Shaun Marsh can’t buy a run in Tests these days, but has four centuries in his last eight ODI innings. MS Dhoni couldn’t score a single ODI half-century in 2018, but has begun 2019 with back-to-back ones, also finishing the second ODI with a six in the final over. Twitterverse thinks this is a roll back to 2009, their version of the #10yearschallenge in action: scoring runs then, scoring runs now.
The reality is Marsh needs these runs to stave off competition after losing his Test spot, while Dhoni continues to receive firm backing from his captain, even as the clamour for Rishabh Pant’s inclusion in the shorter formats reaches fever pitch. The concerns for both teams, though, are elsewhere.
Australia’s is their inability to push past the 300-run barrier twice in a row. In Adelaide, a clutch of middle-order wickets on the face of superb death bowling from Bhuvneshwar Kumar denied them a final kick. In Sydney, they had a middle-overs lift courtesy Peter Handscomb, but couldn’t capitalise on it. Can Glenn Maxwell be that man?
Justin Langer believes he is best suited at No. 7 presently. This puts the onus equally on Marcus Stoinis to do the heavy lifting. This could be tricky at times, if the top order takes its time to consolidate. In the first two games, Australia made 138 for 3 and 141 for 4 at the 30-over mark. This leaves the lower order little breathing space if they are to push towards 330, quite the norm in ODIs these days – most-certainly in England at the World Cup.
Another headache that is growing with every passing game is Aaron Finch’s form and his shortcomings against the incoming delivery. His return to form will give the middle order some breathing space.
It’s not all hunky-dory for India. They need to find an ideal sixth bowler, and have Vijay Shankar, the seam-bowling allrounder, and Kedar Jadhav’s round-armish offspin to choose from. Desperation forced Virat Kohli to turn to Ambati Rayudu, who was reported for an illegal action in Sydney. In Adelaide, he had to bowl out the expensive Mohammed Siraj for a lack of options.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
One of Yuzvendra Chahal‘s hallmark was his wicket-taking ability, but they’ve dried up in recent times. He has featured just once in India’s last 10 limited-overs matches, when Kuldeep Yadav was rested. In his last 11 ODIs since June 2018, Chahal has managed just 13 wickets at an average of 37.84. MCG’s big boundaries could tempt the team management into bringing him back. That said, from once being touted one half of India’s new wristspinners’ combine, he finds himself on the crossroads.
Adam Zampa hasn’t been a limited-overs regular, but he’s spent time in various franchise-based T20 competitions while away. He was Essex’s top T20 wicket-taker in the 2018 season, claiming 12 scalps at an average of 20.75. At the BBL this season, he’s been in steady wicket-taking form, conceding a highest of 32 in his four-overs quota across five games, while going wicketless in only one outing. Friday presents him a big chance to stake a claim as the first-choice tweaker.
Jason Behrendorff has pulled up with a sore back and will rest, while Nathan Lyon has been left out after going wicketless in the first two ODIs. Billy Stanlake and legspinner Adam Zampa will slot into the XI. Kane Richardson will join the squad as fast bowling cover.
Australia (probable) 1 Aaron Finch (capt), 2 Alex Carey (wk), 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Shaun Marsh, 5 Peter Handscomb, 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Glenn Maxwell, 8 Peter Siddle, 9 Jhye Richardson, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Billy Stanlake
Kedar Jadhav or Vijay Shankar could come into the fray at No. 6, with MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik moving up a spot. If India do bring in an allrounder to shore up their sixth-bowler quota, Ambati Rayudu is likely to miss out.
India (probable) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 MS Dhoni (wk) 5 Dinesh Karthik, 6 Kedar Jadhav/Vijay Shankar, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Khaleel Ahmed, 11 Mohammed Shami
Pitch and conditions
It’s a drop-in surface, as is the norm. That means there will be true bounce and some zip for the fast bowlers. Spinners will come into the picture owing to large boundaries. Weather-wise, it promises to be nowhere near as hot as Adelaide, where it touched 41 degrees. A high of 27 and a low of 16 degrees should make it that much more comfortable to run the extra twos and threes.
Stats and trivia
- Aaron Finch has had a woeful home season across formats. In 15 innings, he’s managed just one half-century, and made 228 runs at an average of 15.20. Eight of these have been single-digit scores, with two ducks.
- India have lost each of their last three ODIs at the MCG against Australia. Overall, India have lost nine of their 14 ODIs at this venue against the hosts. Their last win was in the CB series in 2008, when they won by five wickets, chasing 160.
- Kuldeep Yadav’s strike rate drops to a wicket every 65 balls in final games of bilateral ODI series, a far cry from his career strike rate of roughly 26 balls per wicket. This is an indication that batsmen tend to work him out as a series nears completion.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won a series either home or away. Coming up against a really powerful line-up, there’s been some real positives, particularly with the bat in these two games. There’s been a lot of improvement over the last eight to 10 months to be really proud of in these two games.”
Aaron Finch, Australia’s captain
“It’s not a worry. They’re young blokes. They just came in and, of course, we back them. That’s how they are going to learn. When they play against a good side, if they go for runs, that’s when they lift up themselves because they think more about the game and strategies and that’s how they will be become more mature players.”
Shikhar Dhawan on rookie fast bowlers Mohammed Siraj and Khaleel Ahmed
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.