Shami-Bhuvneshwar Jostles And Australia's Three Races Of A Horse > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - The Shami-Bhuvneshwar jostle and Australia's three-horse race

Will Bhuvneshwar still remain India's second seamer behind Jasprit Bumrah?

The countdown is on. The time for wholesale changes may have been long gone but the winners of the last two World Cups still have pertinent questions to answer as they head into the final stretch of their World Cup preparation. India more or less know the balance of their side, and need a tried-and-tested Plan B to take to England. Australia's ODI squad is bereft of some big names - through injuries and suspensions - but given the uncertainty of comebacks, they have a larger pool of players to experiment with, and more slots to fill.

Here are the overarching narratives that could shape the series ahead.


The Shami-Bhuvneshwar jostle

If India are to stick with their formulaic bowling combination - Two seamers + two spinners + an all-rounder + Kedar Jadhav - then they have a late choice to make to choose Jasprit Bumrah's fast-bowling partner. Until last year's tour of England, when Bhuvneshwar Kumar injured himself, he was an indispensable member of the ODI team. At this time, Mohammed Shami had played all of three ODIs since the 2015 World Cup where he took 17 wickets. Then recovery, rehabilitation and lack of match fitness took Bhuvneshwar off the boil, at a time when Shami, the ODI bowler, found a second wind.

Since October 2018, little separates the two statistically. Bhuvneshwar has 18 wickets to Shami's 17 but has played two more matches (11 to 9). Bhuvneshwar averages 23.38 to Shami's 25.23 and is also a tad bit more economical (5.18 to 5.45). But as Shami showed, through his Man of the Series-winning performance in New Zealand, he is marginally better suited to break a partnership in the middle-overs - a trait India crave - and offers a short-ball threat with his extra pace.

However, if ever the white Kookaburra has a change of heart and decides to swing, Bhuvneshwar is better placed to exploit it. He also has the experience of delivering in the death overs for a longer period.

Shami though will get two additional cracks in the last leg of this battle, with Bhuvneshwar rested for the first two ODIs. Those two games could very well swing this battle in his favour.

Rishabh Pant's opportunity to sneak in late

As India prepare for their last five ODIs before the 2019 World Cup, Dinesh Karthik can be forgiven for feeling like a boxer who has won nine rounds of a bout and still remains susceptible to getting knocked out in the tenth. There's not been a lot of looking back since he scored 617 in the Vijay Hazare trophy in 2017, travelling to England for the Champions Trophy 2017 and eventually making a return after a three-year hiatus in West Indies after the showpiece event. Since then, he has 425 runs in 20 outings in the format at an average of 47.22, and, at 33, has shown signs of being an assured batting option capable of essaying a role across the crucial 5-6-7 axis. That, and the advantage of fitting in as a second wicketkeeper, made him a prime candidate for the World Cup 15.

But waiting in the wings is another such player India view as the future. Surprisingly, Pant has managed to turn heads in Tests before he can get a firm foothold in the shorter formats, and has been trusted in just three ODIs since his debut in the format in October 2018. But five ODIs against Australia will give him the chance to make quick amends to that. He, too, comes in as a back-up wicketkeeper, and despite not having the ODI experience of Karthik, there's belief he can play the role of a finisher, based on his exploits [and staggering strike rates] across all levels he has played at.

The Pandya contingency

In an ideal situation, India will go into the World Cup with MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya batting at 5, 6 and 7 respectively. The last two names in the trio will, on their best day, be the fifth and sixth bowlers to complement a quartet of Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. And on their worst, Virat Kohli will hope to squeeze out a minimum of 10 overs from them.

But recent history has shown, India cannot afford to trust their world to be too ideal. Late last year, Pandya's back injury in the game against Pakistan in the Asia Cup has rekindled Ravindra Jadeja's limited-overs career and has managed to retain him in the periphery as Pandya nurses one again. The Australia ODIs will be India's chance to figure out contingency plans, which will also give them an idea of who their four reserves in the final 15 will be.

