KOCHI: Star-power is missing after heavyweights from both the teams were either rested or ruled out but weather-permitting, a cracker of a contest can still be expected when India and Australia lock horns in the first ODI of a three-match series here tomorrow.
Buoyed by the thrilling 2-0 Test series win over the Aussies, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India would look to carry on the good form when they face a depleted Australia, to be led by Michael Clarke after Ricky Ponting was rested.
The Indians would be without senior stars such as Sachin Tendulkar, who has been in excellent form of late, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.
While Tendulkar has been rested, Sehwag and Gambhir are nursing knee injuries, giving youngsters such as Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Saurabh Tiwary to make a mark for themselves.
But despite being a depleted side due to the absence of Ponting, Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, Clarke’s men are no pushovers and have the ability to absorb pressure.
Clarke himself is hungry for runs after aggregating just 35 runs in Mohali and Bangalore and would be expected to play the sheet anchor role for the Aussies as they strive to hold to their top ranking in the ICC one-day format.
Going by current form, India can be fancied as the better team on paper but it remains to be seen whether the new ball bowlers – Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and R Vinay Kumar – would be able to make an impact on the batting-friendly strip here in the absence of senior pacer Zaheer Khan.
But all these assessments would come to a naught if the weather gods refuse to oblige. It has been raining persistently here and the organisers are keeping their fingers crossed for clear skies tomorrow.
The teams have been denied their net practice sessions and have decided to do some limbering exercises at the hotel itself.
In case the weather holds up, enthralling cricket appears to be in store in the day game at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium where Suresh Raina and Murali Vijay, who have done appreciably well in the just-concluded Test series, looking to make a mark.
The off-colour Yuvraj Singh, who was dropped from the Test team, would be aiming to make his case for a return after performing well in the Irani Trophy domestic cricket.
Kochi has been a happy hunting ground for India as they have won four of the six matches played here at the Nehru stadium.
Exuding confidence of performing well against the Australians in the shorter version of the game too, Dhoni said, "the rivals are two top teams in world cricket. We are hoping that it will be interesting. Both the teams are not fielding their best elevens. Australia has rested about six to seven players."
"The youngsters are our bench strength and they will get a chance to prove themselves. They also get to know how international cricket is tough and learn the areas that they need to improve. I think it will be a good series," he stated.
The Australians would once again find it tough against the Indian spinners.
Even the senior players such as Michael Hussey were clueless as to which way the ball was going to turn when Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha bowled in Mohali and Bangalore.
As the aura which had enveloped the Australian cricket team for so many years wears off, Clarke’s men will have to come good in the one-day matches to prove that the team is still competitive.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt & wk), Murali Vijay, Shikhwar Dhawan, Saurabh Tiwary, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Aashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar and Vinay Kumar.
Australia: Michael Clarke (Capt), Cameron White, Michael Hussey, Tim Paine, Doug Bollinger, Callum Ferguson, John Hastings, Nathan Hauritz, James Hopes, Clint McKay, Shaun Marsh, Steven Smith, Michael Starc and David Warner.
Umpres: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Amiesh Saheba and Match Referee: Chris Broad and third umpire.
Hours of Play: 9 a.m. to 12.30 pm and 1.15 pm onwards. (PTI)