As the road to the ICC World Cup draws to a conclusion, India will take on Australia in the first of five ODIs in Hyderabad on March 2.
India will be relieved to return to the comforts of 50-over cricket. Virat Kohli's men are one of the best teams in the said format and they will be eager to exert their dominance on the Aussies in the final dress rehearsal ahead of the World Cup.
India has selected a solid 15-member squad for the series against Australia and barring the absence of Hardik Pandya, the squad looks more or less settled. The only other place that is perhaps up for grabs is that of the second wicketkeeper. Although Dinesh Karthik has done well in his limited opportunities, the ball is currently in Rishabh Pant's court as he is in the squad, while the former is not.
Pant will get his opportunities in this series and he will have to seize the day if he has to travel to England. The left-handed attacking batsman has been a success with the bat in Test cricket but so far in the limited-overs format, he has flattered to deceive.
India will also be eager to find their correct combination in the absence of Pandya. If Vijay Shankar plays at 7 instead of him, Kedar Jadhav becomes a necessity as baking on Shankar to bowl 10 overs will be a major risk. In that case, Pant will have to miss out and the management has to test him out before taking a call between him and Karthik. The other alternative is to play Ravindra Jadeja at 7 as he guarantees 10 overs with the ball. But in that case, India might have to drop either Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav, or risk going in with three spinners.
This situation becomes further complex when the fact that Jadeja was not originally a part of the squad is taken into perspective. This should ideally mean that someone who was originally in the World Cup scheme of things should be given selection preference. Thus, it will be interesting to see what solution the team management comes up with.
For Australia, skipper Aaron Finch will be expected to be back opening and whether Alex Carey dons the keeping gloves or Peter Handscomb continues to keep will decide his opening partner. Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell will be tasked with the job of finishing the innings and also bowling ten overs.
In the bowling department, it will be interesting to see whether Australia opts for two spinners given the nature of the wicket which will suit the slower bowlers.
India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (C), Ambati Rayudu, MS Dhoni (WK), Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah
Australia: Aaron Finch (C), D'Arcy Short, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey (WK), Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa, Jason Behrendoff
Pitch and condtions
The pitch at Hyderabad is expected to assist the slower bowlers initially. But once the sun sets and the lights come on, it will ease out in the cool weather of the evening. Dew will come in as the game progresses, so the captain winning the toss will want to chase.
The weather on Saturday will be cloudy in Hyderabad and temperature will hover in the early 30 degrees Celcius mark, cooling down as the evening progresses.