As is the practice, India’s likely openers for the first ODI against Australia — Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan — began the net session at the Gahunje Stadium on Saturday, facing the likes of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and a few local bowlers.
The right-left combination is turning out to be a dream pair, the way Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were. Rohit has made the most of the opportunities that have come his way, scoring 580 runs in the last 16 games, while Dhawan has amassed 680 runs with three centuries in the past 14 matches.
Rohit and Dhawan’s success has been the story of India’s campaign in ODIs in recent times, and given rise to expectations that they will open the innings in the 2015 World Cup in Australia. However, there are a handful of youngsters, most notably Unmukt Chand, who would be pressing their claims for the quadrennial event, and one cannot rule out the chances of Sehwag and Gambhir either. On current form, though, Rohit and Dhawan are the front-runners for the World Cup.
Rohit did not have an exceptional tour of Zimbabwe recently and would be keen to make amends in the seven-match series against Australia during the next fortnight.
It was a bold decision to convert the Mumbai batsman into an opener. Asked to pad up against an England pace attack that had Steve Finn, Tim Bresnan and Jade Dernbach in its ranks, Rohit showed adequate skills against the rising, seaming deliveries. In his visits to the crease at No. 4 and 5, Rohit had scored 700 and 800 odd runs.
Skipper Dhoni seemed happy at the way Rohit has shaped as an opener. “The approach depends on where you bat. It is different from batting at No. 1 and batting at 5 or 6 where you may not get the time to bat. When you are opening, you know if the game is happening, you will get to bat. That way you can be better prepared. Considering all these, you have to change your approach. I think Rohit has adjusted to it very well. I hope he continues to improve in each and every game,” said Dhoni.
A look at Rohit’s last 16 innings suggests that he has taken time to find his feet and rhythm. He made 83 off 93 balls against England, 65 (81b) versus South Africa, 52 (56b) against the West Indies and 33 (50b) versus Sri Lanka, all in the Champions Trophy. Thereafter, he scored 60 off 89, 46 off 78, both against the West Indies, and 48 not out (83b) and 58 (89b) against Sri Lanka in the tri-series in the West Indies. His unbeaten 60 against Zimbabwe took 90 deliveries.
The Indian batting order has also been given a boost by Yuvraj Singh’s return.
About the pitch for the first ODI, Dhoni said: “The wicket has a fair cover of grass, but at the same time, it’s a bit patchy. I think it will be two-paced. What we have seen generally on this wicket is a bit of low bounce.”
Australian captain George Bailey said it would be unrealistic to aim for a 6-1 result.
“It is a long way away and I will be very surprised if it happens. It is a one match at a time for us. I haven’t had a look at the wicket. The ground has always had a beautiful outfield. I am expecting a good batting wicket and great weather.’’
The teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt.), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, R. Vinay Kumar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ambati Rayudu, Mohammad Shami, Jaydev Unadkat, and Amit Mishra.
Australia: George Bailey (capt.), Shane Watson, Aaron Finch, Adam Voges, Glenn Maxwell, Callum Ferguson, Phil Hughes, James Faulkner, Moises Henriques, Brad Haddin, Xavier Doherty, Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay, and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough and Vineet Kulkarni; Third umpire: C. Shamsuddin.
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.