Australia, India face testing times as ODI series starts today

Australia's Mitchell Starc (L) is run out by India's Bhuvneshwar Kumar during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between India and Australia at The Oval in London on June 9, 2019. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE

SYDNEY: The plans for India’s tour of Australia have been ripped up and redrawn dozens of times over the last eight months but the action finally gets underway with the first One-day International at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday.

It was at the same venerable ground on March 13 that Australia last hosted international men’s cricket, with the hosts beating New Zealand by 71 runs to snap a five-match losing streak in ODIs.

The 48,000 seats were empty that day as the Covid-19 pandemic began to bite but Australia’s relative success at containing the virus means up to half of them will be occupied on Friday.

India’s squad will be raring to go after coming out of two weeks of quarantine, while Australia’s players will be reunited after preparing in two separate groups to satisfy bio-security protocols.

Virat Kohli’s tourists are the second ranked ODI side in the world and will be looking to get into their groove in the three 50-over and three Twenty20 matches that precede the four-match Test series around the new year.

“It’s important to start well in the white-ball series,” India vice-captain K.L. Rahul said. “We are playing for the country after a while. We enjoy coming here and playing hard cricket.”

Skipper Kohli will return home after the first Test to attend the birth of his first child.

India have not played a one-dayer since they lost a series 3-0 in New Zealand in February but the players have had plenty of opportunities to sharpen their skills in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Wicket-keeper/batsman Rishabh Pant was left out of the ODI squad and opener Rohit Sharma will miss the two short format series at least with a hamstring issue.

Aaron Finch led Australia to a 2-1 series triumph in England in September and his side is likely to look pretty similar with the all-important addition of former skipper Steve Smith, who missed the 50-over matches because of concussion.

Smith and opener David Warner were also absent in the aftermath of the Newlands ball-tampering scandal when India won ODI and Test series on their last visit but both batsmen will be in the Australia team.

All-rounder Mitchell Marsh’s absence with an ankle injury might offer an opportunity to uncapped youngsters Cameron Green and Will Pucovski, who have been in prolific form with the bat in the Sheffield Shield.

Finch said he thought the unusual preparations would not have an impact on the Australian players, who will stand in a circle barefoot to recognise the country’s indigenous people before the match.

“I think everyone’s on the same page in terms of how we want to play one-day cricket and build up some really good momentum,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Everyone’s just really looking forward to getting out and playing for Australia.”