Focus on Yuvraj as India-Australia start season with lone T20
Comeback man Yuvraj Singh will be the cynosure of all eyes as a full-strength India lock horns with a relatively inexperienced Australian side in the one-off Twenty20 game here tomorrow, aiming to gain early momentum ahead of the upcoming seven-match ODI series
The match, which is expected to set the tone for a gruelling season ahead, promises to be an exciting face-off at the SCA Stadium, with Australia keen to test their young players before the return Ashes showdown with England. The elements, though, could play spoilsport. The state has been experiencing heavy downpour and the Met department has forecast more rains till tomorrow.
The hosts, with most of their players having got into the groove for the long international season ahead by taking part in the Champions T20 League or by playing for India A, start as favourites against the visitors led by Tasmanian George Bailey.
The two teams have faced off in seven previous T20 games, with Australia holding a slightly better record at 4-3. India last played a T20 match against Pakistan at Ahmedabad in December.
After a two-month break from international cricket, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will look to re-start his stint at the helm with a win. He had warmed up nicely with a good outing for Chennai Super Kings in the CLT20.
However, the focus will be primarily on Yuvraj, who would be eager to prove a point after being recalled to the squad following a string of good scores for India A against the Windies A and a solid display for India Blue in the Challenger Series. The 31-year-old had also scored a quick-fire 52 off 35 balls against the West Indies A in a T20 game in Bangalore. Apart from his explosive batting, Yuvraj's left-arm spin will also be handy in the shortest form of the game.
Yuvraj Singh. Pic/ Atul Kamble
Besides, two Saurashtra players -- all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat -- would also be keen to show their prowess in front of home crowd. Left-handed Jadeja, who will be playing his first international T20 match at home, would be eager to be among the runs after a disappointing performance in the CLT20. The No. 1 bowler in ODIs, who has the knack of picking up wickets at the right time, would look to recapture his form. The Indian batting looks very formidable.
Openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been in good form with fluent performances in the Champions League, while left-handed Suresh Raina has also been in good touch, amassing 221 runs for CSK in the tournament.
Then there is the strong middle-order consisting of Virat Kohli, Yuvraj and Dhoni. The Indian pace attack appears balanced with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma bowling well in tandem, and the duo would look to make early inroads. Bhuvneshwar bowled India Blue to Challenger Series triumph with a four-wicket haul in the final.
Bengal speedster Mohammed Shami and seasoned Karnataka seamer R Vinay Kumar are the other bowlers in the pace attack, apart from Unadkat, who would be eyeing a T20I debut.
Leg spinner Amit Mishra, Jadeja and off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, along with part-timers Raina, Rohit and Yuvraj, give the side plenty of slow bowling options. Australia, on the other hand, would be equally eager to start their campaign on a winning note. The visitors, who were whitewashed 0-4 by the hosts in the Test series earlier this year, have been going through some testing times and is a team in transition, struggling to maintain consistency.
"The inexperience is one of our learning curves at the moment. We have to get past that. It is probably our weakness, however, it is also our strength. Youthful exuberance often can be very good when it comes to the final crunches," coach Steve Rixon said ahead of the series.
Known for their fighting qualities, the underdogs cannot be taken lightly as most of the players have played in IPL and have a fair understanding of the Indian conditions. The Australian batting, however, looks a little frail.
Hard-hitting Aaron Finch, who holds the T20 world-record for hitting the fastest century, and the left-handed Phillip Hughes, who is yet to play in a T20 International, would have to provide a solid start. Australia have also drafted in 21-year-old New South Wales opener Nic Maddinson.
Bailey has been leading the side in T20 since his debut against India in 2012 but the 31-year-old Tasmanian, who is ranked ninth in the ODIs, has just one half-century to his credit in 18 T20 matches.
Four of their squad members -- Shane Watson, James Faulkner, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Glenn Maxwell -- played in the CLT20 final and a lot would be expected from them.
Senior pro Watson is expected to play an important role with his skills with both bat and ball, while wicketkeeper-batsman Brad Haddin is one of the more experienced players in the side. Young left-arm pacer James Faulkner, who has been plying his trade for IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals, has been consistent.
All-rounder Maxwell, the million-dollar buy for Mumbai Indians in IPL 6, helped the franchise win the CLT20 final with a 14-ball 37. The bowling attack looks good with Mitchell Johnson, Coulter-Nile, Moises Henriques, Clint McKay shouldering the responsibility. Both Coulter-Nile and Henriques can make useful contributions with the bat lower down the order. They have one regular spinner in left-armer Xavier Doherty.
The visitors have played only one T20 match in India, in 2007 in Mumbai, which the hosts won by seven wickets.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ranganath Vinay Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jaydev Unadkat, Amit Mishra, Ambati Rayudu.
Australia: George Bailey (Captain), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Xavier Doherty, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Johnson, Nic Maddinson, Glenn Maxwell, Clint McKay, Adam Voges, Shane Watson.
Match starts at 7.30 pm (IST).