The Big Picture
India starts their World Cup preparations with a 3-match ODI series against Australia at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday. On paper, it seems like a mismatch with India looking a far more settled unit and Australia far from it.
India has been in imperious form since their Champions Trophy defeat against Pakistan in 2017, having won 74 percent of their games while Australia is on their worst losing streak since 1978 after having lost six consecutive bilateral ODI series since January 2017.
But, despite all their success, India will look to plug in some of their gaping holes in their set-up as they continue to build up for the 2019 World Cup.
Here's a look at the 3 things India will look to address in the ODI series:-
#1 MS Dhoni & the middle-order
It is safe to say that the year 2018 was a forgettable year for MS Dhoni in ODI cricket. It was the first year where he failed to score a 50 since his maiden outing in 2004. His average of 25.00 in 13 innings in 2018 was also his poorest ever.
With only 13 ODIs to go till the start of the 2019 World Cup, the 3-match series assumes prime importance for Dhoni. India will hope the champion shrugs off his indifferent form and spearhead a fledgling middle-order. It might not be a bad thing if India's top-3, who are among the finest going around, is not able to finish off the games, putting the onus on the likes of Rayudu, Dhoni, and Jadhav to take the side through in tough run-chases.
#2 Zeroing on the fast-bowling unit
Form and injury notwithstanding, it is likely that Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will start as the frontline seamers for India in the World Cup. But, Kohli and co. will hope that the likes of Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammad Shami make the most of their opportunities to stake their claim as the third seamer. It will be an important series for Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The fast bowler has been warming the bench since the Test series and will look to get back to peak form as the ODI season commences.
#3 Play two-wrist spinners or go in with the all-round ability of Ravindra Jadeja
The duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav has done wonders for the Indian team in the past twelve months. But, it has to be kept in mind that India played two wrist-spinners when Hardik Pandya was giving them the cushion of a third seamer. With Pandya ruled out of the series, India can only play the two wrist-spinners provided they have the confidence of batting Bhuvneshwar Kumar at No.8.
If Kohli doesn't yet have the confidence of batting Kumar at No.8, we might see Ravindra Jadeja come into the fold. Jadeja's inclusion will bolster India's fielding as well as their lower-order batting but can he close out the games with his off-spin bowling on flat tracks, will be something for Kohli and the team management to take a call on.