Will India leapfrog over South Africa and Australia to be no.1 in ODIs?

Spinner Nathan Lyon  dropped from the ODIs replaced by  Ashton Agar and Adam Zappa  

Kersi Meher-Homji wonders

In the past no series provoked as much interest as the Ashes, Tests between Australia and England. Recently the India – Australia Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy arouses equal if not more interest.

Australia is now in India to play five One-day Internationals (ODIs) and three Twenty20 internationals (T20Is).

Under Virat Kohli India performed magnificently in Sri Lanka winning all nine internationals; all three Tests, all five ODIs and one T20I. And seven out of these nine internationals were won by India by huge margins. So no wonder India is feeling on top of the world.

Australia, on the other hand, had a tough two-Test series in Bangladesh, losing the first Test by 20 runs and winning the next by seven wickets to draw the series one-all.

In view of the Ashes starting in Australia in November, many consider this ODI series in India of little importance. Some critics opine that the Aussies are in India mostly for monetary reasons. I disagree.

The ODI series in India will decide who will be ranked as number one ODI nation. Currently South Africa is ranked no. 1 with 119 points. Australia and India are joint no. 2 with 117 points each.

Whoever wins this series will leapfrog South Africa to the title of the top team in ODIs as long as the margin of victory is 4-1. A 3-2 win margin will leave the winner in second place and relegate the loser to third. With this possibility in sight and two extremely combative captains Steve Smith and Virat Kohli in charge, one can be sure that the teams will fight till the last drop of blood in their body.

The selection of both the teams has a few surprises. Australia’s off-spinner Nathan Lyon broke many records in Bangladesh recently and along with opening batsman David Warner was behind Australia squaring the series.

Like Indian spinners, Lyon opened the attack for Australia in the second Test in Chittagong. He took 22 wickets at 14.31 in the two-Test series; 3-79 and 6-82 in the Dhaka (Mirpur) Test and an amazing 7-94 and 6-60 in Chittagong, the Test Australia won.

He became only the second overseas bowler to capture 13 wickets in a Test in Asia. The first one was England’s legendary all-rounder Ian Botham. In the Golden Jubilee Test against India in Mumbai in February 1980, fast-medium Botham had taken 6-58 and 7-48 besides scoring 114 as England won by 10 wickets.

Before Lyon, no Australian bowler had taken 13 wickets in a Test in Asia. He also took three consecutive five-fors against Bangladesh. And his reward?

Being dropped from both the ODI and T20I squads for India where spin’s the thing!

Economy rates are more important than averages in ODIs and T20s, you might say. My quick answer: Lyon’s economy rate in those two Tests was 2.35. That is, he conceded a measly 2.35 runs per over.

His replacements for the spinning job are Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa, the A to Z of Aussie spinners. They have little experience of spin conditions in Asia.

Unless India prepares grassy wickets for the five ODIs starting tomorrow (Sunday the 17th  September), Lyon will be sorely missed by Australia.

It may be added that India has also dropped their world-class spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja from their squads. Jadeja is also a mighty hitter of the ball, ideal for ODIs and T20Is.

India’s squad for the ODIs in India:

Captain Virat Kohli, openers Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan* and Lokesh Rahul, wicket-keeper batsman MS Dhoni, middle order batsmen Ajinkya Rahane and Manish Pande, all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav, spinners Kuldeep Yadav (slow left-arm Chinaman), Axar Patel (slow left-arm orthodox) and Yuzvendra Chahal (leg-spinner) and speedsters Jasprtit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav.

*Dhawan will be out of the squad for the first three ODIs to look after his sick wife.

Indian selectors have erred in resting the experienced Ashwin and Jadeja.

Australia’s squad for the ODIs in India:

Captain Steve Smith, vice-captain and opening batsman David Warner, dashing opener Aaron Finch*, wicket-keeper   Matthew Wade, middle order bat Marcus Stoinis, sort of all-rounders Hilton Cartwright, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner and Travis Head, fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood,   Pat Cummins and Nathan Coulter-Nile and spinners Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa.

*Because of injury Finch is replaced by Peter Handscomb for the first three ODIs.

Fixtures for the five ODIs

  • 1st ODI at Chennai on September 17.
  • 2nd ODI at Kolkata on September 21.
  • 3rd ODI at Indore on September 24.
  • 4th ODI at Bengaluru on September 28.
  • 5th ODI at Nagpur October 1.

It may be remembered that Kohli’s form had slumped against Australia in the Test series earlier in the year. Will he spring back to his best in the next few weeks against his favourite opponents?

The duel between him and Steven Smith will ignite the series.

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