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Cricket news - Error-strewn India thrown a first-blink challenge

The five-match series is level at 2-2

The season is changing in India's capital; the winter is on its last legs. It is a lazy metaphor, but one that sits well on this Australian side. Irrespective of how the first-blink game at Feroz Shah Kotla plays out tomorrow, Aaron Finch & Co. can strut into their next game with a lot of confidence. It is one thing to run this Indian team close, but to draw level from 0-2 down must already feel very uplifting. Since the Mohali jail-break, several members of the team have now begun to use elegant variations of the same theme: 'One more game'.

India didn't foresee this situation, but it is one they'll willingly embrace, given their next 50-over match will be a World Cup warm-up in London on May 25. Notwithstanding their patchy performances so far, playing a pressure match, with a proud home series record on the line, can only be a good thing. There'll be no allowances for failure and performances of those auditioning for World Cup spots (read Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul) could carry greater weight given the game's significance and the recency bias that can seep into selection calls.

By Virat Kohli's own admission, his team has been served two wake-up calls. India have gnawing matters to address, starting with the team management's reading of pitch and ground conditions. The team has been sloppy on the field, question marks remain over the identity of the No.4 (yes, still!) and the strongest bowling composition is still to be determined. Thankfully, Shikhar Dhawan's return to form in Mohali pruned that list by one.

Fifteen months ago, Australia came to India for an ODI series with David Warner and Steve Smith in tow and were soundly thrashed 4-1. Six months later, in Cape Town, their cricket hit a nadir. Yet, here they are, on the brink of a series win (they last won one in January 2017). The openers are getting hundreds, the middle-order hasn't frozen at the sight of spin and they now have a shiny new finisher to boot. This is the Australia as you know best. This is the Australia that has ended India's six-year run without two consecutive defeats in home ODIs.

But can lightning strike thrice?

When: India vs Australia, 5th ODI, March 13, 2019, 13:30 IST

Where: Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi

What to expect: A pleasant afternoon with a high of 25 degrees Celsius. What happens post twilight, however, will be of much intrigue. Dew is expected to play a part but not to the extent it did up north in Mohali. The Kotla surface has slowed down over the years, making target defence an attractive proposition. In fact, the last two international white-ball fixtures here have been won by teams batting first. But will Kohli, once bitten, dare to take on the dew again?

Team News:

India: Kohli stated in his pre-series presser that performances in the IPL will not influence selection for the World Cup team. At face value, that statement leaves India with this one ODI to create a mental pecking order. Rahul or Rayudu? Pant or Karthik?

India didn't get a clear look at Rahul in Mohali given the openers had put on 193 and those following had to veer away from templates. Rahul also batted at 3, a move that could have wider ramifications to the team's batting balance. He is likely to get another game to stake his claim considering the man he replaced, Ambati Rayudu, hasn't exactly painted himself in glory. Similarly, Dinesh Karthik, could find his stocks rising without playing if Pant endures another scratchy game. The latter will have to up his game behind the stumps and reinforce his standing as a dynamic middle-order batsman.

Bowling coach Bharat Arun confirmed that Mohammed Shami was fully fit. However, the bowling attack should get a dew allowance for its failings in Mohali and stay unchanged.

Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Vijay Shankar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah

Australia: Marcus Stoinis, who fractured his thumb, will not play. Alex Carey will hold on to his keeping gloves for the time being. Pat Cummins seemed fatigued and bowled an uncharacteristically loose first spell at Mohali despite ending with a five-fer. The workload of his strenuous summer was finally showing. Finch had promised rest for his spearhead in Hyderabad, but the prospect of a series win might just force him to defer that call.

Probable XI: Aaron Finch (c), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Ashton Turner, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Jhye Richardson, Adam Zampa, Jason Behrendorff/Nathan Lyon

Did you know?

- If India lose the series, it will be their first ODI series defeat at home since losing 3-2 to South Africa in October 2015.

- There have been only four previous instances of a team winning a series after being 0-2 down: SA vs Pak in 2003, Ban vs Zim in 2005, Pak vs Ind in 2005 and SA vs Eng in 2016.

- Rohit Sharma needs 46 more runs to the milestone of 8000 runs. If he gets there in his next innings, he will be the joint third fastest to the landmark.

What they said:

"Vijay Shankar's batting has rubbed off on his bowling. He used to bowl around 120kph before but now can touch 130. He is a huge positive for us" - Bharat Arun

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