Pandya's absence brings a peculiar situation. Vijay Shankar is a like-for-like replacement in theory, but the Tamil Nadu all-rounder's bowling abilities leave a lot to be desired. Jadeja offers batting cover [to an extent], but playing him as possibly the third spin option in a side that will just about have six bowling options may not be the best way forward. It is in this situation where India will have to mix and match further.

If push comes to shove, India might have to break up their wrist spin duo, relegating Yuzvendra Chahal to the bench in order to attain a better balance. Chahal and Kuldeep have 77 and 71 wickets in 40 and 39 ODIs respectively, but if you'd plot a graph of their wicket-taking abilities, Chahal's will show a consistent decline since the start of 2018 (44 wickets in 23 ODIs as opposed to Kuldeep's tally of 55 in 25).

If runs containment is going to be the primary job of the second spinner, which Chahal has been reduced to in recent games, India could consider trialling Jadeja instead - against Australia - to add a bit of batting cushion.


Big Show-time for Maxwell

In their last 50-over assignment, also against India, Australia displaced Glenn Maxwell to No. 7 in the batting order with head coach Justin Langer even terming the demotion, "the perfect position for Maxwell." On evidence of a resurgent Maxwell's performances in the two T20Is, perhaps a reconsideration could be in order although Langer has insisted "He'll do what's best for the team."

Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru saw Maxwell at his sumptuous best. For India, so welcoming as hosts at the start of a series, it was all distinctly troubling. It was not so much how zestful Maxwell was - he attacks to defend in any case - but just how he could temper and play the situation as per merit showed a side to his batting not seen often.

Surely, a player of Maxwell's ability, capable of scoring 113 runs from a 55 deliveries shouldn't be left playing five balls in an innings - as he did in the Sydney ODI against India last month. Australia ended with totals of 288 and 298 batting first in that series employing a safety-first approach by the middle-order. An in-form Maxwell, facing more deliveries, could just as easily take those totals past 320-330, in line with constantly shifting ODI limit posts. In 2015, Maxwell was backed to deliver (and did) despite a shoddy run in the build up. A similar vote of confidence here with his batting position, could prove to be an identical catalyst.

A three-horse race for the fourth seamers' slot?

When all are fully fit and available, Australia envision fielding a fast bowling combo of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at the World Cup. That leaves Finch and Langer having to identify the fourth and fifth fast bowling options and create a mental pecking order of sorts over the course of this series.

There are no good times to pick up an injury but Kane Richardson will certainly rue the timing of his side strain that's ruled him out of the ODIs. Andrew Tye, with his death-bowling capabilities, offers an option, although his seven ODI appearances have not been as rewarding as his various T20 stints. The race now features 22-year-old Jhye Richardson, who dismmissed Virat Kohli in each game of the three-match home series last month before going on to make his Test debut against Sri Lanka later in the month. While Richardson, in the words of bowling coach David Saker, "brings control and ability to move the ball from dangerous areas", Jason Behrendorff offers variety of the left-arm-kind, capable of replacing Starc should such a situation arise.

Then there's Nathan Coulter-Nile, who was very impressive on the 2017 tour of India. Coulter-Nile also brings lower-order biffing skills to the table and a storied history of stress-related injuries which drag him back two steps every time he takes one forward.

The Warner allowance

Australia will struggle to resist the temptation of drafting David Warner right back at the World Cup, which will force a rejig of sorts at the top of their batting order in this series. The most obvious choice for Australia will be to re-unite Warner with Aaron Finch, who also opened during the 2015 World Cup, even if it comes at a time when Finch is going through a batting slump. [104 runs in five innings at home since a 100 in June 2018]

The bigger decision will be regarding the third-choice opener, with Alex Carey and D'Arcy Short both in contention. The two have 13 ODIs and six different batting positions between them, but have each had the chance to open the innings. Using Short as a back-up opener is a lot easier, considering Carey will definitely make the side as the wicketkeeper. Should Australia choose to do that, they will perhaps have three options to pick from - a) abandon the idea of using Carey at the top and let him play in the middle-order b) Pit him against Usman Khawaja in a fight for the spot at No.3 c) have him open alongside Warner, let Finch play one drop and leave D'Arcy Short out of the squad.

Which route Australia see as most viable will shape the way they set up during the India ODIs.

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