is considered for the World Cup 15 will depend on how Axar Patel recovers from the quadricep tear sustained during the loss to Bangladesh at the Asia Cup on September 15.
India’s first World Cup tie isn’t until October 8, also against Australia, and unless the team management is convinced the left-arm spinner won’t recover fully, it won’t look beyond Axar. But if the Gujarat all-rounder’s recuperation doesn’t progress along the expected lines, the choice will narrow down to between Ashwin and Washington Sundar, who played in the final of the Asia Cup against Sri Lanka – he wasn’t required to bat or bowl, barely touched the ball during Sri Lanka’s 15.2-over batting stint.
Not much should be read into Ashwin’s presence in Friday’s XI ahead of Washington except the perceived need to give the more experienced Tamil Nadu off-spinner a hit-out in a 50-over match. In the last six years, Ashwin played just two ODIs, and as accomplished and seasoned as he might be, he too needs time to ease into the scheme of things. His 'nervousness' manifested itself in him bowling quicker and flatter early on, but by the end, he was bowling much slower, showcasing his immense craft, getting the ball to dip and turn. Head coach Rahul Dravid was emphatic in stating on the eve of the match that Ashwin was ‘not on trial’, for such is his pedigree. Iif and when picking a replacement for Axar becomes unavoidable, the choice will boil down to Ashwin’s bowling against the more appealing all-round package of Washington.
Tricky for Iyer
This game was as crucial for Iyer as it was for Ashwin, perhaps even more so. Having undergone surgery on his back in April, Iyer was welcomed back with open arms for the Asia Cup because of his felicity at the tricky No. 4 position. But after just two games, he contracted back spasms minutes before the Super Four game against Pakistan on September 10. Closely monitored and his workload gradually enhanced, Iyer only returned to action on Friday, but it was a return far from memorable. He shelled David Warner early in the game, a straightforward catch at mid-off, and misfielded more than once; his batting stint lasted a mere eight deliveries as he ran himself out looking for a single where not even a half existed. Iyer has perhaps got his bad game out of the way and will impose himself over the next couple of matches, but with KL Rahul and Ishan Kishan staking their claims, he can no longer be guaranteed of his place in the XI.
As if the two wicketkeepers who had an excellent Asia Cup with the bat weren’t competition enough, Iyer must also now contend with another challenger in the form of Suryakumar. Despite his rip-roaring T20 heroics, Suryakumar has been unable to reprise that touch in 50-over cricket, trying to be too cute too early and often courting disaster with his gung-ho approach. In a far cry from usual, he knuckled down to play an outstandingly controlled innings in Mohali, scoring almost entirely in the ‘V’, uncorking some of the most fabulous straight punch-drives and bringing up his first ODI 50 in 22 matches.
His fifth-wicket association with Rahul, leading the team in Rohit’s absence, dragged India out of a slightly dodgy position and reiterated why Dravid and Rohit have so much time for Suryakumar. In convincing himself that there is more than one way to bat in the ODI format – Suryakumar can bat in all of them, mind – he has done his chances no harm. He won’t be in the starting XI in Chennai, but at some stage, the brains’ trust might be forced to find a way to accommodate him because of the outrageous skills at his command.
Gill's purple patch continues
India had four half-centurions during their successful chase of Australia’s 276, Shubman Gill extending his purple patch and Ruturaj Gaikwad making the most of his brief call-up. This depth set up a simple, no-fuss win and helped reiterate that India are not the top-three-dependent force they were heading into the 2019 World Cup.
While the obvious focus was elsewhere, Mohammed Shami stepped up to provide a timely reminder of the threat he carries. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj are the preferred new-ball pair and Shardul Thakur slots in as the third seamer because he can also bat. Shami has forced the decision-making group into a quandary with his five-wicket haul, the first by an Indian in a home ODI since Zaheer Khan against Sri Lanka in 2007. Maybe India won’t be worse off fielding Bumrah, Siraj and Shami together because if this trio knocks oppositions over, the need for artificial batting depth might not even arise, right?

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