LONDON: The stage is the Oval, a fabled, historic venue which staged the first-ever Test match on English soil way back in 1880. The event is the World Cup and the protagonists India and Australia.
This is the real deal, the first major test of India’s World Cup credentials. Captain Virat Kohli found many positives in the team’s win over South Africa in their tournament opener last Wednesday. That win is history now and the team has to brace for a sterner test.
It was in India, in March this year, that the Australian team began riding a little renaissance. They have gone from strength to strength and now resemble the Australia that the world fears.
This Australian team oozes quality. Almost every member of the XI they put out on the park commands a place by dint of his talent, performance and form. A batting lineup consisting of David Warner, Steve Smith, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja and Glenn Maxwell, with some capable lower-order bats to boot, will come hard at any attack.
What has lifted the efficacy of the unit is the form of Smith, who, since coming back from a one-year ban, has quickly become the bulwark, letting others play around him.
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The key for India will be to take early wickets which will give the spinners a good chance of controlling the middle overs. Remember, the Aussies toyed with Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav when they played in India last. If the likes of Warner and Finch are allowed to stay beyond the Powerplay, it could be leather-hunt day for India.
The pitch, as Australia captain Aaron Finch said, should be good for batting. The average first-innings score over the last 10 ODIs at this ground has been 290 while it’s 242 batting second. The playing surface looks bare, with very little grass on it. The groundstaff was trimming the grass further on Saturday.
The bigger factor is the weather. The Indian team has been dogged by overcast skies and intermittent rains over the last week or so. The forecast for match day is of a persistent cloud cover and a passing shower in the afternoon. Conditions will play a big role in how the game pans out.
The Aussies have a potent fast bowling attack with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins leading the way. Coming back from a long injury layoff, Starc showed he means business with a fiver against West Indies on Thursday. The express pacer will have to be neutralised or else he can demolish a batting lineup. Cummins, an outstanding cricketer, has had major success against India in both Tests and ODIs.
The Indian team had an optional training session on Saturday. Batsman KL Rahul had a long session in the nets while MS Dhoni too had a decent stint. India’s last ODI at the Oval resulted in a humiliating 180-run loss to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.
The Men in Blue can make amends on Sunday.
Source : timesofindia